Remember the days when companies kept an arsenal of information under lock and key and feared that if someone ever broke in and stole their “secrets” that the company would be in ruins? It’s safe to say that content marketing has shifted that mindset and tight lips are now a thing of the past.
As companies respond to the new paradigm of consumers who are empowered with choice and long for trust and to find value in the companies with which they work and support, thought leadership is coming to the forefront of brands content marketing initiatives and is becoming a priority. Companies are embracing this concept and are working hard to climb the totem pole of popularity by using educational and valuable content as the stepping stones.
But of course, since every company can’t be at the top at the same time, there are a few notables who rose faster than others and are excelling. When it comes to creating content that does more than just sell a company’s products or services, here are two companies who are killing it.
Being in the B2B space and with a newer focus on the small business market, content generating experts at American Express sought to inform and educate, not just sell. So in 2007, American Express launched its online forum, AMEX Open. AMEX Open focused on sharing information with small business owners and helping those fragile small businesses succeed – and of course, thanks to a renewed reputation and newly formed trust, consider American Express when they had certain financial needs.
In 2011, the media hub underwent a transformation in focus and format. The site changed its name (from American Express OPEN) to OPEN Forum and turned into a lucrative community of information-sharing and user-generated content. The forum offers the opportunity to ask and/or answer questions and focused on content within these topic areas: customers, leadership, marketing, money, and technology.
This pivot in their content strategy eventually lead to cultivating a community of entrepreneurs and experts who are constantly scratching each other’s backs and providing answers that might not be easy to find anywhere else (or might not come from credible sources). According to the Anders Pink blog, 85-90 percent of the OPEN Forum traffic is organic and the blog’s Twitter feed currently boasts over 200,000 followers.
Although there are some great examples of thought leadership in B2C companies such as Starbucks and Zappos, there is another company that stands out for more than clever campaigns – it stands out because their content strategy is aligned with their company mission and their focus on the future of business.
Patagonia, the popular retailer offering clothing and accessories for those with an outdoorsy lifestyle, does more than just sell clothing – they sell a lifestyle dedicated to being adventurous, preserving the great outdoors, and improving their global carbon footprint.
In an effort to redefine corporate responsibility, Patagonia launched The Footprint Chronicles, which is a content hub (that is brand controlled) that publicly reveals Patagonia’s life and habits as a company. The focus is to be transparent and educate their audience about their supply chain management and what they are doing to preserve the world’s natural resources.
The Patagonia webpage also features their brand ambassadors, who are the chosen few who represent the brand in their respective sports. When the ambassador’s photo is clicked, it shows their personal Patagonia page, which features some personal information about the ambassador and aggregates updates from their social media channels, which shows a visual representation of their “Patagonia” lifestyle – an excellent source of user-generated content. Patagonia has over 173,000 followers on Twitter and was named one of the best Twitter feeds by Time.
What can we learn?
These examples show that transparency, authenticity, and purpose are three key elements that must be considered and respected when launching a thought leadership initiative.
With the cacophony of information that is accessible via the web, it can be difficult to clear the clutter and uncover those gems of information that meaningfully contribute to the dialogue and bring about new thoughts and perspectives. But, people are constantly searching for truly useful content and if brands continue to strive for this level of content, the audience will follow.