In a time driven by visual content, Instagram enables companies and brands to represent their brand visually, craft a personality, and stay top-of-mind for the millions of users who scroll through Instagram every single day.
Leveraging social media effectively for companies in 2020 is not easy. To stand out, today’s brands need to tell a compelling story and connect to a certain lifestyle or audience. Defining success on social media is dependent on a company and its goals but success on Instagram basically comes down to one main thing – organic engagement. The strategies brands take to drive this engagement vary, but by what other brands are doing online, patterns, and trends start to emerge that can inspire your social media strategy.
In today’s highly competitive business landscape social media offers a point of differentiation by enabling marketers to show potential customers what makes a brand unique. Social media marketing takes time and effort, but when executed correctly, brands benefit from increased sales and stronger customer loyalty over the competition. By engaging with your target audiences through valuable and compelling content you can turn customers into brand advocates.
In previous articles, we wrote about TikTok marketing strategy and some brands killing it on TikTok. Now let’s look at some of the best brands on Instagram and dig into what makes their content so great and the strategies that help set them apart! If you’re looking for key strategic takeaways to apply to your brand’s Instagram these are listed at the bottom of the article.
Recess is a sparkling water infused with CBD and adaptogens for balance and clarity, self-described as an “antidote for modern times,” the company claims to have “canned a feeling.” Recess is one of the most absurd brands on Instagram, building up a truly unique personality and brand story using a lush pastel color palette that seems to evoke the “bliss” the drink itself claims to produce. In thinking about social media strategy, structure and planning are essential, but being able to roll with the punches and adapt is also crucial. Responding to the coronavirus effectively as a brand was complicated but Recess managed to lean into the dire situation with highly relatable quarantine humor featuring Tiger King, a comically stretched tandem bike, and an expanded logo adding “ion” to spell Recession.
Recess’ feed is a dreamy visual treat, but where they really shine, however, is in the daring and hilarious personality they’ve crafted, effectively bringing each unique flavor to life. The majority of the content features cans personified among different cultural reference points, memes, and various backdrops or scenes. The brand also makes excellent use of pinned stories with one in particular, titled “Playlists” which features links to playlists like “songs you heard in a dream” and “calm cool and collected” which further strengthens the brand story.
A list of the best brands on social would be incomplete without mentioning Wendy’s. Perhaps best known for its scathing Twitter personality unafraid to be “savage” and “roast” competitors and even customers on the platform. It could be said that Wendy’s aspires to become a meme on Twitter and largely succeeds as an emblematic example of a brand not taking itself too seriously. The iconic logo may be the red-headed step sister but among restaurants on social media Wendy’s is more like Cinderella at the ball.
Wendy’s excels at visualizing their products, especially around big product launches like Spicy Nuggets and Wendy’s Breakfast over the past year. Wendy’s Instagram presence feels like a toned-down extension of the company’s Twitter with a stronger emphasis on visual memes and product launches. On Instagram quality takes precedent over the timeliness necessary to respond and be a part of a cultural moment on Twitter. Whatever direction a company chooses to take on social media, it’s vital to have a cohesive overarching personality or theme across all channels and Wendy’s demonstrates this perfectly.
Teva created the sport sandal category in 1984 and has built a community around their brand that continues to celebrate the freedom to explore ever since. On Instagram, the company uses a mix of professional photography and user-generated content (UGC) submitted by adoring Teva-wearing fans all around the world.
The feed is bright, colorful, and heavily focused on lifestyle photos of people in all of the different places and occasions they wear their Teva sandals. For companies in the fashion and beauty industry, it’s important for customers to be able to see themselves in the product and Teva excels in this department. Teva does a great job of using photos of customers of all ages, ethnicities, and genders to really communicate the message that Teva sandals are really for everyone.
Teva also makes use of Instagram shopping, tagging their products in photos to allow customers to go straight from Instagram to a product on their site to purchase. According to Instagram, 130 million Instagram users tap on shopping posts every month and by removing friction in the buying experience, Teva is able to convert Instagram fans straight into customers with every post.
