Some of the best inspirational and engaging content comes from unexpected places. B2B and B2C brands surprise and delight their audiences with relevant, entertaining, or unique content opportunities, from Instagram to YouTube to new digital media partnerships.
Natalya Minkovsky finds some of the best examples for her Idea Garage column appearing in each Chief Content Officer magazine. Here are 15 of the most intriguing as she shared them in 2017.
Starbucks inspires with multichannel Upstander series (February 2017)
An ex-convict determined to keep other women from returning to prison has helped hundreds start new lives. A man who set out to help his autistic son find a job now runs a car wash where 85% of employees are on the autism spectrum. Residents of a historically impoverished town banded together to raise enough money to provide every student in the town with a college scholarship.
These inspiring stories and more are part of the Upstanders series from Starbucks. Upstanders is a collection of short stories, films, and podcasts that shares the experiences of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. Written and produced by Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz and executive producer Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former senior editor for The Washington Post, Upstanders aims to inspire Americans to engage in acts of compassion, citizenship, and civility.
Upstanders is Starbucks’ first original series of content using multiplatform distribution channels, including the Starbucks mobile app and online and in-store digital network. To inspire a social movement, Starbucks invites people to show their support by using Fotition – a social platform and app designed to help people complete photo challenges for charity.
Visitors to the Upstanders website can also fill out a form to nominate someone who’s making an extraordinary impact in the community.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art creates extension for Chrome (February 2017)
Joining the plethora of cat videos and memes online is Meow Met, a Chrome extension that overrides the standard blank new tab page with a random cat from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection. Users can click on a work of art’s title to learn more about it. Launched through the museum’s MediaLab program as part of a strategy to connect with the next generation of museum visitors, the extension gained 3,500 users in the first week. It’s more proof that the internet just can’t get enough of cats.
JetBlue takes off with long-form content in HumanKinda video (February 2017)
JetBlue asks its audience: Are you humankind or HumanKinda? Defining “HumanKinda” as “when you are so busy, you feel as if you’re losing your humanity,” the airline created a short film that highlights the symptoms and effects of busyness in a humorous way, hoping to inspire people to take a step back and reflect on the busy state of their lives.
The 16-minute HumanKinda video is the airline’s first foray into long-form content. The film is accompanied by a that generates a HumanKinda percentage based on the respondent’s answers; a Tumblr feed full of cartoons and statistics about busyness, time-saving hacks, and relaxation tips; and social media content that includes GIFs, memes, and videos. “Ultimately, it’s about the conversations we ignite,” says Phillip Ma, manager of brand advertising and content. “But if we can see a rise in getaways, it’ll obviously be exciting.”
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Bacardi got behind a turntable with Instagram Stories (April 2017)
While many marketers were tentatively experimenting with Instagram’s Stories feature, Bacardi USA was among the first brands to show its creative mastery of the platform. Taking advantage of the format – quick, live content that comes with the capacity to fast forward or rewind from story to story – Bacardi USA turned its Instagram account into InstantDJ, a DJ simulator that allows users to take control of turntables, tapping left and right to control the music. The Instagram hack was perfectly on-brand for Bacardi USA, whose marketing already promotes “great music and great drinks” as key ingredients to a legendary party.
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AT&T creates media brand with Hollywood actress (April 2017)
Looking for new ways to reach its female customers, AT&T is partnering with Oscar-winning actress and savvy businesswoman Reese Witherspoon to create a new media brand, Hello Sunshine. Hello Sunshine will “leverage the experience of its founders to create, curate, and discover powerful content by and for women across all platforms, from daily social and short-form digital content to television shows and motion pictures, including Witherspoon’s Academy Award-nominated film and television production company, Pacific Standard.” In addition to a video-on-demand channel and website, Hello Sunshine has Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat profiles for publishing social and short-form content. Little of the content, if any, contains AT&T branding.
Tropicana starts audience’s morning with a spark (April 2017)
Worried about high sugar content and extra calories, consumers are shying away from a traditional breakfast beverage: orange juice. This is bad news for Tropicana, and has sparked a new content marketing endeavor from the juice maker.
Published within A Plus, the positive journalism website founded by actor and technology investor Ashton Kutcher, Tropicana’s Morning Spark channel features “inspiring stories to start your morning,” like a video that investigates what happens when strangers start their day giving each other compliments.
Morning Spark is part of Tropicana’s larger efforts to boost orange juice sales by “redefining its role in America’s mornings from a functional beverage to an emotional catalyst for positivity.”
Ford goes interactive in New York (June 2017)
With the highest population density of any major U.S. city as well as a low share of car ownership, New York City has become the newest proving ground for transportation experiments. Car companies are looking to New York as a place to try novel car ownership, leasing, and sharing models.
In a bid to be part of the conversation, Ford has designed a new interactive space in downtown Manhattan called FordHub. The space uses interactive screens and virtual reality to show how transportation innovation can reduce traffic and pollution, shorten wait times, and reduce costs. It also showcases new ideas from Ford, such as Ford Smart Mobility (focused on autonomous vehicles and analytics) and Chariot (pool ride-sharing).
“Our first FordHub is a place designed to spark questions and curiosity,” said Elena Ford, vice president of global dealer and consumer experience. “This isn’t a store or a dealer – it’s a place for participation and creativity. We want people to have fun while engaging in conversation about the future of transportation.”
