2017 Review: 15 Companies with the Most Creative Marketing Strategies

From funny tweets to guerilla marketing campaigns gone viral, 2017 was an impressive year for creative marketing. We saw Wendy’s vie for chicken nuggets, Patagonia save public lands and American Express master content creation, all for the sake of brand promotion. The best marketing strategies of the year fall into four primary categories: content marketing, mission-driven marketing, viral marketing and brand-based storytelling. Undeniably, these are the most useful and powerful branding approaches of the moment.

Besides the fact that they all garnered positive responses, these campaigns all have one thing in common–they worked overtime to bridge the gap between consumer and business. When a company is telling you exactly how much a product costs to make or is providing you with a personalized playlist that you’d probably make yourself, it feels more like a friend than a corporate entity. As a result, each of these companies contributes to the case for authenticity. The more authentic and approachable the strategy, the more successful the brand.

The Kings of Content Marketing

If you’re weighing different ways to promote your brand, there’s no better strategy than content marketing. With a relatively high ROI and a massive consumer engagement factor, killer content has the power to revolutionize a company’s image. Here are some of the best content marketing strategies from last year.

  • American Express — The world’s largest credit card issuer is no stranger to smart marketing. Think Small Business Saturday and, back in the 1980s, “Don’t leave home without it.” Nowadays, the company is setting standards in the world of content marketing with the American Express OPEN Forum providing valuable, shareable and wanted content to consumers. The OPEN Forum includes insight, inspiration and advice for small business owners, and its developers say almost every piece is produced because business owners asked them for it.
  • General Electric — GE is another top-tier performer when it comes to content marketing, and it was one of the first to recognize that content goes beyond the written word. It was responsible for the super-popular eight-part podcast series “The Message” back in 2015, and it hasn’t stopped pumping out useful content since. Now, GE stands as a solid example of smart content marketing for business-to-business and business-to-consumer efforts, with its GE Reports blog setting a new standard for content marketers.
  • Airbnb — The hot hospitality platform known as Airbnb made a pretty hefty investment into content marketing in the past year. Not only did they unveil AirbnbMag —an in-print and online travel magazine—in partnership with Hearst, they also funneled some major funds into their Experiences department, adding coverage to 200 more cities. The goal for Airbnb is to become a thought leader not only in the realm of hospitality, but also travel and culture. By taking a broader approach and covering things like food, architecture and design, Airbnb stands to draw in loyalists from various spaces.
  • Casper — Say what you will about mail-order mattresses, but these companies are no sleepers when it comes to content marketing. Our favorite example comes from Van Winkle’s , the digital publication from disruptive mattress-maker Casper. What’s unique about Van Winkle’s compared to every other company blog out there is that it prioritizes magazine-quality content. Take, for example, the Theresa Fisher piece titled “What Happens to Our Sleep in Various Stages of Love?” By zooming out and not limiting itself to works that drone on about the same old sleep-related topics, Casper earned serious points–not only among marketers, but among curious readers, too.

Mission-Driven Marketing Masters

More and more studies suggest that consumers, especially millennials, want to feel like what they’re buying has a connection to something greater and more meaningful . Younger buyers favor companies that prioritize social and political causes, and some brands definitely got the memo in 2017. They funneled more money into charitable efforts and corporate social responsibility–something that helped bolster their overall brand images.

  • REI — REI did something pretty revolutionary in 2016 and 2017: It asked its employees and customers to go outside. As part of its #OptOutside campaign, the company closed its doors on one of the most popular shopping days of the year (Black Friday) and invited its 12,000-plus employees to spend time outside instead. Proving that mission-based marketing has a domino effect, Subaru joined in on the #OptOutside movement and dispatched 30 vehicles to transport shelter dogs and to support the ASPCA on Black Friday.
  • Patagonia — For Patagonia, cause-based marketing isn’t a trend; it’s something that’s been deeply rooted in the brand’s mission since day one. Last year, though, it launched The Cleanest Line, a blog that shares stories about the environment and keeps customers clued into where the brand stands on certain issues. It’s also the face of Protect Public Lands, a facet of the company that helps preserve public parks and establish national monuments. Last year, that was particularly important in the effort to save Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
  • Everlane — Billing itself as “radically transparent,” San Francisco-based clothier Everlane has gained a lot of positive attention for one simple factor: It shares its pricing model with its customers. Every piece of clothing comes with a transparent pricing guide that lays out how much it cost to make—materials, hardware, labor, duties, transport and company profit—so buyers know where every dollar goes and how much the company profits. They also got radical in 2017 with real model details that let shoppers see info about the size of the model displaying a piece of clothing.
  • Tesla — It should come as no surprise that Elon Musk’s eco-friendly car company is exemplary of brands with a purpose. This year, the company officially launched into the building phase of the Tesla Gigafactory, a Reno battery factory powered by a combination of on-site solar, wind and geothermal energy sources. And then, later in the year, it announced that it would help to build the world’s biggest virtual power plant, which is designed to make energy go further in parts of the world where it’s notoriously limited and unreliable. Although these projects aren’t marketing campaigns per se, their viral factor allows them to serve that purpose, too.