We’re Not Really Strangers is a purpose-driven card game and movement created to empower meaningful connections with others. WNRS uses Instagram to promote the card game for purchase and to reach their 1.8 million followers to spread positivity and encourage self-love and acceptance. Visually the feed lacks the clear cohesion of some brands on this list and as a result, invokes a real authenticity in line with the game itself. While this strategy won’t work for every brand, it shows that people really appreciate an emotional connection when done right. By forging this emotional connection and using the game cards as prompts for engagement, WNRS drives followers to comment and organically share their content, which has led to its astronomical growth over the past few years.
For any companies selling direct to consumers, Instagram Stories can’t be ignored. According to Instagram, 500 million people use Stories daily and 62% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it on Instagram Stories. WNRS uses Stories to share user-generated content of customers playing the game and to share game cards as prompts for engagement.
Haus makes apéritifs, which are liquors with complex flavors derived from fruits, herbs, and botanicals, for “the wine or cocktail lover who’s tried it all and wants something new and refreshing.” Apéritifs are traditionally lighter in alcohol so you can enjoy the social ritual of drinking without the undesired consequences. On Instagram Haus brings this idea to fruition with a punchy feed full of recipes and stories about the products and people that love them.
Stories help customers feel connected to a brand and Haus shines in its elaborate visual storytelling partnering with famous chefs and bringing followers into the action of the kitchen. By using Instagram so fluidly in new product launches Haus is able to encourage repeat buyers to keep coming back for new exciting and unique flavors. As always it helps to have a beautifully designed product when it comes to curating a visually stimulating feed.
Lululemon is an athletic apparel company with the mission “to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness” that focuses on motivation and inspiration in their Instagram feed. Lululemon has always been heavily invested in building in-person communities through ambassadors in the community and larger fitness influencers. They also host sponsored yoga classes and events to really build this connection with their customers. The company makes use of a branded hashtag, #thesweatlife, to encourage followers to post photos of themselves using Lululemon products for a chance to be featured on the page which has 3.3 million followers.
By showcasing people using their products, they’re getting people thinking about how they could also use Lululemon’s products in their lives. It’s one thing to see a great photo of a product, but actually seeing it in a lifestyle context it becomes much more vivid and aspirational. Beyond photos, Lululemon provides real value to followers by posting long-form videos on IGTV featuring at-home workouts and yoga classes.
Aesop’s bio reads, “we believe unequivocally that well-considered design improves our lives.” and they live up to this statement with a whimsical, enchanting visual story that unfolds in chapters across their feed. Aesop is a brand that prides itself on simplicity and minimalism and a great example of a feed that shows that more does not always mean better.
On their website Aesop has the quote ‘Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly’ and their Instagram conveys a true understanding of a brand identity organically growing and shifting like nature. Aesop sells online but is also well known for their beautiful stores in which they attempt to “weave into the fabric of the street and add something of merit rather than impose a discordant presence.” They take pride in the informed consultants in their stores that guide customer purchase decisions and their social presence seems to encourage customers to visit to see the spaces themself.
With nearly nine million followers across three Instagram accounts [@gymsharkwomen @gymsharktrain], Gymshark is one of the most visible fitness brands on the internet. The brand’s growth is primarily due to an acute understanding of social media and the fitness influencers who dominate it.
Gymshark sponsors many of the biggest fitness influencers, known as Gymshark ’athletes’, to capitalize on their combined audiences. Whitney Simmons, for example – an athlete with 3.1m Instagram followers – is a popular ambassador who seems to live exclusively in Gymshark apparel and has even gone on to release her own collections with the brand. By working with these influencers Gymshark inherently learns how to think, speak, and act like their customers.
Gymshark maintains authenticity by posting content that seems down-to-earth and approachable without fancy editing and professional photoshoots. Fitness is an inherently aspirational category and by occasionally posting customer transformations, Gymshark creates a real emotional connection with athletes looking for motivation.
