Content Marketing

The 30 Most Genius Content Marketing Examples of 2014 (So Far)

In keeping with our trend of highlighting 30 brilliant social media campaigns, we now turn our lens to content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as "a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

The brands and efforts highlighted in this post definitely meet those qualifications. They've created something that's valuable, relevant, and consistently useful to their audience (and a clearly defined audience, at that). Ultimately, I don't know what actions were driven by these campaigns because I can't peer into each brand's analytics and conversion rates. But I can attest that these campaigns caught my eye, and serve as shining examples of content marketing genius.

I've organized these into content-style categories to showcase the trends shaping today's best content marketing. Trends include:

  • How-To Content
  • Shareable Visuals
  • Clever Curation and Crowd-Sourcing
  • Behind-the-Scenes Brilliance
  • A+ Brand-Building

Get inspiration from the 30 most genius content marketing examples of 2014.
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How-To Content

1. Anthropologie's DIY drink recipes

Anthropologie frequently features DIY cocktail recipes on their blog, like this one for a coconut cooler. The drink recipes work for two main reasons: they're seasonal and timely (for example, summer refreshers or winter warmers) and they feature unique ingredients and flavors, mimicking the original style of Anthropologie's fashions. Like many examples of the best content marketing, these posts aren't an obvious play for sales; Anthropologie doesn't sell homemade bitters or simple syrup. Instead, the posts position Anthropologie as a trendy, knowledgeable friend who knows a thing or two about drinks—as well as clothes.

2. Intelligentsia Coffee's Brew Guides

Brew Guides from Intelligentsia are the coffee industry's answer to B2B whitepapers. Lovely photography precedes step-by-step instructions for a variety of coffee-making tools. Learn how to brew the perfect cup of coffee in a French press, Chemex, V60, and beyond. It's free information that reminds you why Intelligentsia is such a lauded coffee master (we marketers might even say a coffee "thought leader")... and the content makes you want a cup of their coffee ASAP.

3. Wistia's Learning Center Videos

It's a simple concept, but Wistia executes to perfection: short, educational videos that teach viewers how to be better video marketers. Each short lesson is a microcosm of some concept within video marketing, including bulleted lists for easier retention of the subject matter. I can think of very few brands that couldn't create a video series like this for their products or services, with minimal resources invested. Check out this example video on concepting fundamentals.

4. American Express Gives Business Owners an OPEN Forum

Businesses of any size can learn something from the OPEN Forum posts by American Express. Posts center around leadership, customer service, marketing, and technology, and they position American Express as a true partner to business owners. Take a look at these examples of currently trending posts on the website, and get a glimpse of the free, valuable ideas being shared by the credit card company.

5. Birchbox's Beauty Advice

Birchbox is a popular purveyor of monthly beauty boxes. The brand also runs an excellent content marketing program, with how-to videos of useful beauty tricks (for example, getting beach waves for short hair and how to look great post-flying). They're essentially running a full-scale beauty magazine without the mess of paper and addresses.

6. Gov.UK Simplifies Civil Tasks

In the words of the site itself, gov.uk presents "simpler, clearer, faster" ways to accomplish government tasks. Most people dread filling out benefits forms or looking up info about birth certificates or marriage licenses, and this site is the answer to those qualms. The how-to articles guide UK citizens through a plethora of government tasks, for example, how to look after children after a divorce. The site content creators did an expert job of writing easy-to-read, jargon-free content and including bulleted lists with links for more information.

Shareable Visuals

7. Lana del Rey's Tumblr 

In 2014, the singer and songwriter Lana del Rey launched a new Tumblr. The first post on April 14 was a series of GIFs promoting her new album's first single. The GIFs didn't take any extra effort from her production team other than casting a few captures from her "West Coast" music video, but the GIF post has garnered more than 20,000 Tumblr notes. Not every brand has the video collateral of Lana del Rey, but every brand can take a step out of her Tumblr playbook in two ways. First, recycle content in short, visual, shareable snippets. Then, go where your fans are. Lana's fans love Tumblr, so she's building a new fan community on the platform.

8. Deus Ex Machina's Dreamy Video

Custom motorcycle and surfboard outlet Deus Ex Machina consistently creates content that goes beyond selling. It delivers a culture. In the brand's own words, "Deus ex Machina is a step bigger than a brand: it’s a culture. Our openness and enthusiasm strike a chord with people, wherever they are... Deus ('day-us') didn’t set out only to sell custom parts and hand- built motorcycles, but to celebrate a culture of creativity." 

In the brand's latest short film I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, the film crew follows surfers catching waves and living the dream in a beautiful landscape. The chill, vibey video doesn't try to sell you surfboards or even mention Deus's product lines, but simply reinforces the lifestyle that Deus is all about. To watch the full film, viewers must enter an email address, which is a smart way to deliver high-quality content at a negligible cost to the viewer.

9. Callaway Golf's YouTube Is a Hole in One

Callaway Golf scores on YouTube, with excellent content that isn't overly salesy or promotional. Videos include how to hit a bump and run and vertical centers of gravity in golf drivers. You don't have to be a Callaway customer to benefit from this content, and next time you're purchasing a golf club, you might just consider Callaway for their know-how and generosity.

