Based on internally commissioned research and compilation from social data, AListDaily has identified the 20 most influential brands to marketers in 2017. Our analysts monitored which brands marketers were following most on social media channels based on widely available data.
AListDaily interviewed marketing executives from these brands, and also reached back into our well of exclusive stories from 2017 to feature distinct calling cards for each of the 20 honorees.
GoPro’s stock saw a steep 20 percent decline in November, but the mounting losses didn’t stop the camera company from experimenting with product launches and partnerships.
The brand generated buzz for its new cameras with influencers and sponsored athletes at a pop-up exhibition at The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco, and for the first time, livestreamed an event on GoPro.com.
GoPro also wanted to leverage adventurous thrill-seekers, looking to complement the vivid and oftentimes rugged footage they capture with quality sound. The brand partnered with Sennhesier, making the brand the only official, verified audio company obtained by the GoPro Works program.
“We are closely collaborating not just with the marketing and engineering experts on the GoPro side but also with their associated enthusiasts and athletes,” Achim Gleissner, head of commercial management of broadcast and media for Sennheiser, told AListDaily. “This helps ensure that the products are performing as requested by the most demanding users. It also creates exciting content as well, which could be used for marketing purposes.”
Gap was one of the many brands in 2017 that championed diversity through is marketing. The retail clothing chain continued its “Meet Me in the Gap” campaign in the fall by calling on entertainers Cher and Future to sing their own version of “Everyday People.”
The American clothing brand’s remix of the original Sly & the Family Stone song spanned to television, outdoor, mobile, social, print, in-store and digital channels. Gap also started a namesake channel on Spotify with a mashup playlist.
“As a brand, our heritage is rooted in being a beacon of hope and optimism while also bringing people together,” said Gap CMO Craig Brommers.
Spotify showed off its data capabilities and how well it knows its users with “2018 Goals.” The global out-of-home year-end campaign was similar to the one it unveiled last year and is positioned to provide a look into its users, potential users as well as potential advertisers and marketing partners. The music-streaming service experimented with data-driven outdoor ads, featuring copy such as “Eat vegan brisket with the person who made a playlist called ‘Leftist Elitist Snowflake BBQ.'”
Spotify also went ‘Upstream’ with brands for an original podcast centered around one-on-one conversations with company executives focusing on the future of their industries on “Spotify for Brands.” Hosted by Spotify CMO Seth Farbman, the podcasts feature discussions on open-ended questions facing the economy at large with influential figures, and it is yet another attempt to diversify its offerings as the company prepares to go public.
17. Warby Parker
Retailers are feeling a reverberation from store closures, but purpose brand Warby Parker decided there is still a future in the space by opening 25 retail locations this year in cities like Los Angeles and Miami. It was a rare move of brick-and-mortar expansion amid store closures at several chains from brands like Radio Shack and Michael Kors. The eyeglasses seller now nears close to 70 stores ranging in size.
The digital-first, direct-to-consumer business—which maintains a help-related YouTube channel that gives video answers to frequent questions from consumers—also experimented in other avenues when its co-CEO, Dave Gilboa, created a startup to tackle a $5 billion opportunity in the antiquated eye test market using a mobile app.
The soft drink giant opened up plenty of cases of innovative marketing this year, but its FIFA 18 video game activation was one of its most refreshing.
Coca-Cola, which has a product portfolio made of 500 sparkling and still brands and a near $4 billion annual marketing budget, sponsored the fictional character Alex Hunter in the EA title. The virtual TV spot even re-imagines a 1979 Coca-Cola commercial with NFL great “Mean” Joe Greene. Coca-Cola also offered cans printed with Hunter’s likeness on them at 7-Eleven and Walmart stores in North America—each with a download code to unlock additional in-game content. It’s all part of a wider gaming strategy for Coca-Cola, which also featured esports.
“We take a multi-pronged approach [to esports]. We have our frontline marketing communication, which is the way we brand our product into the space,” Matt Wolf, vice president of entertainment, ventures and strategic alliances at the Coca-Cola Company, told AListDaily.
