Last year I launched Content Marketer – a tool that helps to scale and automate content marketing; a project that I (more or less) dedicated my entire life to working on for the six months prior to its launch.

We’re up and running now, so you might think the hard part’s over. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not. Far from it, in fact..

Growing our customer base, building the brand, and getting to the point where we’re actually turning a profit… that’s where we’ll really be tested.

Thankfully, I know a little bit about marketing and growth hacking a startup, so I’m certainly not going into this with my eyes closed.

If you’re new to the game, here are a few of my best tips and ideas to help you (like me) market your startup – however small your budget may be. Continue reading 12 Tactics to Launch & Market Your Startup (with Little to No Money)

Research executed by Bizible found that only 64.2% of businesses today are using PR to drum up business, while (for the same reason) 82.1% are investing in content marketing and 79.2% in SEO.
Why? I don’t profess to be an expert in PR, but hearsay tells me the industry has been suffering from a flailing reputation for a while now.

In 2014, Think Different[ly] founder Lyndon Johnson wrote a piece for Marketing Profs in which he declared the industry “broken,” stating the problem to be a result of “excessive retainer fees, a lack of transparency, no clear value proposition, and dubious business ethics.”

Hearing that, I can understand how businesses would approach PR with caution, and I could forgive them for writing off the idea altogether.

And yet I’d still say that’s a shame.

The PR industry might have suffered its fair share of setbacks, but that doesn’t mean to say the discipline itself isn’t worth investing in.

My work has shown me that PR is going through a particularly difficult period of transition. Digital isn’t the future – it’s the here-and-now, and traditional PR agencies that want to survive need to adapt – and quickly.

They’re up against marketing channels that offer fast, measurable results. They’re fighting for coverage in media that updates not by the month, week, or day, but by the second. It’s tough, and PR agencies that don’t adapt will fail.

On the other hand, we have digital-only agencies dipping their toes into the world of online PR. SEOs and content marketers are testing the waters by using traditional PR techniques to win online coverage for their clients.

In my experience, I’ve seen few marketers that are truly skilled in both digital marketing and traditional PR, but those that are, are getting some pretty awesome results.

Let’s stick with this positive train of thought and see some examples…

Aquascutum

In 2013, UK designer brand Aquascutum was suffering the lingering effects of going into administration the previous year. Despite having been acquired by YGM Trading (who already owned the rights to the brand in Asia) only a short time after the bad news broke, Aquascutum was unable to shake the general public’s view that the brand was done for.
To help turn things around, Aquascutum enlisted the help of digital specialists Media Vision. When the two first joined forces, the search results were choked with stories about the brand entering into administration.

To remedy this, Aquascutum decided to capitalize on the launch of a new store in Great Marlborough Street, in London. Media Vision decided that the best chance of success would lie in reaching out, not to traditional journalists, but to the “journalists” of the digital age: bloggers.

Media Vision sought out fashion bloggers who had never featured the brand before and invited them to meet with Aquascutum’s designers ahead of the store’s opening. In short: it adopted a traditional PR tactic and updated it for the digital age.

It worked well. Branded searches and direct traffic began to increase along with visitors to the new store.

This gave the company the confidence to expand and begin targeting bigger online publications. It secured features in a number of men’s fashion blogs as well as localized sites such as Time Out London.

The final result was a 348% increase in visitors landing on the site via branded search terms, alongside a 1087% increase in revenue from customers who arrived on the site via the same means.

Key takeaway: Don’t just target the traditional media with your PR campaigns. You can often get far better results through speaking to industry-specific bloggers. This strategy works best when you’re able to offer them products or invite them to events that will help them get excited about your brand.

Pizza Express

In 2011, UK pizza restaurant chain Pizza Express set about changing the way diners pay for meals for good with the launch of a new mobile app. The app allows customers to book tables, view menus, and store vouchers and receipts. More importantly, the app enabled customers to pay their check directly from their phone, using PayPal.

This proved to be excellent news for diners who, frustrated with having to wait around to pay their check once they had finished their meal, downloaded the app by the thousands: it quickly became the number one downloaded lifestyle app in the UK.

Of course, Pizza Express didn’t just launch the app and wait for users to find it. They used a traditional press release and distribution strategy in order to get the media talking (with a bit of a difference).
Instead of a standard plain text release and token photo, Wolfstar PR company created a “social media news release (SMNR)” which contained news copy and images alongside a video and screenshots that showcased the app in action.

This was distributed to journalists in the tech, food, and marketing media, in addition to the UK national media.

The result included more than 50 digital articles while “Pizza Express” became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. The release also nabbed Pizza Express and Wolfstar the Best Multimedia Press Release at the 2011 Digital Impact Awards.