As an up and coming skincare brand, Starface definitely knows how to utilize social media (both Instagram and TikTok). Starface makes unique “acne stickers” in the shape of stars that fit perfectly with their bright yellow aesthetic on Instagram. They do an incredible job of curating a consistent visual theme while posting everything from customer testimonials to memes and more.
Starface makes use of Instagram Stories very well resharing customer stories that tag the account on their story as social proof for potential customers. They also use bright and colorful pinned stories to highlight their different products, news, and to save the best tagged customer stories.
Shopify is an e-commerce platform that allows anyone to start an online store, manage, and market it. They are among the top B2B brands on Instagram especially after 2020 and the extreme rise of eCommerce adoption across the globe. They’ve managed to craft a beautifully minimal but still colorful and inviting. They share content related to eCommerce and Stories of merchants that use the Shopify platform but they also incorporate a more editorial direction picking up relevant news stories or events they think their followers may appreciate. It’s clear that Shopify knows their audience’s pain points and they use content to address these with great storytelling and the occasional IGTV video content.
Tentsile sells tree tents, what they call “portable treehouses” that will according to some clever website copy “literally take your camping experience to a new level.” Their feed incites a feeling of adventure and wanderlust through breathtaking scenes of their products being used in all types of terrain: rainforests, mountains, hanging over a raging river, and pretty much anywhere else you could imagine.
Like many of the brands on this list, Tentsile excels on Instagram by letting the product speak for itself. Luckily for Tentsile, people who love the outdoors tend to also enjoy taking photos of their adventures and the company is able to utilize this user-generated content to further propel this aspirational consumption. In a recent report, AdWeek found that 85% of users say visual UGC is more influential in their decisions than brand-generated photos or videos.
The Instagram algorithm is driven by engagement so Tentsile makes effective use of contests and giveaways which get customers directly involved with the brand. People love the chance to win free stuff and giveaways are one of the most effective ways for companies to fuel early growth on social media.
If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality? Footwear company Vans has done an awesome job answering this important branding question with its Instagram content. The maker of the classic checkered slip-ons has a bright, flashy Instagram feed, featuring both simple product shots along with action photos and videos of people expressing themselves in their favorite Vans gear.
Vans’ Instagram account stays true to its roots with an abundance of skateboarding oriented content but also successfully exhibits the brand’s expansion into action sports like surfing and snowboarding. Beyond action sports Vans also does a great job showing that it’s a brand that anyone can rock regardless of your style or preferences. The feed is primarily photography but we love the occasional illustration used as a break in the aesthetic. The last thing Vans does well is partnering with influencers, primarily musicians, which helps them relate to audiences that may not be interested in following a footwear brand on social media.
B2B SaaS marketing on Instagram isn’t easy but Hubspot manages to knock it out of the park by providing content that aligns acutely with what their audience cares about and helping them with their problems related to work. Hubspot is credited for inventing the term “inbound marketing” which focuses on blogs with high-quality content peppered with targeted keywords and niche key phrases to maximize SEO. They use Instagram to promote these blogs and push customers into the marketing funnel by encouraging visiting the link in their bio to access further reading. According to Instagram, 81% of people use Instagram to help research products and services, so it is essential for B2B companies to not ignore social media.
By exhibiting true domain expertise and helpful insights that provide value to both customers and prospective customers on Instagram Hubspot is able to stay front of mind for any businesses looking to invest in sales or marketing software. A heavy reliance on open-ended questions in their captions enables Hubspot to drive crucially important engagements, pushing the Instagram algorithm to share the posts more widely.
Despite just being a simple toy company Lego manages to craft and enchanting feed full of so much more than product plugs. The famous plastic building block brand populates its Instagram feed with fun takes on pop culture references everyone is bound to appreciate — something many brands can take inspiration from for their own accounts.
While most of Lego’s posts do serve to announce the release of new Lego characters, the main value in its Instagram account is to show off novel and unique applications of the colorful bricks. Some of them are pretty impressive, like this repost from an artist that builds intricate statues out of just black bricks.
