The Content Marketing Hall of Fame: 13 Ways to Build Your Business

These brands offer simple, sometimes unorthodox examples of ways to connect with your customers without spending advertising dollars. Their innovation earns them a spot in CIO.com's Content Marketing Hall of Fame.

The Content Marketing Hall of Fame

Content marketing is "the future of marketing," says Daryl Colwell, vice president of digital media/performance marketing agency MediaWhiz. "It's how you should be building your business."

Don't know anything about content marketing? Take our crash course on content marketing. Or click through our Content Marketing Hall of Fame, with 13 examples from small businesses such Taxi Mike and the Dollar Shave Club to enterprises that include IBM and Starbucks.

James A. Martin is an SEO and social media consultant and writes the CIO.com Martin on Mobile Apps blog. Follow him on Twitter @james_a_martin and on Google+.

Dollar Shave Club
Dollar Shave Club Video

The Dollar Shave Club video is "funny and appeals to a wide audience," says Brynna Baldauf, Internet Marketing Strategist for Vertical Measures, a content marketing and link building agency. "It also communicates all the necessary information in a short time, and it makes the decision to sign up something that seems to have no bad side effects. The video is written completely about the product without coming off too serious or stereotypically 'salesy.'" This viral video, viewed on YouTube more than 10 million times, helped launch the small company in a big way.

How-to: Make Video Marketing Work for Your Business

Taxi Mike
Taxi Mike

Every quarter, Taxi Mike updates and distributes copies of his printed guide to dining and bars in Banff, Alberta (a town of 7,600 within Banff National Park). This "one-man Yelp," who drives a taxi and offers computer repair services, maintains a website for his Banff recommendations, too. "This is my favorite small business example of content marketing," says Jay Baer, social media and content strategist and author of the forthcoming book Youtility. Baer appreciates Taxi Mike's tourist guide because the engaging, helpful content isn't about Taxi Mike at all but, rather, serving his target customers' interests.

My Starbucks Idea
My Starbucks Idea

My Starbucks Idea is a website that solicits product, experience and involvement ideas from Starbucks customers. The site, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, has put into action more than 277 ideas submitted. My Starbucks Idea "shows the staying power of great content generated by the community," says Michele Linn, director of content development for the Content Marketing Institute. Starbucks fans have submitted more than 150,000 ideas to date.

Related: How Starbucks Brews Its Mobile Strategy

Truckpocalypse!
Truckpocalypse!

This engaging infographic from TruckerClassifieds.com illustrates with data and an interactive Web interface what might happen if the American trucking industry were disrupted. This isn't your typical infographic because it moves as you scroll, says Denielle Fisher, Internet marketing specialist for Vertical Measures. It has more than 10,000 combined social shares among Twitter, Facebook, Google+, StumbleUpon and Pinterest, she says, which help increase traffic to the site about 1,000 percent in three months. "It's a great example of content marketing because I have absolutely no interest in the trucking business, yet I 'watched' the entire infographic, enjoyed it and remembered what it was about."

River Pools and Spas
River Pools and Spas

In 2009, River Pools and Spas, like many firms, was struggling through the recession. Today, the Warsaw, Va.-based company has the No. 1 pool-related site in the U.S., says Baer, thanks to its helpful blog and basic "Pool 101" content. The company has grown by 15 percent but reduced its marketing expenses by 90 percent—all through content, he says. "They write blog posts instead of buying ads."

Brighter Life
Brighter Life

Canada-based Sun Life Financial's Brighter Life site successfully addresses the concerns of people facing life changes that require big financial decisions, such as starting a family, retiring or changing careers, Linn says. Brighter Life receives one-third of the traffic that currently goes to Sun Life Financial's corporate site, and its related Facebook page has attracted more than 17,000 fans, she adds.

OpenView Venture Partners
OpenView Venture Partners

OpenView is a venture capital company that has significantly increased its name recognition through content such as podcasts, videos and a highly active blog. Everyone at OpenView creates content—and compensation is partially tied to the effectiveness of their content, Baer says. "It used to be that when they called on small companies, no one had heard of them. Now people they visit say they read OpenView's blog all the time."

Allstate Tools & Resources
Allstate Tools & Resources

Allstate does a great job of content marketing on its site, especially with its Tools & Resources section, says Kaila Strong, director of account development for Vertical Measures. The site offers lots of useful content, including the infographic I've Been in a Car Accident: Now What?, articles such as 10 Moving Tips and Tricks and the When to Buy a New Car Calculator, and animated tools to help you figure out how much your stuff is worth. Allstate uses multiple social channels to get the word out about its content and has created an "amazing online community," Strong says, describing the Allstate blog as a "constant source of awesome information."

American Express OPEN Forum
American Express OPEN Forum

For years, the American Express OPEN Forum has provided practical advice and helpful resources for small businesses. Recent articles have focused on Google Hangouts, tips for motivating teams, and how to be productive under pressure. "OPEN Forum is like a top-flight online magazine that happens to be sponsored by American Express," Baer says.

ExactTarget's Subscribers, Fans and Followers

ExactTarget, an email marketing and cross-channel marketing firm, developed an ongoing global research project called Subscribers, Fans and Followers. The project offers downloadable ebooks designed to help marketers (the firm's target customers) improve online marketing efforts. Through ebooks, ExactTarget has generated thousands of leads while helping its customers improve their own revenues, Baer says.

Related: CIOs Are Critical to Improving Customer Experience

Whole Foods
Whole Foods

Whole Foods "consistently produces great, visual content marketing that translates across many social platforms," says Ann-Marie Jancovich, content and promotions manager for Vertical Measures. The specialty grocer shares its passion for healthy living with customers, providing "tools and resources to make good choices without a heavy focus on branding."

Whole Foods has more than 3,000 recipes in its online database, which customers can bookmark, save to their own recipe box and use to create custom shopping lists. "From a social sharing perspective, the prominent buttons make spreading the word easy, and the rating option encourages customer engagement while instilling a sense of community," Jancovich says.

Google Think Quarterly
Google Think Quarterly

Google's Think Quarterly is a downloadable publication designed to showcase Google as a thought leader on digital technology, online marketing and its implications. "It's very strong content that helps drive the conversation around digital technology while also allowing Google to merchandise its internal research resources," Baer notes.

Related: Google Launches Online Magazine

IBM 2012 Global CEO Study
IBM 2012 Global CEO Study

"I love how IBM presents the research from its Global CEO Study, Linn says. The 2012 study involved interviewing 1,709 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders around the globe about how they are "responding to the complexity of increasingly interconnected organizations, markets, societies and governments." Not only does IBM provide the content in multiple formats, including videos and infographics, but Big Blue also segments the data by industry. "It's a great case study in the art of repackaging/reimagining content," Linn says.