Key takeaway: The mobile app market is a tough nut to crack. Make things a little easier for yourself by entering the market with an app that’s unique, innovative, and fulfils a genuine consumer need. Just make sure to publicize its launch with an engaging press release and a smart distribution strategy, too.

Coldplay

Grammy-winning rock bands probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about digital PR, but truth be told, Coldplay never really fit the traditional “rock star” stereotype.

It probably shouldn’t have come as any real surprise then, when Coldplay began to get tongues wagging in anticipation of their 2014 album “Ghost Stories” with a good old traditional PR stunt.

In the lead up to the album’s release, Coldplay hid lyric sheets, written by Chris Martin himself, inside ghost story books in libraries around the world.


The band hid nine sheets in total (one from each song on the album) in libraries as far and wide as Singapore, Finland, England, and New Zealand (FYI: the England envelope also contained a “golden ticket” with a prize of a trip to see the band play in London).

Throughout the stunt, the band tweeted clues to the sheets’ whereabouts, both to help fans track them down, and to leverage the online coverage the stunt secured them that much further.

The result was an incredible amount of online coverage and an album that debuted at number one on both the UK and US charts. It also went on to become the UK’s biggest-selling album in the first half of 2014.

Key takeaway: Don’t just get the media involved in a PR stunt — getting the general public fired up about what you’re doing will spread your message further, and should naturally get the media talking, too.

BizBuySell.com

BizBuySell is where companies go to try and sell their business. Despite being the internet’s biggest “Business for Sale Marketplace” (or so they say), like most companies, BizBuySell was hungry for more publicity.

Enter Walker Sands: a forward-thinking PR company that places high value on social and search, alongside traditional media.

BizBuySell worked with Walker Sands to devise a data-led PR strategy. Like many companies, BizBuySell was sitting on heaps of unused data. This goldmine included key insights into business-for-sale transactions: specifically, the listing and sale price of small businesses from all across the US.


Rather than approach journalists with a list of facts and figures, BizBuySell and Walker Sands decided to boost the usefulness and appeal of the data, and increase its longevity, by incorporating it into a quarterly economic report called the BizBuySell.com Insight Report.

I admire this tactic because it takes a sort of “evergreen” approach to PR. Okay, so each set of data might age quickly, but where one report failed, the next may well succeed.

It’s cumulative, too. When a publication reports on a data set, there’s a good chance they will report on the next one as well. Each time a respectable publication writes up a story, odds are other publications will follow. This can cause a domino effect.

BizBuySell and Walker Sands utilized one more classic PR strategy in this campaign: exclusivity. Every publication wants to be the first to report on a story, so if you can offer a reporter exclusive rights to it, if only for a limited time, you’ll make the prospect of using the story sound much more appealing.

BizBuySell and Walker Sands did just that: they approached ACBJ business journals with data that was specifically relevant to them, and offered temporary exclusivity on its use.

The result during a one-year period was 353 online and offline placements including outlets like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Reuters.

In the same period, traffic to its site increased by nearly 27%.

You can read the full case study here.

Key takeaway: See what data your company is already collecting that can be turned into a report and presented to the media.

Ikea

Great PR happens when a company does something completely unexpected, and I can’t think of a better example of that than Ikea’s latest business venture: weddings. Yep, you heard that right – your favourite Swedish furniture store can now host the wedding of your dreams. Theoretically, anyway. This isn’t your standard church, barn, or hotel wedding. This is a webcam wedding.

Ikea is no stranger to off-the-wall PR stunts. In December 2014, they replaced the movie seats in a theatre with beds.
In February 2015 they launched a range of emoticons designed to help prevent relationship break up in its stores.
Then in April of last year, “Wedding Online” happened. The cynics among us might assume that this was all a big hoax. They would be right, to an extent. The stunt was designed to be a bit of fun that would help to promote products and yet… it was entirely, 100% genuine. Ikea was able to marry couples over webcam and even offered Swedish citizens the necessary paperwork.

Did anyone actually get married via Wedding Online? Sadly, I can’t find anything saying that they did — a Google search just led to a story about a couple who got married in Ikea rather than by Ikea. If you know anything more, comments are below – please let me know!

And if you’re tempted by a webcam wedding, I’ve got bad news for you: according to the Wedding Online website, it’s no longer possible to book an Ikea webcam wedding. Not that Ikea will be too upset about that: the stunt secured the brand a huge amount of online coverage that included mentions and links on sites like CNET, ABCNews, Cosmopolitan, and PCMag.

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to try something completely off-the-wall and unexpected. Remember that big media publications are not interested in product launches or company expansions unless there’s something new or unusual about them. Unless you’re about to launch a product or company that’s (genuinely) going to change how we live or work, you might need to start thinking a little more creatively.