10. Beats by Dre Can't Be Beat on Instagram

Beats by Dre shows that their innovation isn't limited to headphones. Their Instagram uses great visuals to build the brand and give fans a behind-the-scenes view of the company. Their content strategy includes short videos, commentary on current events (like the World Cup), and plenty of celebrity photos, which definitely don't hurt.

11. Lion Brand Yarns Spins Helpful Content

This example could either fall under the visual or how-to categories of content styles. Either way, Lion Brand Yarns has created some excellent knitting resources and shared them on their site under a special video page. This video on knitted cast ons has garnered more than 325,000 views! The brand clearly understands that, in order to use its product and purchase more products in the future, you have to enjoy knitting and know how to knit. And what better way to educate current and potential customers than through shareable videos? It's a great example of why content doesn't need to be high-budget to be highly successful.

12. Business Insider India's Infographic Educates on Business Schools

Infographics don't have to be illustrated with artsy bells and whistles to be functional. This infographic by Business Insider India shows the top 25 business schools in the world through one cohesive, concise image. It's designed simply and cleanly, with reader understanding at the forefront of the design. You see the ranking, a bit more info about the survey, and a bit more info about the participants. The design proves that content should be more about the information than the container.

Clever Crowd-Sourcing and Curation

13. Arcade Fire's Fan-Sourced Gallery

One genius way to create content without much in-house effort: crowd-sourcing. Arcade Fire asked fans to submit their own photos of the band's Reflektor tour, and in return, the fans' photos could wind up on Arcade Fire's Facebook page and website. This was a win for both the band and fans, as the website benefited from new photography, and fans could earn a spotlight on their favorite band's online properties.

14. Random House's Literary Inspiration

I appreciate the way Random House takes readers into the digital era with their Pinterest account and corresponding content. Books have been around forever, but publishing companies are just getting started when it comes to e-books and online engagement. Take a look at a few of Random House's Pinterest board titles:

  • The Literary Imbiber
  • What Would Jane Austen Do?
  • Bookish Nooks
  • Literary Tattoos
  • Literary Wedding
  • Best Book Covers

Random House doesn't write all the articles or create all the images associated with these boards, but curating them for their fans in a one-stop book-lover's shop is a surefire win. With such targeted and well-curated content, it's no wonder they have nearly 1.5 million Pinterest followers.

15. Virgin Atlantic's Curated Instagram Galleries

Virgin Atlantic's blog is filled with great travel content, from must-see sights in various cities to visually interesting galleries like this example from Tokyo. They curated photos from Tokyo-based Instagrammers for a quick peek at culture from the locals. Virgin Atlantic did a similar post for Los Angeles, and they also craft content for busy business travelers like their "Between Meetings" blog series.

16. Intel Has Content Marketing IQ

A classic example of great B2B content marketing, Intel runs a blog called IQ that's "a peek at the outer edge of design, technology, social and big data." The blog is largely based on content curated by employees. IQ's editor in chief, Bryan Rhoads, says: "We developed an algorithm to curate social content in a way that leverages our employees. We want to publish what they’re sharing and what’s grabbing their attention. It’s a combination of a social algorithm, plus an employee filter that crowdsources what they are saying and sharing, and uses that as a discovery tool."

17. Curata's Slideshare Advice

Quotes can come in handy for marketers looking for advice and inspiration. Curata collected 27 quotes about content marketing from various experts, packaging the lot into a single Slideshare. Each slide includes the quote itself, along with the Twitter handle of each quoted person. The exercise required no original writing; just some reformatting and thoughtful quote selection. 

18. Panera Bread Cozies Up to Pinterest

Pinterest is a great to build curated content because there's so much readily available to re-pin and package into albums and stories that fit with your brand. See what Panera Bread has done on Pinterest, curating both their own content (like this Break Bread album with several links to their blog) and content from outside sources (like this album with tips to take better care of yourself). It all fits in with Panera Bread's cozy, familiar, healthy (but not at the expense of comfort) image.

Behind-the-Scenes Brilliance

19. Disney Shares Behind-the-Scenes Magic

The Disney Parks Blog features an entire category for behind the scenes posts. Disney fans love to see the making of the magic, so these blogs provide a welcomed glimpse into the beloved parks and cast members.

Check out these recent posts for a content creation lesson from one of the best-marketed brands in history:

20. CB2's "How It's Made" Blog Posts

CB2, the affordable and urban-centric offshoot of Crate&Barrel, has an excellent blog called "In the Loop." Features include behind-the-scenes looks at designers, patterns, and products, including this recent feature on tablecloth-making.

21. J.Crew's Backstage Photoshoot Passes

Famous for great style and fabulous photography, J.Crew lets viewers take a sneak peek into how their photoshoots are conducted with behind-the-scenes blog content. Check out this recent post incorporating an artist's story of how her paintings were included in a J.Crew shoot.

22. The White House Offers Humor, Insights

This photo gallery from the White House gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what the President and First Lady have been up to in 2014. With more than 150 photos, it's a fun glimpse into a side of the First Couple that you won't see in any press conference.