Viral Campaigns We Shared and Shared Again

Even though consumers care a whole lot about mission, they also love a little bit of fun. The proof is in the viral marketing campaigns they produced last year. Some of our favorite brands got super-creative in the social networking world, with hilarious tweets that served an important purpose: giving brands some real personality.

  • Wendy’s — The creator of the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger got some serious social points last year with the massively viral #NuggsforCarter campaign. It all started when a 16-year-old Twitter user named Carter tweeted at Wendy’s asking how many retweets it would take for the restaurant to bless him with a free year of chicken nuggets. Wendy’s swiftly replied with a number: 18 million. The tweet surpassed Ellen’s Oscar selfie as the most-retweeted tweet of all-time. That’s a lot of free marketing! If you’re wondering, Carter got his nuggets, and the company made a $100,000 donation to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in his honor.
  • Spotify — Everyone’s favorite digital music service may win the crown for 2017’s most creative viral marketing strategy–not once but twice. First, it unveiled Spotify Time Capsule, a personalized playlist giving every user a set of nostalgic throwbacks that he or she probably played on repeat in their teens and twenties (if you haven’t tried it, it’s remarkably accurate). Then, at the end of the year, the company boosted its annual Wrapped Campaign with personal playlists displaying each user’s year in music. Naturally, both campaigns got a whole lot of shares.
  • KFC — Colonel Sanders is a master of viral marketing, and his 1.27 million Twitter followers are proof. Last year, KFC made some major waves in the world of social when a (seemingly) unaffiliated Twitter user pointed out that the company follows only 11 people on Twitter: five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb. “11 herbs and spices. I need to process this,” the tweet read. It was a nod to KFC’s original recipe containing 11 herbs and spices. The tweet nabbed over 319,000 retweets and 712,000 likes. The fried chicken maker graciously painted a portrait for the user who pointed it out.
  • Domino’s — Why are companies in the food and beverage space so good at viral marketing? We don’t know, exactly, but we love their creative solutions. Case in point: In February of last year, Domino’s unveiled a new take on the traditional wedding registry—a registry for pizza. The Domino’s Wedding Registry allows engaged couples to register for Domino’s pizza—seriously, to-be married couples can request pizza delivery for the bachelor and bachelorette party, engagement party, wedding, honeymoon and just life in general. No surprise here, but the campaign instantly went viral.

Storytelling: Marketing’s Secret Weapon

Brand storytelling should be the foundation of a growth strategy, say the experts. This approach helps customers build authenticity and trust in a company, something that equals major gains in today’s business landscape. Brands told big stories through label design, omnichannel engagement and videos.

  • SoulCycle — The cultish fitness brand knows a thing or two about how to capture engagement with solid storytelling. Traditionally bolstered by word-of-mouth advertising, in 2017, SoulCycle unveiled its very first official branding campaign, and it was impressive. Its Find It campaign focused on the company’s motivational aspect, highlighting the importance of finding yourself to achieve greatness. The new campaign also highlighted SoulCycle’s recent growth and evolution, a smart tactic considering it opened its 74th location last year.
  • Charles Smith — Wine has always had a unique connection to storytelling. Part of that is because a massive 82 percent of consumers make their decisions about which type of wine to buy based on the bottle’s label, so it’s in a winemaker’s best interest to create product packaging that consumers get. Winemaker Charles Smith has been nailing story-based marketing through its labels since its inception, with bold labels that catch the consumer’s eye. Each bottle features an edgy black and white label with a design meant to convey the flavor and spirit of what’s inside. It’s story-based marketing with a visual twist.
  • Nike — The cool thing about Nike is that since the debut of their very first pair of shoes back in 1964, the company has always understood how to pivot its marketing efforts to suit a particular climate. Nike’s always created exemplary work in the realm of brand storytelling–well, at least since it put out a revolutionary commercial showcasing the career of Michael Jordan back in 1999. Now, the shoemaker has shifted its focus to digital video, with an omnichannel approach. Its videos and stories extend across a myriad of channels—social, content marketing, TV commercials and beyond—for a unique, multi-channel approach to narrative marketing.

