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How Quirky Created a Truly Original Content Operation

If necessity is the mother of invention, then Quirky is its magnanimous uncle.

Quirky, which was founded in 2009 by inventor Ben Kaufman when he was 25, turns consumer product ideas into bankable inventions with an unorthodox approval process. People submit their ideas online, Quirky’s staff reviews them, and the top 10 or so are discussed and voted on by the public during a live weekly broadcast on the company’s website. Only a few winners emerge, and even those selected may not make it through the subsequent evaluation administered by Quirky’s in-house product managers, industrial engineers, legal, finance, and marketing teams. But those ideas that do make it all the way through, like inventor Robert Sweeney’s smart window and door sensor Tripper, are as original as the people who created them.

In May of this year, Quirky, which is based out of New York City, will turn six. It currently receives between 1,000 and 3,000 ideas for inventions every week, and counts 1 million people in its online community. From the very beginning, the startup’s sights have been squarely set on publicizing its business and introducing consumers to the several hundred products that have made it to market thus far. But now, that’s starting to change.

“We’re moving away from Quirky-focused content to telling the stories that surround the company,” says Anna Buchbauer, Quirky’s content manager. “Our mission is to make invention accessible, and that means lifting the veil on a previously mysterious process.”

With the help of its “small but mighty” in-house team of videographers, copywriters, graphic designers, and social media experts, Quirky has been creating video profiles of inventors such as Sweeney. Picking the right personalities took patience; the company conducted 30 Skype interviews to find the best possible candidates for the video campaign.

“We’re chomping at the bit to do more of these,” Buchbauer says, noting there’s a monthly profile series in the works. “Everybody has a story, and we hope to tell them all.”

These inventors are part of a deep pool for sourcing interesting brand videos, but Quirky also uses content marketing to highlight its other partners, like a neon light artist and the glassblowing studio used to create one of its products.

Quirky relies on video so much because Buchbauer calls it “one of the most engaging ways” to get the community immersed in innovation. To pull back the curtain, the company offers a glimpse at its manufacturing process and curious collection of in-office product development tools.

“Education is a huge pillar of the content we create and a huge priority,” she explains. For proof of this, look no further than clips about 3D printing, a demo of how to make a cardboard prototype, and an educational initiative with local schools called Quirky’s School of Invention. Next, Quirky will be relaunching their website along with a “How to Invent” series.

This isn’t to say that the company has abandoned the product demos on which it once relied. It started using Vine as another medium for creating content, embracing the video sharing service as a way to experiment with different video styles. Quirky’s Vine efforts include product stress tests and glimpses into how its products work. Knowing that the Vine community favors content that speaks to craft of inventing, Quirky also recently created a series on location at World Maker Faire New York 2014.

“There’s always a need to show the product functionality,” says David Mishler, Quirky’s video editor and videographer. “Many Vines are crafty, so why not use [the platform] to articulate what our products can do?”

If that approach sounds familiar, it might be because Quirky has partnered with Vine superstar brand General Electric. Quirky and GE, maker of the popular #6SecondScience and #EmojiScience Vines, joined forces in April 2013 to develop a line of co-branded connected products. Combining Quirky’s community and platform with GE’s scale and technology, the two companies have launched 13 products together to date related to home devices.

“There’s mutual support on both sides,” Buchbauer says. GE has reposted Quirky videos to its Twitter and Facebook feeds, while Quirky is “always inspired by GE’s strategy and varied content.”

In addition to video, Quirky rounds out its content marketing with a blog used to deliver meatier stories and news that attracts an audience of loyal followers. Content is formulated in advance through yearly and weekly editorial calendars, and Quirky distributes the ensuing stories through its community digest email.

On social, Quirky brings a distinct purpose to each platform. Twitter is for invention news and market-related conversation starters. Facebook is primarily used to publish personal stories that connects with fans. Instagram helps showcase the company’s product development process, something that appeals to the community’s maker mindset. And Pinterest posts tend to demonstrate how the inventions live in a design-friendly environment.

As Mishler says: “Ben [Kaufman] has talked about how great it is that we have the inventors’ faces on the packaging, but there’s more to the story than that. You can learn so much about the inventor community through our content.”

Image by Nenov Brothers Images
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