23. Microsoft Shows How a Tech Commercial is Made

Microsoft created a two-minute behind-the-scenes video to answer the question, "Wondering how we got the Surface Pro 3 from the bedroom to the board room in a single shot, without edits?" This video, narrated by the ad's director, is an entertaining look at how much hustle it took to produce Microsoft's recent Surface Pro 3 commercial.

24. Google Takes Street View Behind the Scenes

Ever wondered how Street View captures those infinite images of every nook and cranny in our world? Google has put together a beautiful "About Street View" page explaining how the service is compiled and maintained. They've also created behind-the-scenes videos of "Street View Treks" to highlight particularly inspiring locations.

A+ Brand-Building

25. Equinox Flexes Marketing Muscle

Equinox is a fitness club brand with multiple locations across the US. Aside from their generally gorgeous website, Equinox also runs an excellent health and fitness blog, proving that the company's coaching ability goes far beyond personal training—it translates to content marketing, too. Recent topics include post-workout recovery, heart-healthy foods, and warm-weather workout gear. And check out this animated GIF, showing readers a plank they "probably aren't doing, but should."

26. New Belgium Brews a Well-Balanced Blog

Based in Denver, New Belgium Brewing showcases the brand's adventurous, fun-loving energy on its blog. A quick scroll through recent posts shows customer-centered events (like the Tour de Fat), food and beer pairing ideas, and fetching photography of beer fans and brewers alike. And you won't see any long lulls of silence from New Belgium; they update their blog at least once a week, which gives readers a reason to come back and check often for updates. The approach is a crash course in how to make an audience feel connected to a brand, no matter where they are in the world.

27. Whole Foods Tells the Whole Story

Natural grocery store giant Whole Foods has an incredible brand, and their blog is no exception. When you walk into a Whole Foods, you know what to expect: organization, a focus on eco-friendliness, extremely helpful employees, and above all, healthy food. Their Whole Story blog takes the brick and mortar experience digital with clean design and helpful articles. Instead of going for the hard sell, their content is useful and relatable. Check out this recent post about how to save money on weekly grocery trips.

28. GE Reports on Inspiring Technology 

GE offers a beautiful blog interface and fascinating stories about technology on its GE Reports site, which lives on a separate domain from GE's homepage. The stories on GE Reports center on what's new in tech, brilliant machines, and advanced manufacturing to educate readers on current tech innovations. The site incorporates edgy imagery and easy-to-use social share buttons to widen the site's audience. This animated GIF is from the article "Underdog Scientist Cracks Code to Reduce Flight Delays."

29. Uber Drives Content Innovation

App-based car service Uber has revolutionized the way we call cabs in the digital era, so it's no surprise that the brand understands digital marketing. Of particular note is their blog, which features categories like Uber Data, city-specific blogs, and product updates. Uber epitomizes a jet-setting, smartphone-centric lifestyle, and the company blog follows suit, with posts instructing users on how to expense Uber rides in Concur and which country's Uber users are the most well-traveled.

30. Stanford GSB Teaches Business on Tumblr

Stanford Graduate School of Business positions itself at the cutting edge of the business world with an expertly executed Tumblr. "Big ideas, candid insights, and practical takeaways" are at the heart of the site, and they offer young professionals ample advice from Stanford GSB students, alumni, faculty, and staff members. Only a few readers of the blog may ever enroll at GSB, and many may not even be prospective students, but the on-point content solidifies the school as a frontrunner in business, and makes sure everyone knows that Stanford GSB understands digital publishing and relevancy.

Have a brand or example you'd add to this list? Leave a comment or send me a tweet (@YoungHeike)!

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  • Tom

    I couldn’t see a single result.
    These may be “nice” examples of content marketing, or “creative” examples, but they ca’t be “genius” unless they went some way to accomplish the goals they set out to.
    My hunch would be this is all great stuff, that went largely ignored by everyone.

    • Heike Baird

      @disqus_3dsopIz1gR:disqus, thanks for reading – I agree that it’d be useful to see results if we could. But because individual conversion rates based on these examples are private, I think the next best thing is to collect creative (even creative at a “genius” level!) examples that spark inspiration in us as marketers. And for some of these, the engagement rates and earned audience size, at the very least, aren’t private (almost 1.5 million Pinterest followers for Random House? Not bad). Cheers.

  • Michael Gerard

    Thank you for the mention Heike. It’s an honor to have Curata recognized with so many top brands. I culled the 27 expert quotes for this piece from spending many days sitting through presentations by leading marketers at some of the industry’s best conferences. Much of the insight was from Social Media Marketing World(#SMMW) in San Diego. In fact, this same event had inspired me to write my longest post ever, 6,000+ words. It was a bit of a risk to write such a long post, but it did ok at ~2,000+ page views. http://bit.ly/SMMW2014WRAPUP You gotta experiment in this new content marketing space.

    • Heike Baird

      @disqus_iFLZycAjlp:disqus Love it! I really want to go to #SMMW in 2015. It’s on my conference short list. And you’re welcome for the mention. Just want to give credit where it’s due, because we’re all experimental content marketing scientists in this new space, and every success is an opportunity to learn.