The Endgame

What can we conclude from this list of impressive marketing strategies? For one, consumers are no longer dazzled by the same old thing. Sometimes it takes a pizza registry or a motivational video to catch your audience’s attention. Secondly, it’s no longer enough to just inform the consumer. You have to be able to inspire them while you’re at it. And here’s the kicker: You must be able to do it in a way that’s authentic and that resonates with your target audience. When you take cues from the masters, though, you’ll be well on your way to a smart marketing approach that inspires and converts.

Inspiring Ideas For Label Designs

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you do. An attractive label may be the only advertising and branding your prospects and customers might see.

Craft beer drinkers are loyal to their favorites but are always willing to expand their favorites list. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, it is still the first thing that makes you have a look at it to see if you are interested. And the same is true of your beer label if the label on your beer is one that is so attractive a shopper can’t help but notice, you’ll increase the chance that a curious customer will try your beer.

Draw Inspiration from Other Brands

When you design your beer label, you want it to authentically represent your brand, the beer’s style, and be attractive to your target market. That’s just good marketing sense. Even with those guidelines, you may still be stumped for a design. Here’s a little advice if your creative juices still aren’t flowing—do a little retail shopping and research the labels of top craft beer sellers.

Here are a few styles that are popular right now:

Clean and Minimal – A minimalist beer label can stand out on the shelf when compared to art-heavy, complex labels. A minimalist label has a large amount of white space, with one or two colors with an attractive typology and illustration. The Die Burke sour has a clean label with a humorous graphic element and plenty of white space. It will stand out on any shelf.

Artistic – Beer brewing is one part science and one part art. An artistic label using color and “painting techniques ” creates a sophisticated packaging. If you embrace the artistic side of brewing, a label style with artistic styling may appeal to an audience more appreciative of your brewing arts. The label on the Hopsynth sour ale is what we have in mind.

Old is New Again – Vintage and industrial style designs are currently popular design trends for homes, workspaces, restaurants, and beer labels. Simple, throwback looks add an attractive blue-collar yet contemporary classic look to labels and could very well represent your brewing workspace and equipment. 450 North’s Scarecrow IPA label has a vintage industrial look. Creating a beer label that resonates with customers and your brand is a necessity to selling your product and gathering a loyal following. When you’re ready to label your brew, we’re here to help. If you need ideas and help. Give us a call 888-325-2626

Top 12 Healthcare Charities Making a Difference

The holidays are the best time of year to give back to charity. The season of giving should encourage you to reflect on your good fortune and express gratitude for the bounties of your life. Healthcare charities are a particularly popular sector for those who are looking for great ways to give back this time of year. They allow you to give gifts in honor of loved ones who have struggled with diseases and conditions that are not widely researched.

All of these charities received a three- or four-star rating from Charity Navigator. This organization rates charities based on their financial health — in other words, whether or not they’re financially efficient and if they have enough capacity to properly serve their specific cause — as well as accountability and transparency.

The American Heart Association (AHA)

The American Heart Association, based in Dallas, is the country’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. The organization focuses on providing public health education — you’ve probably seen the iconic red heart logo on food items to designate that a certain item meets the organization’s criteria for heart-healthy food — but it also provides physicians with science-based treatment guidelines to help prevent heart disease and stroke.

