After reading Terri Thornton’s post about the phenomenon of companies marketing by creating content, I had absolutely no concerns for the future of PR and advertising for two main reasons.

First, PR and advertising professionals have adapted to every successful content format and platform change because marketers are creative people. Secondarily, most companies don’t do content right — they still need marketing people contributing to content development.

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I see three or four companies every day join Learnist (a content collaboration and curation platform I work on for the social learning company Grockit) with “consumer education objectives.” Most companies run afoul of audience expectations for authenticity.  

For any new digital content platform, finding a balance in promotion and information is the key. And ultimately, the content cannot suck. Successful content-based marketing is hard to find. But, there are exceptions.

Right now, no company is better at content marketing than BetaBrand clothing, the San Francisco-based startup that has raised about $8 million in venture capital funding. The company has quickly built a rabid base of repeat customers representing that influential, bi-coastal “San Frooklyn” demographic.

BetaBrand’s clothing emphasis on form and functionality is irreverent and ingenious. Pants and jackets are designed with signature tuck-in reflective cuffs and pocket liners for safety while biking to work. Clothing lines have absurd names like “Karate Casual,” inducing laughter via cognitive dissonance. But, it’s the site, email and creative marketing that compels me to seek out BetaBrand media.

Humor is the key

BetaBrand’s site and content gently mocks the business of marketing fashion without being self-deprecating. The site delivers an experience that leaves one laughing, impressed and oddly aware of the stale, formulaic sites and emails delivered by most major online retailers.

It’s so popular in my San Francisco office, a dozen of my fellow workers huddle around a monitor each week for a group reading of the weekly customer email. The outlandish images of exaggerated Americana leap out of the emails, delivering humorous takes on classic commercial use of Yule Tidings and 4th of July BBQ. The sensory assault doesn’t stop at email.

Be fearless and unpredictable

BetaBrand recently sent a “Bathroom Reader” for their repeat customers, featuring hilarious stories explaining the origins of fashions. The collection of short stories is a warped mixture of old-timey tall tales and hand-drawn animation perfectly attuned to the specific humor of well-educated, highly skilled workers inundated with social media.

The high-level idea is to give this wired, influential crowd something to talk about and share online and in person. This strategy works.

“Being funny is at the core of what we do, from product development to marketing tactics, and we don’t just do it for its own sake. We’ve found that products and campaigns with a sense of humor cause people to talk about them more, and to feel like they’re in on the joke” said Matt Thier, co-founder of BetaBrand. “But we’ve found that because humor is baked into the DNA of our brand, we can get away with things that other, bigger brands can’t.”

Brand personality is established through content continuity

Here’s how the typical BetaBrand experience unfolds. A friend starts posting about BetaBrand to his Facebook Timeline or tweets out a photo of himself wearing BetaBrand gear. A visit to BetaBrand introduces you to the concept of “Model Citizen” where ridiculous poses in BetaBrand purchases earn return customer discounts on follow-on purchases. Abusing the BetaBrand logo in submitted photos is encouraged, even rewarded with further discounts.

But BetaBrand’s site is much more creative than clever efforts to land on the customer’s social network feeds. A casual visitor can learn about sock insurance and tour the disco lab where pants, hoodies and dresses are made from material resembling a disco ball.

And there is a BetaBrand ThinkTank, where crazy ideas are on display for all to marvel in disbelief. Feedback and social shares create customer demand, bringing some Think Tank ideas into production. The net effect is entertainment melded with customer research and user-generated promotion via proactive posts that generally add up to “you’ve got to see this.”

Clever, not creepy

BetaBrand entertainment genuinely seeks laughter and amusement irrespective of promotional value. A visit to the “betabrand.XXX”: http://www.betabrand.xxx/ is pure entertainment. Appropriately dubbed “Not safe for work (not really),” this “Easter Egg” of a site mirrors the formal site with the addition of a bad pornography theme, complete with cheesy music and pop-over video of fully clothed women assembling material in slow motion. With absolutely no nudity or erotica, this alternative site is the exclamation point underlining a BetaBrand personality rife with playful sarcasm. The specific joke of this site is the comparisons between traditional marketing and seedy entertainment. The content works on a few levels.

Content as a product

As I’ve mentioned, BetaBrand backs up their playful brand image with quality products. It’s clear BetaBrand views their site and media as a product of equal priority to clothing, using heavy, hi-res images and GIFs and delivering a remarkable shopping and checkout flow. BetaBrand’s site conveys a personality that makes a lasting impression on prospective customers.

In my mind, the content efforts affirm that the founders are very aware of their startup circumstances. BetaBrand competes with massive and indiscriminate marketing budgets from traditional department stores and established brands. By turning these perceived marketplace disadvantages into a unique personality advantage, BetaBrand is winning by producing the most creative and engaging content in all of online retail.

Aaron Burcell is an award-winning marketing executive, advisor and investor in consumer-focused technology startups. Based in Silicon Valley, Aaron collaborates with the Grockit team on Learnist, a learning content collaboration and curation platform endorsed by BBC, Discovery and hundreds of independent bloggers, brand marketers and media producers.

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