Breaking Down The Hipster Content Brand Catapult

Oh, the ever-elusive and often-scorned hipster. Though widely mocked, this is a group largely composed of the “creative class,” economist Richard Florida’s defined community of the skilled, intellectual and hip, once poised to revive America’s desolate urban centers. While their actual success in doing so is questionable, one thing is certain: Hipsters have undoubtedly helped catapult a number of brands from niche underdogs to international sensations.

Let’s take a look at how two of the very best have used content marketing to both entice this tricky audience and enthrall the world at large — examples I’ve observed while surveying the state of this industry tool today.

Best Made Company: side project turned design icon

When designer Peter Buchanan-Smith was asked to contribute work to a New York City gallery in 2009, he took inspiration from his time growing up on a Canadian farm to create a piece of functional art. On the Kern and Burn blog, he states, “I had a few axes sitting in my studio and decided to just paint them. I never had the idea to start my own company until I did that one action.”

Four years later, his side project has turned into an ecommerce site featuring over 200 products. The brand’s sole brick-and-mortar store offers workshops in “Axe Restoration, Field Medicine and Foraged Cocktail Making,” proving that its artisanal spirit goes beyond its hand-painted wares.

But it doesn’t stop there. Best Made Company has an authentic story told across all digital media. The brand’s Instagram feed is a collection of Pin-worthy photos that celebrate the great outdoors and showcase the craftsmanship of products without ever feeling hokey or disingenuous.

Best Made Projects publishes ongoing content about adventures both big and small, ranging from profiles of forest fire-fighting “smoke jumpers” to how to properly care for your cast iron cookware.

Then there’s Adventures, a series of stunningly shot photo essays revealing the people and places involved in making the products — from the forests of Patagonia, Argentina to rugged terrain in Alaska.

The power and beauty of these visual stories is that they’re a genuine look inside the brand’s rich universe. The site’s users can smell the wood smoke in their hair and feel the crunch of leaves underfoot, all without leaving their Williamsburg walk-ups. Marketing author Seth Godin, who keeps a Best Made Co. axe on his desk to supposedly intimidate and surprise people, tells the Toronto Star, “It is the story we’re buying, not the [product].” That’s the best kind of magic brands can aspire to create.

Nasty Gal: sassy name, serious success

(photo courtesy of NY Times)

Sophia Amoruso is girl boss inspiration for every Millennial fashionista. In 2006, she started selling clothes, shoes and accessories on eBay, which she unabashedly admits were found in dumpsters or acquired by shoplifting. Eight years later, at a mere 30 years old, Amoruso has published “#GIRLBOSS,” a New York Times bestselling memoir/ business bible for the stylish anti-capitalist set, and built an online store with more than $100 million in revenue. What’s more, half of sales come from return customers, a rarity in the retail world.

Amoruso’s approach is about more than just offering hipster staples such as whimsical rompers, leopard print combat boots and blinged-out iPhone cases. She is selling a lifestyle that blends old and new and celebrates the very shoppers she targets. At the start of her rise to the top, Amoruso scouted for models on Myspace, and while she may not currently manage the social accounts, with more than 1.5 million followers amassed across Facebook and Instagram alone, she absolutely practices what she preaches. She tells Business Insider, “Even though I’m not always composing every tweet, I still read every comment… social media allows me to have my ear to the ground even when I’m out pounding the pavement.”

While social media is at the core of Nasty Gal’s content marketing strategy, it’s only the tip of the studded/flannel iceberg. The brand’s blog leans heavily on contributions from digital “it girls” Steak Anderson and Yasi Salek to deliver fresh takes on everything from beauty DIYs and body positivity to travel tips and art commentary. In 2013, the brand launched SUPER NASTY, a biannual editorial collaboration of up-and-coming illustrators, photographers, writers and stylists. The result is bold, unexpected and surprisingly smart.

On YouTube, Nasty Gal gives viewers a glimpse behind the scenes of editorial shoots and interviews influential, inspirational women like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame and Michelin star-awarded restaurateur Jennifer Vitagliano.

The effect across channels is playful, diverse and eccentric, allowing audiences to feel part of the discovery of new talent, always celebrating girl power and doing things your own way.

The “hipster” tag has been co-opted by just about everyone (including the GOP), but there’s more substance to this audience than black-rimmed glasses and waves of flannel. Marketers and brands have the opportunity to tap into their heightened design aesthetic and fierce independence to tell stories worth sharing, and create bigger business opportunities.

Originally published on Mediapost’s Content Marketing Insider.

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