But does it actually make a difference? Definitely. According to the AHA’s 2015-2016 annual report, the organization helped reduce cardiovascular disease mortality by 70 percent since 1968, and helped reduce stroke mortality rate by 36 percent since 2002. The association helped boost survival rates by funding life-saving advancements, such as the artificial heart valve and cholesterol-inhibiting drugs. Charity Navigator gives the AHA a 91.33 out of 100 score, so you can be sure it’s a charity worth your donations.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) was founded in 1971 as an independent humanitarian organization. The organization provides life-saving medical care to those who have been affected by war, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, neglect, and other crises. MSF treats people based on medical need alone, and does not take into account race, religion, or political affiliation. After an emergency, MSF provides free, high-quality medical care to those in need.

MSF won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and currently has around 33,000 staff members on the ground in 70 countries. Last year, it provided over 9.7 million outpatient consultations and treated nearly 700,000 patients, according to the Doctors Without Borders 2016 Annual Report. It was particularly vital amidst the mounting refugee crisis in Syria and Yemen, and was able to treat large numbers of displaced people throughout the world.

Patient Services Incorporated (PSI)

Virginia-based Patient Services Incorporated may not be as recognizable as The American Heart Association or Doctors Without Borders, but it does equally as much good work. This non-profit organization offers assistance with copayments to chronically ill patients with mounting medical bills. The organization was founded by Dr. Dana Kuhn in 1989 in an effort to help his chronically ill patients receive the medical care they needed to survive.

PSI is one of very few charities on Charity Navigator to receive eight consecutive four-star charity ratings. The organization gave over 94 percent of contributions in 2016 to program assistance groups that work directly with patients to help pay medical bills, according to its annual report . Last year, the group provided financial assistance to 20,738 patients — that equates to over $100 million in services — throughout the United States.

MAP International

MAP International’s slogan is “Medicine for the World,” and at its core, that’s what the organization strives to provide. The international, Christian organization provides medicine and health supplies to people around the world regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality, or ethnic background. These vital medical services help prevent disease and promote good health in many regions of the world where resources are limited, including in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean, as well as the U.S. and Mexico.

Last year, MAP International gave $485 million in aid to 102 countries, treating about 10 million patients. The organization also expanded its reach to include emergency support for areas hit hard by natural disasters, with $6.6 million going towards disaster relief efforts. What’s more, MAP has shipped over $6 billion worth of medicine around the world since its founding in 1954. It holds a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and is rated as an Accredited Charity from the Better Business Bureau, so you can feel good about giving to this group this holiday season.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is one of the world’s most significant disaster relief organizations. Not only that — the foundation provides international services to support countries with minimal resources, as well as health-focused training and certification programs and support to service members and veterans. But the most important facet of the Red Cross’s work is its lifesaving blood donor initiatives, which are a key resource for survivors following natural disasters and other crises. The Red Cross provides about 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply.

The organization also offers essential health-related services to those in need, including vaccinations, free smoke detectors, and shelter services. According to its 2016 annual report, the Red Cross provided more than 1.66 million meals and snacks, delivered roughly 1.4 million relief items and provided over 56,000 shelter stays. All of these initiatives together provided disaster relief to nearly 4.6 million people in 2016. You can give to the Red Cross in multiple ways, not just financially.

Consider becoming a volunteer or donating blood if you don’t have the means to give a monetary donation. The Red Cross is on the frontlines of biomedical innovations, and runs a program called BioArch that allows donation centers to better monitor and collect blood donations through barcode label technologies. The systems are able to easily identify donor information that might prevent a person from being able to give blood, and helps the organization closely monitor blood inventory levels so that it knows exactly how much a community needs at a given time.

St. Jude Research Hospital

St. Jude Research Hospital is a nonprofit medical corporation that provides free pediatric treatment to children with catastrophic diseases. It’s also a pioneer when it comes to researching non-curable diseases that affect children. The organization was founded by entertainer Danny Thomas in 1962 with the mission that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” Although it’s named after St. Jude, Thomas’s patron saint, the hospital is not associated with any religious organization.

St. Jude treats patients from all 50 United States as well as those from around the world. According to its most recent annual report , the hospital has grown the overall childhood survival rate from 20 percent at its founding to more than 80 percent today. In 2015, St. Jude gave over $1 million in total support, with the vast majority of that going to patient care services and research. It has received several major awards and recognitions, and one of its doctors received a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996.