Design Crowd

Here’s another case study courtesy of the guys at Walker Sands (no, they’re not paying me, they just do lots of awesome work). This time, they were tasked with boosting sales and driving traffic to DesignCrowd, a crowdsourced marketplace in which businesses can submit a design brief and choose from many (often a few hundred) different designs, courtesy of the site’s freelance designers. The clincher (for the businesses, anyway) is that they get to choose and pay only for their favorite design.

Walker Sands’ strategy involved executing and promoting a series of five design competitions. DesignCrowd’s members were asked to create “topical, humorous designs to showcase their creativity.”
Walker Sands would then promote the competition to the media with the aim of reaching DesignCrowd’s target audiences: small businesses and freelance designers.

The project ran for 3 months, with the winner taking home a $2,500 prize. In the meantime, entries were collected and shortlists were made and shared with the media and target customers.

During the 3-month period, Walker Sands secured coverage for DesignCrowd in 65 online publications including Adweek, HuffPost Business, and Buzzfeed. These placements saw a total of 54,000 social shares across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, while referral traffic to the site increased by an incredible 1,900%. More importantly, new member registrations increased by over 700%.

Key takeaway: Competitions can generate publicity, but you generally need to be asking entrants to do or create something intriguing if you want to spark the media’s interest. A substantial prize tends to help, too.

LiquiGlide

When integrated marketing agency LEWIS was enlisted by LiquiGlide to raise awareness of the brand and its innovative “make anything slippery” gel, it had a pretty tough job on its hands.
LiquiGlide was struggling to shake an image that saw the brand as more of a “science experiment” than a multipurpose product to be reckoned with. LiquiGlide wanted consumers to understand that the product could be used in a wide array of applications. It also wanted to target the B2B market, specifically manufacturers of viscous liquids who would be able to cut costs and even eliminate waste thanks to LiquiGlide.

In short: LiquiGlide was after a PR campaign that educated potential customers on the product and its uses.

The key here was to get the brand in front a very specific group of people – people who would be able to grasp the science behind how the product works.

While it might have been easy to go down the silly “look what crazy things you can do with this product” route, LEWIS and LiquiGlide knew that wouldn’t help erase the idea that the product was just a “crazy science experiment.” Rather, their goal was to help potential customers gain a deeper understanding of LiquiGlide. They wanted customers to not only understand the ‘what’ of the product, but also the ‘why.’

Their quality over quantity approach (in terms of the reporters they targeted with the campaign) worked well. Very well.

In a single year, LiquiGlide was featured in the digital media 790 times.

Its proudest achievement, however, was a feature in The New York Times. Not only did the article communicate everything LiquiGlide wanted to convey, but it also led to:

  • More than 50,000 views of LiquiGlide’s videos
  • Over 38,000 Facebook likes
  • 81,000 website views
  • More than 600 new sales inquiries

Key takeaway: Outreach isn’t necessarily a numbers game. Taking the time to carefully approach a handful of highly-qualified prospects can often gain better results than sending out emails in the hopes that if you send enough, some of them have got to stick.

Häagen-Dazs

One of Häagen-Dazs’ key selling points is its use of natural, quality ingredients. Even today, Häagen-Daz is one of the very few commercial ice cream manufacturers that doesn’t use stabilizers like carrageenan, xanthan gum, and guar gum in its products.

What it does use, however, is a lot of ingredients that are reliant on honey bees (as are one third of the foods we eat worldwide). This wouldn’t be a problem… if honey bees weren’t in crisis.

In the last five years, the U.S. has lost more than a third of its honey bee colonies, due to factors like parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition, and an unexplained phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in which honey bees desert their hive and die.

In 2008 Häagen-Dazs responded to the situation by devising its “Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees” campaign.
Since the campaign’s launch, Häagen-Dazs has donated more than a million dollars to honey bee research.

This included a $125,000 donation to the UC Davis Department of Entomology to help them establish “Honey Bee Haven”, a garden designed to “provide honey bees with a year-around food source, and to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own.”


More recently, the brand has teamed up with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a non-profit organization that helps to protect bees and other insects through the conservation of their habitats.

In the year following the launch of Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees, sales increased 5.2%. The brand also won multiple awards including a gold Cannes Lion for Corporate Responsibility and Environmental Issues and saw a 13% increase in its brand advocacy rating.

Digitally, Häagen-Dazs drove 469,798 visitors to its Help the Honey Bees site and also secured online and offline media impressions worth around $1.5 million in advertising.

Key takeaway: Charity PR is brilliant for brands and the world at large. Try to identify a link between your brand and a social or ethical issue and use this to devise a charity-led PR strategy.

