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The Best of the Best Q1 2018: Spotlight on Industries and Brands

Industries

While the astronomical rise of content marketing has taken place across (and because of investment by) an eclectic array of companies from diverse industries, there are definitely several verticals that have proven to be major drivers in branded content production. In a space as in-flux and boasting as elusively defined boundaries as content marketing, it is difficult to make definitive statements about who is leading and why. But that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

One of the definite behemoths of the branded content space is the Financial Services industry, whose brands are investing millions to try to forge more visible and personal connections with their audiences both by partnering with publishers and producing content on their owned sites. With over half of our clients hailing from the FinServ vertical, we see firsthand how dedicated these companies are to utilizing and advancing content marketing. This makes sense for a number of reasons - but perhaps the most salient is that banks, as institutions, provide a service that is best taken advantage of by an educated consumer. Content marketing has come to light as perhaps the most effective way for a Financial Services company to educate and entice a potential (or current) customer. It provides value and concurrently makes the reader more educated in the areas for which the company provides services. It’s a strategy that clearly appeals to finance CMOs, and it has made the sector one of the most eminent players in the branded content game.

Continuing with the services theme, we’ve seen mobile companies like Sprint and Verizon Wireless making significant investments in content, and Virgin Mobile is considered one of the earliest adopters of the method. It is interesting to see a vertical that is nearly infamous for its past dedication to television ads (“Can you hear me now? Good.”) to demonstrate such confidence in what many consider to be the most experimental branch of the marketing tree.

Of course, CPG is never far from the center of the action wherever consumer initiatives are concerned. While the CPG product is often better suited to traditional marketing than its services, industrial, or even automotive peers, these brands have taken advantage of experiential and branded content marketing as the space has grown. Coca Cola, Pepsi, General Mills, and Mondelez are just a few of the packaged goods brands who have run large-scale campaigns and taken thorough advantage of what they clearly understand to be the conversion potential of branded content. And then, on the other pricing pole of the consumer goods spectrum, we have automotive companies. The Fords, Kias, and Cadillacs of the world have not been shy when it comes to throwing their hats in the content marketing ring.

What’s interesting about this snapshot of some of the foremost industries driving the branded content conversation is how disparate they are. But perhaps this is a roadmap of what’s to come - as mentioned, the companies investing in major content campaigns are so eclectic that we couldn’t even title this section “The Brands and Industries Producing The Most Branded Content”. And that’s what’s so fascinating about this dynamic, evolving marketing environment - it is truly anyone’s game.

Brands

As with industries, part of what has made the content marketing scene so compelling throughout the past year is the variety of brands that are making waves - a true assortment of verticals, sizes, and approaches means that there has rarely been a dull moment. A Google search of the best branded content in 2017 will turn up campaigns from American building materials supply company 84Lumber to trendy travel giant Airbnb - on the same list.

The brands that have excelled in content marketing by critical standards have largely focused on narrative storytelling. This applies to brands like the mobile payment company Square, which crafted a campaign around the story of a Syrian immigrant family pursuing their small business dreams in the United States, described by Forbes as an “eight-minute emotional journey that renews our faith in humanity” and framed Square as a resource for the empowerment of business owners from all backgrounds and circumstances. Stories centering around individuals’ journeys was a major thread in 2017, with brands like Auriens, Optum, and Starbucks getting in on the action.

Health and fitness brand Equinox is another critical darling when it comes to content marketing - not necessarily for its narrative presentation, but rather for its commitment to creating engaging value for its audience. Equinox launched a standalone digital magazine called “Furthermore” in 2016 which not only generates revenue through advertising, but also serves as a credible marketing platform for the company itself. 2017 saw the Furthermore brand becoming more robust and gaining viewership - and has proved to be a gold standard for other popular brands in the fitness space, from SoulCycle to apparel companies like Bandier, to expand and build upon their content programs in the past year.

Another brand cluster that stepped up in the past year are the major outdoor apparel brands - most notably R.E.I. and Patagonia. Patagonia, long known for its environmental activism bend, has been committed to producing video and article content that contain both compelling stories of protected lands across the United States, as well as calls to action to hold lawmakers accountable for environmental crises. Patagonia also has a well-maintained blog called “The Cleanest Line” and a partnership with popular podcast “Dirtbag Diaries”.

R.E.I. takes a slightly different approach, aiming to use content to create a trust-based relationship with their customers through education. Much of their content strategy centers around their “Expert Advice Learning Library”, which features longform articles that capture audiences for an average of 5.5 minutes each, according to R.E.I.’s Content Marketing Manager Eric Heiss (Forbes).

None of the brands mentioned in these examples hail from the verticals that we discussed when talking about industries, but that simply goes to show that content marketing is powerfully progressing on a brand-by-brand basis. No company is excluded from the action based on size, sector or even social views. Content marketing and branded partnerships leave the landscape wide open for hugely diverse efforts.