As a grocery store focused on produce and healthy eating, Sprouts takes visual cues directly from their produce to create a gorgeous grid of rainbow hues. In the past they used color themes to turn their Instagram into a revolving rainbow, focusing on one color for 6 to 9 posts before they move on to the next color in sequence. They’ve abandoned this strict color pattern now to just focus on a bright feed in which they highlight products they carry, recipes, and other ideas to help lure shoppers in.
Sonder is a company in the hospitality space offering a “new, better way to stay in your favorite neighborhoods around the world.” They differentiate from their main competitor, Airbnb, by offering the consistency and service of a great hotel combined with the warmth and comfort of staying in a space that feels more like a home. They succeed on Instagram by utilizing a balanced mix showing off their immaculate apartments and the cities they operate in alongside user-generated content, initiatives, and information. 81% of people use Instagram to help research products and services, so as a lesser-known company, Sonder focuses on educating customers and differentiating itself from hotels by showcasing truly inspirational spaces.
Sonder uses the hashtag #TakingStayFurther and shares user-generated posts in their pinned stories to show that staying with Sonder really is as magical as the feed makes it seem.
Desenio is a Swedish online art print company passionate about interior decor and design and their Instagram feed shows just that. They believe attractive and on-trend wall decor should be available to everyone and they use their beautiful Instagram feed to share ideas and inspire customers. Desenio’s feed is a beautifully cohesive and minimal layout showcasing their posters in neutral colorscapes with a lot of blues, greens, greys, and blacks, which evoke senses of calm, healing, luxury, and trust.
While aesthetics are important to consider it’s also important to show some humanity as a brand and Desenio does a great job with this occasionally featuring photos with people surrounded by art or hanging their posters. The brand also does a good job of crafting a story around new collections and the artists that create work for them to sell which is important to people. The company makes use of longer-form IGTV videos to introduce followers to new artists which likely inspires purchases.
Wix is a website builder that “gives you the freedom to create, design, manage, and develop your web presence exactly the way you want.” As a product that helps customers build a website, Wix takes a different approach to user-generated content in their strategy.
The majority of Wix’s posts highlight customers’ websites but instead of featuring the sites themselves, they take photos or ideas from the sites themselves and create graphics to maintain a visually consistent and aesthetically pleasing feed. Beyond this excellent tactic to build community among users, Wix features the occasional product update or blog post to show get customers excited about innovation and new capabilities. For example when they launched their Editor X product they specifically used a graphical aesthetic that stood out among their usual bright, colorful style in order to draw special attention to the launch.
We’ve taken everything we learned looking at the best brands on Instagram to craft a feed and we’ve been seeing strong growth throughout the year. If you’re looking to keep up with our content give us a follow on Instagram. If you’re looking for a growth partner with extensive Instagram experience we’d love to help your brand grow and achieve your goals, and if not we hope that these accounts have already helped to spark new ideas for you to test!
Key Strategic Takeaways
With so many brands and users killing it on Instagram, it’s super challenging to stand out from the crowd in 2021. Luckily there are few limits to what a brand can do on Instagram. There are, however, a couple of key takeaways that any brand can incorporate into their own strategy. Regardless of which tactics you choose to try make sure they are relevant to your own brand voice and audience’s needs, and you’ll soon reap the benefits.
1. Given the visual nature of Instagram, brands must craft out some sort of cohesive visual identity or theme.
2. Show some personality and authenticity, people connect with people, so make your brand feel like just another person.
3. For content, figure out what makes the most sense for your business but provide a careful balance of inspiration, entertainment, and information.
4. Find a way to generate and use user-generated content and work towards being aspirational in your content.
5. Find creative ways to boost engagement like contests, giveaways, and open-ended questions. [hint: stories with stickers]
6. Use Instagram Stories to creatively and casually engage with your customers [remember 500 million people use Stories daily and 62% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories.]
These accounts are some of our favorites, but we’re always looking for more inspiration. Let us know in the comments if there are any other accounts that you think deserve a mention!
Do you want to create sustainable growth for your company? Send us a message!
We’re a squad of the best growth marketers in the world, and we’re ready to help your business take the next step in growth!