Alpine Lace Swiss Cheese

A unique, fun, and interesting event with the right guests in attendance is an excellent way to get people talking about a company – a strategy that achieved awesome results for Alpine Lace, a brand of reduced-fat Swiss cheese.

The brand’s Dine, Dance and Discover event was one element of a multi-pronged PR strategy devised by Exponent PR.

A Facebook strategy was launched with the goal of aligning the brand’s values with those of its customers.


Lifestyle bloggers were asked to share personal stories about “what goes into their healthy, happy lives” and devise recipes that used Alpine Lace cheese as an ingredient.

For the Dine, Dance and Discover event, Alpine Lace invited lifestyle bloggers and media personalities from the Boston and New York areas to one of two events in which they would learn the rumba and dance with Kristi Yamaguchi (an Olympic gold medalist skater, children’s author, and entrepreneur) and try “innovative cheese pairings” alongside, naturally, plenty of wine.


Although it’s best practice and just plain polite not to ask anything in return for your invitees’ attendance, if you put on a good soiree and your guests enjoy themselves, you can expect most of them will put a positive write-up on their blog. This is exactly what happened for Alpine Lace. See the results for yourself here. This coverage drove 10.5 million impressions in total – more than 3 times the brand’s goal.

Key takeaway: An event is a great way to get people talking about your brand, but prepare to spend. Many of your guests will likely be traveling a long way and taking time away from their work and family to attend, so you need to make the event worth their effort. Cut corners and you can expect to burn bridges and reap the “rewards” of pissing off reputable bloggers and journalists.

The Tatura Hotel

When Australian pub, bistro, and hotel “The Tatura” needed to raise funds fast, it turned to a form of fundraising more commonly associated with consumer products than the service industry: crowdfunding.

Unfortunately, crowdfunding only really works if you can offer something in return for your crowdfunders’ cash. This is simple for consumer product startups, who will have something tangible they can offer to contributors.

It’s not so easy for a hotel/pub. It might be able to offer drinks, food, or hotel stays as compensation, but this limits the company to potential crowdfunders who live within the vicinity of the venue.

Those standard compensation options also lacked the creativity needed to generate something else The Tatura team was after: PR.

The plan instead was to offer contributors the chance to name parts of the pub in their honor.

This included things such as the Chicken Parma, a barstool, the men’s urinal, a car park, and a pool cue. Alternatively, a $6 contribution could even ‘buy a local a beer.’

Owner “Bugs” Ryan was used as the face of the campaign, parts of which entailed posing for photos:
And starring in videos:

The video above racked up 200,000 views in the first 24 hours of its release. It also made the front page of Reddit and secured more than 160 pieces of coverage including features in new.com.au, The London Times, and Woman’s Weekly.

A second video saw the Tatura team call on Kanye West to play a gig in the pub should it hit its fundraising target. While this generated plenty of PR for the pub, it’s still waiting to hear whether Kanye will be coming to perform.

Over five weeks, the campaign raised $32,000, but more importantly, it resulted in an unimaginable amount of publicity, considering its source – a local pub, restaurant, and hotel.

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to aim high. This case proves that with the right story, even a small, local business can gain international coverage.

That’s it for today… just a reminder that if anyone knows whether any couples did get married via an Ikea Webcam Wedding, please leave a note below – I’m really curious to find out! And as always, I love to hear about your experiences. Have you tried hacking traditional PR tactics to gain coverage online? Let me how it went, also in the comments below.

Free Course: Join my free content marketing course to learn how to create a content strategy that converts within two weeks.

One of the biggest objections I hear from companies when it comes to content marketing and their decision to invest in it (or not invest in it) is cost. A lot of companies believe that content marketing costs big bucks.

I can completely understand that when we have brands like Nestle reportedly spending $127,500 a day on Facebook posts alone, and posts like this stating that even the most basic content strategies (bearing in mind this is only the strategy – not the cost of actually producing the content) will cost around $5,000, with more comprehensive strategies running to $50,000 or more. Continue reading 10 Small Businesses Prove It’s Possible to Create Great Content on a Budget

So you want to grow your business. I get that. You probably wouldn’t be here if expansion wasn’t on your mind. But while strategies to help you increase your customer base and boost revenue are – on the surface – a good thing, growth alone isn’t enough to support and sustain a company if the right conditions aren’t met.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for businesses that excited about growth to accept – or even create – challenges that they’re not equipped to handle. Continue reading Growth Isn’t Everything: 7 Lessons Learned from 5 Failed Companies

Different publications, writers, and audiences do not all respond to the same type of content.

Want to get in the New York Times? You probably shouldn’t send them an infographic. Approach them with unique, topical data, however, and you might have a way in. Looking to be featured on Buzzfeed? Lengthy lists are the way to go. LinkedIn? You need to write long-form articles.

