Stodgy Industries, Amazing Stories: 5 Brands Using Content Marketing to Defy Expectations


Can content marketing and effective brand storytelling elevate a not-so-sexy company to an exciting household brand name? Whether it’s infusing humor into a brand’s image or bringing it to life through personal stories, numerous brands are defying expectations and setting the stage for more innovative marketing. Recently, I had the chance to work with a steel company that creates the infrastructure for some of the world’s largest buildings. The manager who hired me for the project sat me down and asked if I could imagine anything exciting about the steel industry.

As it happened, I could. My father worked in the Boston ironworkers’ union for many years, fearlessly carrying iron beams on his shoulders stories about the city’s busy streets to help craft buildings that today host some of my favorite restaurants, shops, and startups. By focusing on how this infrastructure brought the places that I love to life and tied into my own family’s history, I was immediately drawn to the power of the steel industry. As we dug into that line of storytelling, it became clear that the steel company had created structures that had given rise to some of the country’s most interesting locations. From historical landmarks to the home of innovation, the company’s brainstorming process was off and running.

If you’re a marketer in manufacturing, legal, finance, or another industry that brings tremendous value to the world—but doesn’t necessarily set people’s hair on fire with excitement—it’s possible to push the envelope, take your marketing in a new direction, and engage audiences. Here’s a closer look at how brands from traditionally reserved industries are using content marketing and brand storytelling to redefine expectations, engage customers, and show the market how they’re making an impact.

Insurance: Creating the Safety Net to Make Big Dreams a Reality

Insurance is a hot topic today, as people watch the political landscape and try to navigate the various layers of healthcare coverage, home and car policies, business insurance, and more. From the outside, insurance can seem like a complex maze of regulations, exceptions, riders, and premiums. Yet it’s critical to creating a safety net that allows individuals to buy homes, drive cars, take risks, and make their dreams a reality. One brand that’s using content marketing to help consumers with information and inspiring stories is USAA with their brand hub USAA Stories.

USAA is a brand that’s largely targeted toward serving military members, veterans, and their families—and many people may not realize how much those in the service can rely on insurance while they’re in the military. My dad—mentioned above—served in the Navy for over twenty years and time and again faced highly specific questions that he couldn’t always answer. How did personal life insurance fit with his military insurance? Did we need special coverage when he was serving overseas?

USAA dialed into that need and found a way to use storytelling and content marketing to better serve those that are serving in the military. That focus comes through in their cleverly named “Money Drill” podcast. A variety of different insurance-themed pieces include service information such as “Life Insurance: Why and When You Need It” to interactive quizzes that explore what renters’ insurance actually covers. The demands of military life are unique, and USAA has created a content marketing resource with the specific needs of this demographic in mind.

Ask yourself: What unique segment does your company serve, and how can your content marketing bring to life stories and service pieces that answer their specific and urgent questions? And how can you use language in your marketing to reflect that unique segment in the content that you create? Not all surprising content is on the edge; it’s simply dialed into what your audience needs with a laser focus.

Dirty bathroom

Image attribution: Gabor Monori

Toilet Paper: Cleaning Up with a Sense of Humor

Switching gears, let’s talk about public bathrooms for a minute. Shudder, right? A toilet paper company is using their content marketing to pave the way to solving this very real problem for consumers and showing how a sense of humor and utility combined can lead to a content marketing win. There’s a myth that B2C products are easier to market than B2B. It’s easier to be personal, fun, and have a sense of humor when you’re appealing to an individual.

However, certain products are all about the utility. There’s only so many ways that you can make detergent or toilet paper interesting and unique, for example. Yet Charmin found a highly applicable way to reach out to customers, stay on theme, and deliver massive value—and a few chuckles—in the process with their app, SitorSquat.

Busy parent looking for the nearest clean bathroom to take the kids or germophobe committed to minimizing public bathroom trauma? Dedicated Yelper who wants to report on a particularly clean bathroom or a uniquely horrifying experience? With this app, it’s possible to do all of the above—and that’s a core part of its value. Here’s the thing: Charmin understood what their customers wanted, identified a real problem they faced, and came up with a solution.

In the process, they created a connection that’s strong enough to get users to download an app and reinforces brand value every time a user fires up an app in the hopes of clean bathroom salvation. What needs does your audience have that other brands aren’t brave or innovative enough to solve? Could your content marketing help bring that solution to the market in an interesting way?

Managing Your Money: Doing It Right with Ally Bank

Ally Bank has developed a reputation for approaching their content marketing with a sense of humor. In a campaign last year, the company’s first brand-wide campaign focused on the slogan “Do It Right.” In one ad, company execs ask what’s stopping them from doing right by customers and then showcase that the brand’s thousands of employees stand behind the same promise.

Then, the brand tackles questions that customers struggle with—such as financial security—with a quirky series of ads. Check out this brilliant description from Ad Age: “One shows an Ally employee who has fallen into a swimming pool and is resuscitated by a maintenance technician. The Ally rep reports that he was in a room full of light, and the maintenance man was there and was financially secure. The maintenance guy asks if he had a speedboat, so the Ally rep says, ‘Toss me back in and I’ll find out.’” If I’m tired of stodgy banking experiences and want a brand that can tackle tough questions in an approachable way, I’m in.

Explore how you can take a humorous spin on telling stories that your customers care about. Laughing about hard issues, while showing that you can still take them on in a smart way, can attract customers that would otherwise be put off.

Two pairs of legs draped over the side of a swimming pool

Image attribution: Joe Pizzio

Old Spice: A Fresh Approach to an Established Brand

A decade ago, the brand Old Spice probably brought to mind your grandfather’s signature scent. It was a staple brand with its rigged sails and elegant logo. Fast forward to today, and it’s synonymous with the viral “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and “Make a Smellmitment” campaigns. The brand redefined what it meant to be associated with the scent, and today are tackling topics such as the battle between teen boys and their parents for hygiene.

Old Spice managed to take all the assumptions about the brand and turn them on their head. Are there lingering assumptions, misconceptions, or perceptions about your brand that you could flip? From a brand storytelling perspective, can this be encapsulated in a character? Being willing to challenge the way that people think about your brand, infusing humor, and trying a fresh positioning can reinvigorate a stolid brand.

HP: Talking Directly to Their Audience

One of my favorite examples of B2B brands that are talking to their audience in unexpected ways is HP. All too often, the IT content marketing experience starts out with dry statements such as “When dealing with Cybersecurity challenges . . .” and drones on from there. B2B content—especially in IT—has to take on big issues and establish an authoritative tone. It’s big business, with real issues at stake. However, it’s also important to remember that your company’s IT team are made up of real people. Often, the best senses of humor in your company can be found in that department, and they’re seeing some fantastic tech bloopers that provide a great hook for your content marketing efforts.

HP’s Print division stands out with their content initiatives. Their digital publication Tektonika covers serious IT topics (like preventing internal hacking threats) alongside fun tech topics (Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, for example) with a breezy tone and tongue-in-cheek titles such as “Business solutions + data backup = RIP Google Drive desktop.”

What inside jokes and unseen aspects of your company’s experience could you tap into that others wouldn’t organically appreciate? Could that help you establish credibility and trust with your audience—while also differentiating your voice in the market?

Marketers at established brands face a tough choice. Do you move forward with the established and safe marketing campaigns that your industry is known for, or do you break away and tell a different type of brand story? Content marketing is the perfect space to explore humor, providing strong value through audience-focused tools and talking to your audience in an intimate way that goes beyond the usual industry approach. Defying expectations with your content marketing and brand storytelling can be just the thing you need to break free of industry perceptions.

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About Author

Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She’s worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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