“Then we have the relationships that we make with the influencers, which is key. You can’t really lean into this space and get that value back as a brand unless you’re really able to hit it from a content standpoint, an influencer standpoint and from a social media standpoint.”
Much like Amazon and Target, the Roark Capital Group-owned Arby’s was in the mood for mergers as it swallowed up Buffalo Wild Wings in November for $2.4 billion. Both of the brands have had a large presence as non-endemic sponsors in esports, and the trend should continue well into next year.
In October, Buffalo Wild Wings partnered with Team Dignitas, which is owned by the Philadelphia 76ers. The restaurant chain is designed to become the official hangout for Team Dignitas while receiving a prominent logo placement on the sleeve of the team’s jerseys.
Arby’s has been connecting with gamers for over three years through its social channels and was also an inaugural sponsor for Turner and WME/IMG’s ELeague season.
“Our strategy is to engage versus sell,” Jeff Baker, vice president of brand experience at Arby’s, told AListDaily while discussing their esports marketing strategy. “We use our brand elements and create fun and lightweight stories that are about us being fans of the titles instead of us trying to sell the product. It’s been appreciated across the board with no negative commentary.”
The Mondelēz-owned cookie brand launched a global marketing campaign this year with the “Oreo Dunk Challenge” with Christina Aguilera, Shaq and Neymar. They partnered with Google to boot for a mobile game and site that integrates motion-detection technology and geo-location to allow fans to virtually dunk and launch their cookies into “space” and back.
Justin Parnell, Oreo’s director of global brand equity, told AListDaily that personalized marketing at scale that delivers the right content in the right moment, complemented with innovation through new products, is a critical component to the brand’s total growth strategy.
“There has never been a greater opportunity than now to deliver more tailored messages,” he said. “We are hard at work with our media and creative partners in thinking about how we best unlock this opportunity, which spans our content creation model to segmentation tools to real-time optimization.”
Parnell said things are changing faster than ever, so staying on top of changing consumer behaviors is something that all brands are challenged with.
“One area we’re keeping a close eye is on how the retail landscape continues to evolve,” he said. “Specifically, you will see our clear focus and stepped up investment in e-commerce in the near future. Also, staying relevant and contemporary, while being true to our roots, is so important. It’s a tricky balance, but one that is always top of our minds.”
Just as Oreo serves as a point of influence, Parnell draws inspiration from others as well.
“I am very impressed with Amazon. They are constantly evolving their model and offering to address changing consumer needs and they have a long history of investing in big bets in an ‘all-in,’ sustained way. Also, McDonald’s is another brand with a deep heritage, like Oreo, and what they are doing to reinvent their service model, menu and marketing approach for to be more relevant to consumer’s today is quite impressive.
“Last, but not least, I get a lot of inspiration from entrepreneurs. They often provide great insight into emerging trends and what’s ahead. Most inspiring to me, though, is how many young start-up brands are purpose-driven and fearless at their core, as their brands are a manifestation of their own personal passion and conviction.”
13. Whole Foods Market
The grocery-store giant felt the impact of Amazon earlier this year—literally—when the Jeff Bezos-led powerhouse bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. The mere news of it ranked as this year’s No. 1 food news story among millennials, Gen X and baby boomers alike, according to the Hunter Public Relations Annual Food News Study.
Echo devices are now sold at Whole Foods, and the ubiquitous Amazon Prime brand is not-to-subtly shaped from ground beef at some locations. By the end of next year, as its grocery delivery options gets more consolidated, Amazon will really be aiming for your whole paycheck with its suite of services.
For the third straight year, the Seattle-based brand closed the doors to its 154 stores in the US on Black Friday and gave its 12,000 employees a paid day off to high praise from people who hold the shopping holiday in less regard. The outdoor retailer was in no mood for business—at all—as it also shut down online orders for the day.
REI promoted the movement on social media with #OptOutside and complemented the hashtag with a search engine where users shared snapshots of their favorite outdoor destinations.
Perhaps the planned day off was a coy marketing campaign all along to create consumer affection and have them buy more gear later on.