FREE ECOURSE: Want To Create A Content Strategy To Grow Your Business Within Two Weeks? Join My Free Ecourse Now!

The fact is that if you want to diversify your traffic – that is, if you want to get your brand featured in a variety of publications and want to attract a varied audience to your site — you need to mix up your content strategy.

Continue reading How to Use Multiple Content Formats to Diversify Your Traffic

Content upgrades can be the most powerful tool in your subscriber growth arsenal. Learn how to create them in this article and learn how to use all the tools you’re already paying for in MailChimp with the new online course Chimp Essentials ($40 for readers using SUJANRULES).

Let me start this off by answering the most common questions about content upgrades:

  • Yes, they require a little more work than just writing a blog post. But wouldn’t you like to do a little more work to get a lot more subscribers? Take your content marketing efforts from Nissan Versa to Porsche Cayenne?
  • Yes, you need to make something relevant and useful to the people who would be interested in the blog post they’re reading. You can’t just call in the upgrade or make a PDF version of the blog post. Think: video walk-through of the lesson, PDF checklist for doing what’s in the blog post, customizable spreadsheet with the formulas in the blog post, additional materials on the same topic.
  • No, you don’t have to do content upgrades for every blog post ever. Look at your stats and traffic to find the top 5-10 articles on your site. Try content upgrades on the most popular posts first.
  • No, you don’t need to pay for fancy lead-gen software. All you need is your WordPress site, your normal MailChimp account and a $49 plugin (20% off using this link) called MailChimp for WordPress – which you can then use to turbo charge all your signup forms on your site.

Continue reading Take your content marketing efforts from Nissan Versa to Porsche Cayenne by using content upgrades

Recently I launched our new email outreach tool called Maishake. What better way than to celebrate than writing a blog post on how to write the perfect outreach email! Because I write for a few Forbes, Inc., & Entrepreneur Magazine I get a lot of cold outreach emails arriving in my inbox (20-30 a day). Some are good, some are bad, and some are very, very bad.

Unfortunately, only a handful of them are what I would classify as “great,” and yet “great” is what you should be aiming to achieve with each and every email you send. To quote Moz, good just isn’t good enough:

To inspire a response, you have to get to “great”.

That’s easier said than done, but I like to think that being on the receiving end of so many outreach messages (and sending a good many myself) has given me a pretty solid idea as to what a “great” outreach email entails. Continue reading How to Craft the Perfect Outreach Email

Most of the time, TV advertisements are a minor annoyance that we do our very best to avoid (thank you, Netflix!) but once a year, the tables turn…

When the Super Bowl hits our screens the humble TV commercial becomes a must-watch, and for good reason.

A Super Bowl ad isn’t just another ad. For starters, the Super Bowl offers the most expensive ad slots in the world. More importantly, it’s a chance for brands to broadcast their message to more than 100 million viewers (not to mention those that watch the ads online and talk about them in articles – just like this one – in the days and weeks that follow).

Needless to say the cost and potential that’s attached to a Super Bowl ad means a hell of a lot is staked on those few second of airtime. An ad that fails during Mad Men? Not such a big deal. An ad that falls flat during the Super Bowl? Somebody’s probably getting fired.

This means that brands which buy up Super Bowl air time are not just out to make good ads – they’re out to make ads that are going to be remembered and talked about forever.

Consequently, the awesomeness of (many, not all) Super Bowl ads means there’s a hell of a lot of lessons we can learn from them – many of which can be applied to our own marketing, both off and online. Continue reading 10 Digital Marketing Lessons from Super Bowl 50’s Ad Winners

I’ve been dying to write a blog post to recap 2015 for some time, but with my workload and travel, I haven’t really been able to get away from working to reflect on what’s probably been my greatest year ever.

But never fear – I finally locked myself in a room and found the time to put a year of victories, failures and hustling on paper. And yep, you read that correctly. I’m writing this blog post on a physical piece of paper (what’s paper…?). It’s actually the only way I can fully remove distractions and have a clear head these days, but more on that later…

So here we go – here’s what happened during my best year ever, as well as what I’m planning to do next:

2015 Recap

For starters, check out this video I put together on my big year. Stay with me, as it’s loaded with metrics and numbers. Video notes below:

Let me start by saying that I hit my three major goals for 2015:

  1. Be everywhere (as determined by how many people tell me I’m everywhere).
  2. Connect with or help one person a day (I actually connected with 368, of which 21 are now great friends, and 3 of whom became my partners in new companies).
  3. Push my limits by working 13.3 hour days (basically, 80-hour weeks) every day in 2015.

Continue reading 2015 Recap, And How I Plan to Crush 2016

When you meet someone new, what happens? Chances are, you ask them questions in the hopes of learning more about them. Hopefully, they’ll reciprocate by doing the same. You try to unearth their story, and to tell your own (or some of it, at least). The end goal is to connect.