Giphy teaches sign language (June 2017)
GIF provider Giphy launched a channel containing more than 2,000 American Sign Language clips. (Think of them as video flash cards.) The GIFs come from an instructional series called Sign With Robert. By collecting them on a single channel and adding labels to each looping video, Giphy hopes hearing people can learn ASL more efficiently.
“The GIF format has the ability to loop infinitely, so it’s perfect for learning new signs,” Hilari Scarl, director and producer for Sign With Robert said. “It doesn’t require the back and forth of hitting play, rewind or repeat.”
Dubai commissions its own font (August 2017)
Dubai is the first city in the world with its own Microsoft font. Inspired by the city’s “union of heritage and innovation” and designed to create harmony between Latin and Arabic, the font is intended to “empower youth across the globe by pioneering new means of self-expression.”
The font was commissioned by the Crown Prince of Dubai and launched by the Executive Council of Dubai in partnership with Microsoft. Designed by the font specialists at Monotype for improved legibility of Arabic typefaces, the font family is available for free in Office 365. It’s one thing to produce content; putting a unique stamp on the tools of content creation is taking content marketing to the next level.
Brewer Goose Island takes consumers on journey (August 2017)
Wine aficionados know the important role weather and climate play when it comes to the quality of the beverage – but do beer aficionados know the same goes for hops, one of the core ingredients in their favorite beverage?
The Chicago-based brewery Goose Island got together with the branded content team at The Weather Channel to create Journey of the Hop. The content microsite shows readers each stage of the beer-making process, beginning with an Idaho hops farmer. Journey of the Hop includes narrative, video, photography, and infographics; you don’t have to be a weather buff or beer lover to appreciate the story.
South Korea candidate launches video game (August 2017)
In South Korea, StarCraft, the real-time strategy video game, has become so popular that professional players and teams participate in matches, earn sponsorships, and compete in televised matches. In his successful campaign for the South Korean presidency, Moon Jae-in took advantage of the game to connect with young voters.
On his official campaign blog, Moon Jae-in launched two versions of a custom game map called “Moonters.” In one of those maps, minerals – a key resource in the game – were used to spell out “1 Moon Jae-in” in Korean. Although it seems unclear what message Moon Jae-in meant to send to voters, the tactic got his name in front of a coveted demographic – and they didn’t even have to look away from their game.
Liberty Mutual gives content kits a voice-command spin (August 2017)
Under the tagline “you worry less when you know more,” insurance company Liberty Mutual has partnered with HowStuffWorks to create a series of MasterThis “master kits.” Each kit aims to educate consumers on topics like tackling home repairs, managing a mechanic, and preparing for a storm (and includes a curriculum, articles, quizzes, lists, and videos).
Consumer guides aren’t a new concept for companies that want to use content to engage with their customers, but Liberty Mutual is taking the idea one step further by integrating its content platform with voice-command artificial intelligence. Users that ask Amazon’s Alexa to “Open Liberty Mutual” have direct access to the MasterThis knowledge bank.
This isn’t the first time Liberty Mutual has turned to Alexa: The company’s Guesstimator tool enables Alexa users to obtain an auto insurance estimate through voice interaction.
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Sanpellegrino delivers unexpected travel stops in app (November 2017)
Any navigation app can tell you how to get someplace, but this one from Sanpellegrino Sparkling Fruit Beverages, a Nestle brand, helps users discover the joy of exploring “the Italian way” en route to their destination.
That’s the promise of Delightways, a “wandering tool” aka mobile app from the beverage company. The initiative is an extension of the company’s The Life Deliziosa manifesto. Designed to help take the most delightful instead of the most direct route, Delightways recommends unique places, from street art and architecture to bars and specialty markets.
The app currently supports 10 U.S. cities. Users enter a starting point and destination and let Delightways introduce them to local attractions and under-the-radar hot spots along the way. Sanpellegrino partnered with Foursquare to develop the app, working with teams of tastemakers in each city to curate thousands of spots to discover.
Fender teaches online to broaden its consumer market (November 2017)
Fender’s strategy for increasing demand for its guitars? Create more guitar players. Fender Play is an online learning tool that uses a guided curriculum and bite-sized video lessons to teach skills and techniques to keep beginners engaged and motivated.
While the lessons cost $20 a month, a free 30-day trial likely will help Fender attract more people to its brand (and, afterward, make some money with paid subscriptions and, ultimately, guitar purchases). The Fender Play website is rich in testimonials from celebrity guitarists as well as in tips, support articles, and maintenance advice. A Fender Play iPhone app is available for on-the-go lessons.
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The UPS Store makes B2B interesting (November 2017)
If you need a reminder that B2B content marketing can be inspiring, fun, and vibrant, check out The UPS Store on Instagram, where the brand “champions America’s makers, crafters, and small business doers.”
The UPS Store may be in the business of selling shipping supplies and printing services, but its Instagram feed – which shows off delicate cross-stitched necklaces, food-themed kitchen aprons, cartoon-inspired pillows, and neon pink chandeliers – could be mistaken for Etsy. By highlighting its customers and the products they create and ship via The UPS Store, the company actively takes part in the small business community, not just markets to it.
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What inspiring ideas are in your creative garage? Please share in the comments.