How Disruptive Brands are Defining Their Content Strategies - Insights
Industry Leaders

How Disruptive Brands are Defining Their Content Strategies

by Kylie Ora Lobell and Kylie Lobell

8 minute read

Disruptive brands have been making headlines in recent years. Beginning with the emergence of the sharing economy, many companies have entered into markets and spaces that were previously dominated by legacy brands and companies and have completely flipped standards around. Beyond the innovation taking place in products, offerings, and services, many of these companies are embracing innovation in their marketing practices as well. Some of the strongest and most innovative campaigns are from marketers who have embraced content marketing and understand what optimizing a content strategy can do for their businesses.

At the 2016 NewsCred #ThinkContent Summit, Marty Swant of AdWeek moderated a panel called, “How We Innovate — Challenging the Status Quo to Disrupt Industries and Ways of Working.” Brand representatives that were involved in the chat included Eric Toda, head of global social marketing for Airbnb, Lauren Drell, director of content at sweetgreen, Mikaela Flynn, marketing manager for Uber, and Greg Fitzgerald, director of acquisition marketing for Blue Apron. These panelists dove into what was driving innovation across their companies as well as how marketing – most specifically content – is fueling their strategies to the next level.

New approaches to content marketing

At Airbnb, the users create and consume the content. “We want to tell your stories and make them famous,” said Toda. The vacation rental company is social by design, and it can only work when the guests and hosts are interacting. According to Toda, Airbnb is the first community driven large-scale brand in the world.

Sweetgreen, the Washington DC based farm-to-table salad chain, was established in 2007. Drell said that they aren’t trying to produce lifestyle content. Instead, they’re focusing on content that showcases our food systems and dives into deeper issues regarding food production. The heaviness of the content is offset with lightheartedness.

When Uber first started producing content, they were trying to generate buzz about their company. They’d do stunts and on-demand promotions to drive brand awareness, according to Flynn. Now, they’re moving towards producing content that engages customers and ensures that they’ll stay loyal to the brand. They’re going to be thinking less about the ‘what’, and more about the ‘why’ and ‘who’.

The team at Blue Apron spent the first few years of their company’s life explaining what their product was and how it works. Now they’ve moved past that stage and are creating content that showcases what they care about as a company, said Fitzgerald. Their content will demonstrate how people are coming together over their product.

Finding stories and generating thought-provoking content 

Since Airbnb is community driven, finding content starts with talking to the guests and hosts. Toda said that the company places representatives in cities with a strong Airbnb presence to ensure that someone is on the ground for the hosts. They’ll ask the hosts why they chose to list their homes on the site and hear their interesting stories. Maybe someone was an empty nester and wanted company, or another person really liked Brooklyn and wanted to share their neighborhood with others. Airbnb also encourages customers to use the hashtags #airbnb and #livethere. They’ll pluck stories from these hashtags and showcase them in their campaigns.

According to Drell, sweetgreen will tell stories about how food was produced before it got to their stores. The company creates content around farmers and give them a voice to explain their food growing process. Sweetgreen’s team also sees what food items are popping up in the news and tag along to a story. For example, there was a peach freeze in New England, so they discussed that and how it would affect their menus.

Uber is still in the beginning stages of collecting users’ stories, said Flynn. A lot of times, Uber employees will get into cars and chat up their drivers, and encourage them to share their amazing stories. They’re going to start putting out content around Uber Pool soon; this could include tales about awkward Uber Pool experiences or friendly connections made in the car.

Similar to sweetgreen, Blue Apron’s team is also talking about the farmers behind their products. Once, Fitzgerald said that their company spoke with a national farm sourcing manager who said that there was a farm run entirely by women. They produced that story and media outlets picked it up.

Social and email: Distribution at its finest

Far too often, Flynn said, companies will create content that goes nowhere. That’s why distribution is so critical. She stressed that if no one sees it, then what is the point?

Every one of these companies emphasizes the use of social channels in their campaigns. Toda said that he’ll utilize Facebook for reach, Twitter for timeliness, Snapchat for personality, and Instagram for beauty.

You can use the same piece of content for each channel, however, you have to adapt it accordingly. “Think about how to recreate that story for every medium,” said Toda. The content will have the same soul and story but look different.

Determining the content marketing budget

One thing is clear when it comes to these companies’ content marketing budgets: They need to be always fluid.

According to Toda, Airbnb will invest in content, and then see how it’s doing. There is an algorithm that looks at performance and shifts budgets around. If distribution trails off, they’ll kick up a campaign again by investing more money.

Flynn said that Uber’s content budget varies on a case-by-case basis. They will ask themselves what the goal is for the campaign and the piece of content before they determine how much to spend. Some goals may include acquisition and engagement.

Working hand in hand with the public relations team

The content and public relations teams at Uber, Airbnb, Blue Apron, and sweetgreen work very closely together on campaigns.

For example, when Beyonce stayed in an Airbnb for the Superbowl, Toda was given up a heads up from PR so that he could create content around that. The PR and content staffs will figure out what stories can get more shares and hits all around.

The PR team at Uber will pitch stories on the company to various media outlets. According to Flynn, they want additional leveraging of influencers and bloggers to get the word out. The more you’re doing your own promotion, she said, the better chance you have of sparking a media outlet’s interest in doing a story on you.

Looking ahead 

Virtual reality hasn’t quite caught on yet with marketers and consumers, however, sweetgreen is trying it out. According to Drell, she and her team are working on a VR project that will change the way people think about food. It will virtually bring people to the farm and, as she said, “once you spend a day on the farm, you don’t see food in the same way.”

Airbnb also wants to take on virtual and augmented reality. Toda thinks his company would like to use this technology so that travelers can experience listings prior to checking in.

Uber is attempting to create content that will pop up on passengers’ phones when they are on a trip. Right now, they have an API that curates content for passengers’ apps based on the length of their trip. For example, if their ride is 10 minutes long, they can listen to a 10-minute playlist on Spotify.

At Blue Apron, the company is tapping into more stories about rejecting preservative-laden food and easy greasy options. They want to push forward the movement of cooking at home and show all the great things that come along with it. Those are the stories they’re seeing in their community, and they want to tell them more.

Key lessons from the talk with the B2C panel

  • Customers often tell the best stories that can be generated into great content
  • It’s crucial to work closely with your public relations team to build buzz on media outlets
  • Current news stories are excellent jumping points for content
  • The same content can work on different social channels as long as the format fits the channel, i.e. beautiful pictures for Instagram and timely news for Twitter
  • Employees should be tuned into customers and their stories either online or in-person
  • Budgets are not set in stone, and fluctuate based on metrics received
  • Innovators and disruptors invest in new technology like augmented and virtual reality to make stories even richer

Actionable insights to take in your content marketing strategy

  • Create unique hashtags and encourage users to tell their stories to you so that you can showcase them and their unique voices
  • Come up with a content marketing budget that is fluid and can be changed depending on how content performs
  • Keep stories the same, but change how you present them on the various social channels you use
  • Measure your content manually or through algorithms so you can see where you need to make additional investments
  • Befriend your PR team and ensure that you’re on the same page to drive brand awareness
  • Look at how you can use new technology to tell your stories and give customers a more meaningful experience with your brand

For more on creating content that will break through the noise and get customers interested in your company, watch the disruptors panel video from Think Content Summit 2016 in full.