In business, the rules don’t really change. Telling your story is a critical part of building your brand. It helps to shape how people view you and enables consumers to begin forging a connection with your company. Do it right, and you’ll put building blocks in place that will allow you to develop a pretty awesome brand with an equally awesome future, a brand that people buy from simply because they love what you do and what you stand for.

The trick however… is to be authentic. Consumers aren’t stupid. If they think you’re fabricating stories and falsifying your brand they will find out. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But at some point, the truth will come out and the “brand” you built will be in need of some serious damage control if it’s to survive.

Some of the world’s biggest brands are guilty of, shall we say… stretching the truth. Do you remember when PepsiCo’s Naked Juice got caught making claims that the products were “all natural” and “non-GMO”? They ended up agreeing to a settlement that saw them pay out $75 to Naked Juice customers who could provide proof of purchase, and $45 to those that couldn’t. Ouch.

Or how about General Mills, who was called out in 2012 by California consumer Annie Lam for the misleading marketing of their “Strawberry Naturally-Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups”? Turns out that despite what we (i.e. consumers) would reasonably believe, there was no strawberry in a Strawberry Fruit Roll Up.

Of course, brands of this size can comfortably ride out these kinds of “hiccups,” in part because of cold, hard cash, but also because they produce so many products under their name. If a PepsiCo brand fails, they just launch another. Could you?

I’m guessing the answer is “no.” With that in mind, there are no ifs or buts here: just be 100% honest and genuine, 100% of the time.

Thankfully, for every PepsiCo and General Mills, there are heaps of awesome brands that are telling great, authentic stories. Let’s take a look at 7 brands that really are killing it with their storytelling.

Dannijo

Jewelry brand Dannijo was founded by sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder in 2008.


In the years since, the brand’s incredible storytelling, combined with a fantastic product (I assume – I’m not big on jewelry myself…) has amassed the pair more than 138,000 Instagram followers and built them a celebrity-packed fanbase that includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Zosia Mamet, and Beyoncé.

When speaking with Fast Company, Danielle explained the sisters’ belief that authentic storytelling is key to creating a successful lifestyle brand. She said companies need to “create narratives that are so compelling to consumers, they want to build your products into their lives.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So what stories is Dannijo telling, and how is it telling them?

The sisters use Instagram to showcase snapshots of their own lives, alongside lifestyle photos of their products and pics of celebrities (and beautiful non-celebrities) wearing – and rocking – them.


They regularly post inspirational videos: Subjects include “Conversation Pieces,” which translates to casual interviews between one of the sisters and another influential figure, and “Portraits,” which showcase the products to a musical soundtrack that’s right on point. Each of their videos tells its own story, and each one is absolutely true to the brand.

One of my favorite pieces is this – a short, photo-led story which is presented as an infographic and tells us about the people behind the production of some of Dannijo’s products.

But for me… what really makes Dannijo’s content stand out is how Danielle and Jodie are almost always part of the story (if you look at the products themselves, you might even notice the sisters modeling some of them). They are just as much a part of the brand as the products are, and when people buy their jewelry, they are, in a way, buying a part of these sisters (and in turn, the brand). They know this is key to their success, so as much as possible, they put themselves at the center of the stories they tell.

Airbnb

Danielle and Jodie are what make the “Dannijo” brand. They feature customers and advocates in the stories they tell, but it’s the sisters themselves that are the beating heart of the company. This goes against what I, and most marketers, will generally tell you: that customers should be at the center of a brand and the stories a brand tells. I still believe this, but there are exceptions to every rule. Danielle and Jodie aren’t just selling jewelry, they’re selling a lifestyle, a lifestyle that they embody and impart a little bit of with each item they sell.

Conversely, Airbnb is 100% about the customer. How could it not be? Without the customer, there is no product. In this case, the customer is the brand.

For anyone who is not yet familiar with Airbnb, it’s an online marketplace in which homeowners can offer their property, or part of their property, for rent. Travelers then use the site to book a stay in their home. Or at least, that’s the general idea. Today you won’t just find private homeowners on Airbnb – many hotels offer rooms for rent via the site, too.

Regardless, it’s the customer that is the brand. Airbnb doesn’t own or manage properties itself (not as far as I’m aware, at least) – they simply provide a forum for customers to promote and book properties. Most companies still have a product, even if nobody’s buying, but not Airbnb.

Airbnb knows this, and instead of telling the company’s story, it gets its customers to tell their stories. This is so important to Airbnb that they have a whole section dedicated to “Stories from the Airbnb Community.”


The site’s Belong Anywhere section uses imagery and short films to offer a snapshot into the lives of Airbnb hosts and what a guest might expect a stay with them to be like.