11. American Express
This year, the brand brought its marketing band to Coachella and played to the tune of affluent millennials with special events for platinum card holders at the American Express Platinum House.
The credit card company leveraged its heritage in music and swiped concertgoers for a voluntary reprieve by offering attendees SoulCycle classes and a private concert by Bebe Rexha.
“We know that when we create memorable experiences and provide unique access for card members in the moments that matter to them, such as festivals, they feel more loyal to the relationship with our brand,” Deb Curtis, American Express’ vice president of global partnerships and experiential marketing, told AListDaily.
For everyone else attending Coachella, the American Express Experience tent allowed music fans to create their own mini music video as well as unlock special rewards through the official Coachella app.
“Because we have access to such rich data, we’re able to see how those who engage with us respond in the moment and over time and we see—year after year—a positive impact across key loyalty metrics,” Curtis continued. “This investment in our customers pays back in a longer, more fulfilling relationship between card members and the brand. That’s what drives us to deliver for them time and time again, and fuels us to serve them better and better each year.”
Delta had a year fueled with marketing activations. The airlines company held a singles event with Tinder featuring popular destinations and graffiti-inspired wallscapes on the side of a Brooklyn building that love seekers used for selfies; it thanked all 80,000 of its employees—each by name—in a 50-hour, celebrity-filled Facebook Livestream, and it honored the “early risers” with an ad featuring the Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis.
Delta also revised its in-flight image by partnering with online shoe giant Zappos for a uniform overhaul and offered flyers free in-flight mobile messaging.
9. American Airlines
American Airlines’ business usually entails traversing the skies, but it is also taking on the digital cloud with IBM to innovate its own portfolio and data centers to scale operations.
The airline company embarked on a digital transformation and migrated its website, its customer-facing mobile application, airport kiosks and enterprise workloads to the cloud. Developers can now use the IBM Cloud to build applications for the airline’s customers.
Although Airbnb lost its CMO when Jonathan Mildenhall checked out of the company in October to start his own marketing consulting firm, the imprints of the executive still stood in 2017.
The home-rental company, valued at $31 billion, emphasized diversity and inclusiveness during the Super Bowl and also created unorthodox partnerships, such as a print magazine venture with Hearst offering glimpses into global destinations echoing the spirit of Airbnb, and promotional rentals with Taco Bell.
It also added to its in-house suite of martech by acquiring ad-tech startup AdBasis, which operated a platform and dashboard for ad testing and optimization.
The New York-based brand brought on a new CMO in July by hiring Vanessa Holden with hopes of her helping put a halt to the closure of additional stores, which totaled 50 this year.
Holden is now diving into a deeper digital strategy on mobile and social channels for the chain. The consumer-first move is designed to quicken mobile shopping while meeting users where they are.
After 10 quarters of dipping sales, J.Crew’s former CEO Mickey Drexler confessed to The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that he underestimated the power that tech would have on retail, while adding that his biggest mistake was increasing prices while consumers became more cost-conscious.
“We gave a perception of being a higher-priced company than we were—in our catalog, online and in our general presentation,” Drexler said. “Very big mistake.”
Target capped off its year with an attempt to take on Amazon by acquiring same-day delivery platform Shipt. The $550 million acquisition of the Instacart competitor sets the retail chain up to offer same-day delivery services at approximately half its stores by early 2018.
Target’s plan is to use Shipt’s proprietary technology platform and community of shoppers to bring consumers same-day delivery of groceries, essentials, home, electronics and other products. By the end of 2019, same-day delivery will include all major product categories at Target.
Earlier in the year, the retailer also got in on the mattress industry by acquiring the millennial-centric startup Casper.
BarkBox, a subscription service for dogs that launched five years ago, has already shipped more than 50 million toys and treats to date. This year, Bark launched in all 1,800 Target stores, and recently debuted a direct response television ad campaign that embodies America’s dog obsession on #BarkBoxDay.
