With the quaint days of advertising alone influencing a buyer’s decision being relegated to only a memory, brands have no choice but to attract buyers to themselves by producing content that users seek out and not ads that they TiVo out.
Some brands understand this changing paradigm better than others. A case in point is Red Bull, that has singlehandedly transformed the energy drinks genre with its astonishing range of content, partnerships and on ground events that their target audience loyally laps up without a second thought.
While not all brands can become the next Red Bull, they can definitely produce content that inspires instead of ‘blah’ marketing messages that try too hard. And what better place to start this creative process than a medium that every brand can own at zero cost – the brand blog.
Outdoors brand Patagonia may not have the most impressive looking blog, but it sure is single minded in its focus.
Patagonia’s footprint in the blogosphere embodies everything that the brand stands for. The blog eats, breathes and lives sustainability and the great outdoors. From posts on solar power to Alpine rock climbing to covering climate related events to exhorting readers to vote for ‘green’ politicians, Patagonia takes on the role of a planet crusader and does a darn good job of it.
There’s no overt product placement, no aggressive calls to action, just brand activism at its best.
- Know Thy Customer: Patagonia knows that its readers are green minded eco-fanatics who would run a mile at the first sight of marketing. Keeping this insight in mind, they steer clear of product placements in their blogs and speak only of topics that their audience is truly passionate about. It is the strong non-commercial tone of this blog makes it so well followed by its target audience.
- Substance over Form: Patagonia’s ultra-minimalist design for its blog ensures that the reader’s attention does not stray from the content even for a minute. With personal storytelling styles used across the blog, the reader lives every adventure described in every post. While having an aesthetic looking blog is a good idea, avoid going overboard with your design. Keep it simple to let the focus remain on what you’re saying, instead of what font you say it in.
- Subject Focus: There are two things that we learn about subject focus from the Patagonia blog. First that you need not write just about your industry or product to promote your brand. Patagonia’s blog does not mention its apparel or shoes anywhere on the blog; instead, it spends every post talking about the things that interest their customers who are hardcore outdoor enthusiasts – nature, eco-activism and giving back. The second insight here is to develop a deep subject matter expertise in one particular area, which paints your brand as the automatic, top of mind authority figure for that area.
American Red Cross
If you thought content marketing was limited to just commercial brands, think again. Non-profits like the American Red Cross wholeheartedly embrace blogging and content marketing as they benefit from it in two ways.
First, they have access to a huge treasure trove of special interest stories and content that most commercial brands would kill for. Secondly, most content marketing efforts are almost free. This works well, as non-profits anyway work on paper thin budgets.
The American Red Cross blog makes full use of its own human interest stories to create content that has universal appeal. It also uses its blog to link out to the various causes that it endorses, thus highlighting them and driving traffic to them simultaneously.
My favorite aspect about this blog though is the way the American Red Cross makes even mundane things like a Fire Alarm Drill ROFL funny. Check out the hilarious GIFs used in the educational post about fire alarms to get your dose of laughter for the day.
- Put a Human Spin on Your Work: Every time you think you are running out of ideas to talk about on your blog, do what the Red Cross does so well. Talk about your work and put a human spin on it by sharing the different ways it makes lives better around the world. You do not have to be in the business of saving puppies and kittens on a daily basis. Even a small way in which your product made a difference in the big bad world is reason to celebrate and will be lapped up by users wholeheartedly.
- Promote Your Sister Brands/Causes: Just as we discussed cross-promoting your content marketing platforms in a previous section, cross promoting your sister concerns or partner brands goes a long way in building a mutually rewarding relationship between the two brands and minimizing marketing expenses for both brands simultaneously.
- Edutainment is the Way to Go: If you still haven’t watched that gem of a GIF collection buried in Red Cross’ Fire Safety post, read it now. This is a fabulous example of how to teach someone important concepts in a way that entertains them and makes them want to know more, instead of rattling of ten points copied off of a PowerPoint presentation.
Shopify is a little like the Google of ecommerce platforms – ubiquitous, self-sufficient and absolutely invaluable, the brand has been the backbone for thousands of ecommerce stores on the internet. So it follows that a brand that has such a fabulous product would put in a similar kind of effort in marketing itself too. Shopify’s blog is probably the cherry on the cake of all its inbound marketing efforts.
The blog has a clear voice – they are the authority on all things ecommerce. Period. With a robust team of in-house writers, Shopify uses its blog as a support tool for its customers, coaching them in small bite size portions on how to run a successful ecommerce business. Ranked no. 2 currently by Blog Rank in the ecommerce category, Shopify covers all bases with not just insightful articles, but an extensive resource library, how-to guides, online retail trend reports and inspiration look-books that make readers return over and over again for some sage advice.
- Stay on Course: Right from the title of the blog to the contents of each post, Shopify is clear about is core competency – ecommerce – and makes no bones about sticking to this consistently.
- Use Your Blog as a Tool for Customer Education: As a brand that has a range of products out there used by thousands of customers, Shopify uses its blog as a mouthpiece to reach out to customers about changes in its products or new bells and whistles that they’ve added or even ‘how-to’ posts on using some interesting but obscure feature.
- Make it Accessible: With the wealth of information that it offers, it would have been easy to build a blog that confuses the reader with no clear structure on what data can be found in which section. Shopify avoids this lethal loophole and has built a simple, accessible blog with clear navigation to all the data that it contains. Besides the regular posts, there are clearly marked out sections for tools, forums and inspirational customer stories. For readers who still prefer to avoid negotiating their way through sections, there’s always the extremely effective search bar to turn to. To simplify things even more, Shopify has a single page with all its resources under one roof. Talk about covering all bases!
- Engage in Dialogue with Readers: A blog is not just a platform to get your point across to readers. It can also be a potent tool for building a community of readers and engaging them in conversation on topics that truly matter to their businesses. Shopify does this deftly, with nearly every article being topped off with a healthy give and take of ideas between the authors and readers.
Just as Southwest Airlines has a cult following among frequent fliers, its award-winning blog is known for its no-nonsense take on the travel business among netizens.
Aesthetically, the blog is simple and easy on the eye. The clear breaks in every post makes them easier to read. Southwest makes sure multiple pieces of content or product pages are interlinked through every post. There’s even a suggestion engine offering users more content to read based on their current choices.
- Inside Peeks: The blog offers stories on events and goings on at Southwest offices and locations around the country. The sneak peek into behind the scenes action is a great addition to any blog. Offer your readers the chance to peek behind the Iron Curtain every now and then to reveal the human side of your brand.
- Deeply Industry Focused: Nearly every post on Southwest’s blog is travel oriented. However, by no means does it get even remotely humdrum. Learn how to work out fresh angles on your core area of specialization and keep posting content that readers will seek out, instead of being bored to death by repetitive content.
- Multiple Points of View: From staff writers to blog members, the content housed in Southwest’s blog comes from myriad sources. This variety of sources leads to a real interesting blend of ideas – something that is impossible to achieve with just a couple of regular contributors to the blog.
Don’t make the mistake of considering your brand blog as a mere collection of articles. As these fantastic brand blogs embody, blogs can have lives of their own and can sustain their own eco-system of creators, users, followers and fans.
As a brand owner, set your brand blog free and let it blossom to its full potential. Who knows, your blog could be the next on a list such as this someday!