Positioning the customer at the center of the brand – in effect, letting the customer be the brand – is such a key part of the Airbnb philosophy that they even designed a tool that allows customers to create their own version of the Airbnb logo.


I believe this technique works so well for Airbnb not only because it helps consumers to build an affiliation with the Airbnb brand, but because it helps consumers overcome one of the biggest pain points of using a service like this: who are the people I will be staying with, and what will the experience be like?

It’s understandable that first-time Airbnb-ers might feel a little anxious at the prospect of staying in a stranger’s home. I know I would be. But using articles, video, and imagery to show that Airbnb hosts are normal, interesting people, just like the people who stay with them, helps to put the minds of potential guests at ease, and can even help to drum up excitement about the prospect of enjoying a more “authentic” travel experience with the Airbnb brand.

Minnetonka

It shouldn’t be hard for a brand with as rich a history as Minnetonka to tell great stories, but not every brand with a tale to tell tells it as well as these guys do.

Minnetonka has been producing quality, comfortable footwear since 1946. Minnetonka is a “quintessential American brand” – an ideology the company has lived up to and remained true to throughout its history, even as the company has gone international. Today they trade in 50 countries worldwide.

It’s clear that Minnetonka understands that staying true to its roots is key to building a brand with timeless appeal. Sure, products should move with the times, but wherever possible, what made a brand great – what attracted customers to it in the first place – is the foundation of the brand, and should stay firmly in place.

For Minnetonka, that means being a family brand which consumers can trust to supply them with products that look good, are comfortable, and that will last. It’s about providing quality products that are affordable and accessible to everyone, products that transcend class and generations. Cameron Diaz might wear them, but so do your parents, your neighbors, and your children.


These are the ideologies that the company pushes through in the many stories it tells.

It starts with the company “history,” which is presented as a short timeline and ends with an inspirational movie that delves into the brand’s beliefs and its relationship with the secret of its success – the customers.

It continues with a short article that illustrates a key component of the brand: the quality of the products and materials used to make them. We’re also treated to a short video that takes us through the story of how the shoes and boots themselves are made.

The stories continue onto Minnetonka’s blog, where recipes and style snapshots are supplemented with tales of adventure in which Minnetonka shoes have a starring role.

Burt’s Bees

Body care brand Burt’s Bees began in 1984 when its founders (Roxanne and Burt) met during a chance hitchhiking encounter, hit it off, and started making wax candles together.

Their story makes a little more sense when you learn that Roxanne was an artist and Burt was a beekeeper who was well-known locally for his roadside honey stand.

Today, Burt’s Bees sells a huge range of bodycare products (if nothing else, you’ll probably be familiar with their Beeswax Lip Balm).


Yet, despite the company’s success, the Burt’s Bees philosophy has remained exactly the same: “What you put on your body should be made from the best nature has to offer.”

I’d have high hopes that such a quirky, caring brand would have some great stories to tell, and Burt’s Bees doesn’t disappoint.

In place of an “About” page, the company has a whole section dedicated to enlightening customers on what the brand is about and what it stands for.


Its “history” is told through a stunning timeline that’s heavy on the pictures and light on words. The “purpose” page explains the brand’s ethos. It shows how Burt’s has achieved Carbon Neutral Certification, and enlightens customers as to how their packaging is as sustainable as the products it contains.

The stories the company tells seep through onto social media, in particular YouTube. It uses video to educate consumers not only about the Burt’s Bees brand, but also about one of the key ingredients in the brand’s success: the bees.

If you only watch one of their stories, make it “Burt Talks to the Worker Bees.”

The Burt’s Bees brand is about being 100% transparent. The company is proud of the ingredients it uses and the products it makes, and it shows. Burt’s uses storytelling as a mechanism to help customers buy into the company’s philosophy: that we should treat our skin, and the world with care. I think it’s working.

Nike

Nike has understood and has been leveraging the power of a great story longer than most people have been online. In 1999, the brand released a one-minute “commercial” that commemorated the career of Michael Jordan.

Despite being commissioned by Nike, there was no mention of the brand until the film’s closing seconds in which, over a school photo of Michael, the brand’s slogan “Just Do It” appeared, followed by the classic Nike logo.


This couldn’t have been more different from most commercials at the time, which tended to lean towards the “sell, sell, sell” principle. I get that. Commercials weren’t viewed online, they were viewed on television sets, and TV real estate was (and still is) very expensive. Wouldn’t a two-second mention of a brand in a one-minute ad be a waste?

But Nike knew better than to push its brand down consumers’ throats. It understood that what would really make a lasting impression, and what would help build the brand and allow the company to sell more products in the long-term, was an authentic story.