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund

Massachusetts-based Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is a non-profit charity that works to fund research that prevents, slows, or reverses Alzheimer’s disease. It was founded in 2004 following principles of venture philanthropy — a method of investing that identifies high-risk, high-reward investments to fund philanthropic causes — and has given over $50,000,000 in funds to Alzheimer’s research. Some of that has contributed to key discoveries in the field, including new drugs and treatments for Alzheimer’s patients.

Why is the organization on our top 12 list? For one, 100 percent of all the funds raised by Cure Alzheimer’s goes directly to research and education. Last year, the fund received $15.6 million in donations and was able to fund 56 research projects and 58 researchers. With 89.7 percent of donations going towards program expenses, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund was able to distribute over $50 million in research grants to Alzheimer’s-related research.

Community Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM)

Founded in 1998 by venture capital and leadership from the Women’s Auxiliary of the Paoli Hospital Foundation in Pennsylvania, Community Volunteers in Medicine was developed to provide primary medical and dental care to people who lack insurance. The organization primarily serves Southeastern Pennsylvania, but has set many standards for global healthcare organizations. It holds a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and a 100 percent score for financials, accountability, and transparency.

Despite the fact that it’s relatively small in reach, CVIM was able to give nearly $6 million in care to the community in 2016, according to its annual report. It also provided care to over 35,000 patients, with over 3,000 of those patients receiving dental care. The group also provided 26,000 free prescription medications to patients in the Chester County region. This organization is certainly one to watch in the coming years.

Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF)

The Arthritis National Research Foundation has been funding arthritis-related causes since 1970. Its primary goal is to help fund arthritis research in order to develop prevention programs and new treatments for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, juvenile arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. It also provides funds for researchers to help better understand the causes and side effects associated with arthritis.

The organization typically funds between 10 and 20 grants per year, with over $1 million in research awards given in the 2016-2017 period. What’s so great about this organization — besides its core mission, of course — is that it’s a premier example of a responsibly funded organization. With a four-star Charity Navigator rating for nine straight years, the ANRF is well-regarded because it gives over 90 percent of every donation to research programs.

Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)

Giving to the right breast cancer research organization can be a challenge. Some of the biggest and most recognizable charities have been heavily criticized for mismanaging funds, so a little bit of research on a donor’s behalf can go a long way. Those who want to help contribute to the field of breast cancer research should consider the New York-based Breast Cancer Research Foundation . This group is the highest-rated breast cancer organization in the U.S., with a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and an A+ rating from Charity Watch.

BCRF strives to provide breast cancer prevention and cure research to worldwide researchers. It was founded in 1993 by Evelyn H. Lauder, and has since raised more than a half a billion dollars for life-saving breast cancer research initiatives. Each year, the organization donates more than 88 percent of its financials directly towards breast cancer research, with about 3 percent designated for awareness programs. The majority of funds go towards researching genetics, prevention, treatment, tumor biology, and survivorship.

Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF)

The Elton John AIDS Foundation was founded by Elton John in 1992 in response to the urgent need for philanthropic support of the global AIDS crisis. Since then, it has raised more than $385 million towards AIDS-related causes. The mission of the EJAF is to provide information and means to prevent the infection, while also helping to support programs that provide high-quality medical care, and treatment for those living with HIV and AIDS.

The EJAF continues to set standards in healthcare charities and received a 100 percent rating by Charity Navigator in accountability and transparency. The organization gives an impressive 93.9 percent of its total expenses to programs that help serve its mission. In 2015, EJAF funded 134 initiatives, which helped to fund HIV testing, education on syringe exchange and the use of preventative drug PreP, and funding for care of those who are HIV positive.

American Kidney Fund (AKF)

The American Kidney Fund provides a wide range of services associated with kidney health. It provides comprehensive programs surrounding kidney health awareness, education, and prevention, and offers financial services that reach one out of every five U.S. dialysis patients. The Maryland-based organization is a 15-time recipient of Charity Navigator’s four-star rating and is positioned in the top one percent of charities nationwide for fiscal accountability, giving 97 cents of every dollar to its programs.

According to the AKF’s 2016 annual report, the organization served nearly 100,000 patients last year with life-saving programs. Not only does the AKF provide essential financial relief for dialysis and other kidney-related medical care, but it also helps patients in need with transportation, nutritional products, and medications. It also provided free screenings to check for kidney and heart health and diabetes, with over 100,000 people in 23 cities taking advantage of these free programs.