“BarkBox’s digital strategies, which include social, email, search and affiliate marketing, have helped build the brand and become a case study for many other web brands,” Jay Livingston, chief marketing officer for BarkBox, told AListDaily. “Our social media team is made up of a mix of marketers, writers and comedians. They arguably invented the dog influencer model and regularly crank out viral hits that engage our rabid following of more than six million dog people.”
Some of those examples include a Facebook campaign during the Super Bowl and a Dog Mom Rap, which has over 41 million views on Facebook alone. They’ve also experimented offline with the stand-up comedy concept Open Bark Night.
BarkBox has an affiliate program of about 300 dog influencers and brand ambassadors called the BarkPack. The hashtag #BarkBox has been used 2.7 million times on Instagram alone, and because of that the brand has been able to cull user-generated content on social channels.
“The biggest challenge we face as we grow our business is to make sure our customers are getting the same experience and customer service no matter where or how they interact with our brands,” Livingston said.
“We are also diversifying our channel mix to reach new audiences with our direct response campaign spanning the TV ad and our first major direct mail effort. Our hope is that our venture into more traditional channels will help us reach the parents of the 78 million dogs in the US—including those that aren’t scrolling social media.”
Like many retailers looking to fend off Amazon, Nordstrom is trying to define a value proposition and drive experiences with a showroom concept. It’s newest store format—Nordstrom Local—is short on clothing and racks and long on experiences, including manicures and on-site tailoring.
Shoppers can still try on clothes in dressing rooms, but the stores are designed to specifically not keep inventory in stock. Rather, it pulls merchandise from mall-anchored stores and its website. A flagship 3,000-square-foot location opened in Los Angeles this fall. In comparison, a typical Nordstrom retail store, which stretches up to 140,000 square feet.
Nordstrom also sharpened its marketing mix for visual search by being a launch partner in Pinterest’s foray into scannable codes and personalized style suggestions in “Lens Your Look.
Nike casts a wide net in sports across the planet and maintains its position with consumers across a variety of verticals. The sports and lifestyle brand continued its decades-long work in basketball and caught the attention of hoops fans this year by being the new global apparel partner of the NBA. The brand’s iconic swoosh logo now occupies the longtime real estate once reserved for the Jerry West-inspired silhouette.
The jerseys are connected to a radio-frequency chip embedded in the tag. It allows for teams to provide customized engagement with fans who are looking to build unique associations with the franchises they follow.
Nike has already partnered with Apple Music and released exclusive playlists for all 30 teams through the new jerseys and the NikeConnect app. LeBron James, the star ambassador for Nike, crafted his separate playlist as well.
Netflix viewers around the world watched more than 140 million hours of content per day, according to the audience data it released earlier this month. The streaming service sports a slew of original shows in addition to licensed content that have subscribers glued to their TVs and mobile devices. For the holidays, it used its original movie A Christmas Prince to start a conversation about repeated viewings on Twitter that garnered over 113,000 retweets.
Netflix maintained a tongue-in-cheek voice on social throughout the year by announcing the addition of the movie 8 Mile to its library with a play on Eminem’s lyrics to the tune of 86,000-plus retweets and used social to promote Bright by calling on all the Will Smith’s of the world.
It wasn’t all fun, games and binge-watching, however. Netflix also used its platform for more serious issues by supporting strong net neutrality and opposing the FCC’s proposal to roll back core protections.
Marketing for Starbucks is different than many other similarly sized and situated brands. Comparatively speaking, the international coffee chain does not engage in much advertising on television or in print.
“The best marketing in my view is the experience in stores, the human connection with Starbucks baristas and the quality of the food or beverage in one’s hand,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior vice president of public affairs for Starbucks, told AListDaily.
For the second-consecutive year, Starbucks doubled as a non-media publisher and evolved its content ecosystem through the original series Upstanders, an 11-episode collection that documents altruistic citizens making differences in their communities. It was made available on Amazon Prime Video, Facebook Watch and Audible.
Although Chandrasekaran said the pro-bono storytelling initiative is aimed at inspiring people and is not designed as cause marketing, Starbucks is still getting a seat at the table with newfound opportunities (and exposure) that come with such projects, and it fits within the big picture of the company.