This ethos has held up even today, and is arguably what makes Nike one of the greatest brand storytellers of our time. Nearly everything Nike does is accompanied by a backstory.

The launch of FLYEASE, an “easy-entry footwear system designed to help athletes on the go and of all abilities perform better” was joined by a video and article that told “The Flyease Story“, the incredible tale of how the shoe came to hit shelves.


This charming comic strip recounts the history of one of Nike’s most iconic items of apparel: the Windrunner Jacket.


This video round-up charts “the year in Nike films” – in other words, it’s a collection of Nike’s 2015 promotional videos accompanied by a written commentary that describes the whats and whys of each film.

And yet Nike doesn’t just tell its own stories: the company is pretty passionate about giving others a voice, as well.

This article and photo gallery give an intimate insight into Amsterdam’s elusive street football scene…


…while this video explores how NBA player Kyrie Irving found the strength to get back in the game following a serious knee injury.

It’s safe to say that Nike is really killing it with brand-driven storytelling, and while it would be fair to argue that it’s easy for the company – that it’s the biggest brand on this list by far – that doesn’t mean we all can’t learn from the stories it tells and how they are presented.

Krochet Kids

I love to see brands take steps to become more socially-conscious. I really love to see brands that build an entire business model on giving back to communities and making a genuine difference to the lives of those that live in them.

Krochet Kids is one of those brands.

Non-profit Krochet Kids produces simple, high-quality, hand-crafted, and affordable items of clothing and accessories including t-shirts, hats, and bags. But there’s so much more to get excited about with this company. It uses a “unique model” to “empower the women of Northern Uganda and Peru with the assets, skills, and knowledge to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.” What’s more, it knows the name and story of each and every individual that is employed to produce its products.


The result is “long-lasting and sustainable change.”

Krochet Kids tells its own stories, and the stories of the people that work for the company. As we’d expect, the company’s history makes for pretty interesting reading. It began with a shared passion for snow sports and of course, crochet.

But there’s a lot more to this brand than its founders.

Each item comes with a label that’s signed by the person who produced it. Customers can then go and find that person’s profile, see their picture, and read their story.
Best of all, customers can continue the story by thanking the people who made the product and sharing a little about the life that item leads now. Take a look at the comments on Adelaida Mato Tolentino’s story to see what I mean.

The stories continue off-site, too. The company has a strong presence on Instagram, but where it really shines is on YouTube. Its videos add more chapters to the brand’s stories by telling us more about the products, the brand’s philosophies, and how the work and education provided by Krochet Kids has helped to empower people and transform the lives of the workers, and in turn, their families and communities.

What I think is so fantastic about Krochet Kids, along with how the company helps transform lives, is how each and every employee is an integral part of the brand. The founders themselves are loud and proud about the company and its achievements, but it’s the people who produce the products that really matter to Krochet Kids. Consequently, the manufacturers are given just as much, if not more prominence as part of the Krochet Kids brand.

Without the people that produce the products, there would be no brand. Not literally – it could outsource production to any old sweat shop and still have a brand of sorts – but Krochet Kids is what it is because of the fantastic faces behind it and how everyone gets the chance to tell their tale.

Superjam

SuperJam’s story began more than 10 years ago when founder Fraser Doherty was just 14. Despite his age, he had masses of entrepreneurial drive and was clearly destined for great things. While most teenage boys were playing computer games and chasing girls (don’t look at me…), Fraser would spend his evenings and weekends cooking up jam, which he then sold to people in his home town of Edinburgh.


Fast forward 10 years, and “SuperJam” – and Fraser himself – are international successes, with many great stories to tell.

SuperJam’s “about” page features a no-holds-barred timeline that chronicles the twists and turns of the brand’s road to victory. Spoiler alert: SuperJam’s SuperHero packaging was a no-go (sadly).


But it doesn’t stop there.

Fraser is not one to shy away from the camera. Consequently, the SuperJam blog is jam-packed (pun intended) with brand-driven tales that detail Fraser’s latest achievements and recount his most recent adventures.

This post about SuperJam’s success in South Korea shows exactly what I mean.


Fraser also has a site dedicated solely to “Fraser the brand” (aka “Jam Boy”) and has even written a couple of books – get yourself a copy of “Super Business” if you want to read his story in full.

Just like with Dannijo, SuperJam is about much more than the product – it’s about the people that are the driving force behind the brand – in this case, Fraser Doherty, or “Jam Boy”.

To sum up, a great story is powerful and moving. It has heart and soul. But not every brand story will meet this criteria. The stories you tell don’t all have to move people to laughter or tears, they just have to be authentic, to be open and honest. Show that your company and your customers are real people with real stories to tell.

Have you told any brand stories yet? If not, what’s stopping you? Why not take a minute and share a story in the comments below?