A few short years ago, it’d been nigh unthinkable that Instagram Stories would become central marketing tools. They did, arguably, show some promise since their inception; brands working with influencers on the platform was not uncommon. But over time, between the feature’s evolution and users’ ingenuity, it has developed into an undeniably potent tool. Using Instagram Stories effectively can raise brand awareness, incite engagement, humanize brands, and ultimately drive sales.
That’s easier said than done, however, as are most marketing endeavors. Still, Instagram confirms that a staggering one-third of the most-viewed Instagram Stories are from businesses – and that’s before considering influencers. So it’s definitely worth the effort, and thankfully there are ample ways to succeed with creativity.
18 Examples of Brands and Influencers Using Instagram Stories Effectively (And You Can Too!)
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. This applies both to Instagram Stories themselves, explaining their continued appeal, and dissecting the most successful ones. So, here we’ve gathered 18 examples for you to draw inspiration from.
Granted, you will likely not boast the market position or vast audience of brands like Disney, Nike, or Prada. You likely won’t have the assets of Twitter or Instagram itself, both of which do use Instagram Stories. Still, the essence of what makes their Stories successful remains and can very well serve creative storytellers.
Starting with the aforementioned juggernauts, here we can begin with Disney. Disney holds unmatched brand recognition and thrives on its iconic characters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it often leverages said characters to engage its existing audiences:
How it does so is what’s more noteworthy, however. It doesn’t simply present the characters or promote them with a bit of flair. Instead, it uses quizzes and trivia to allure audiences to engage with what they already know and love. And as it does, it offers audiences more value by both expanding their knowledge and letting them confirm it.
They’re not the only ones on this list who do so, either, so you can rest assured that you can employ this approach as well.
Continuing in order, Nike is another world-famous brand that has been using Instagram Stories effectively for years now. Of course, they occupy an entirely different space than Disney and have a somewhat different business model. In turn, this is reflected in their approach to Stories, such as in the following example:
As you can see, Nike continues on the path set forth by its famous Colin Kaepernick campaign. It champions social causes, delves into societal norms and challenges, and promotes change. And as it does, it stands behind sports-minded communities and fans, in line with its offerings.
Beyond the moral aspect of this approach, we must remember that it resonates terrifically with modern audiences as well. The Edelman Trust Barometer continues to confirm that value alignment and societal leadership affect buyers’ decisions more than ever. This is the essence behind “cause marketing,” which can very much pay off.
Still in order and leaning more toward knowing its audiences comes Prada. That it’s another world-renowned brand matters little; it’s the approach and principles it follows that matter here:
It is, by all means, a far cry from Nike’s earthly, humanizing approach above, but it follows the same principle of knowing one’s audience. In this example, Prada presented a professional, classy showcase of its products, promoting the aesthetics that appeal to its customers.
It did so by using Instagram Stories effectively, as it progressed from slick, retro, black-and-white images to ones with color but equal class – reflecting the brand’s longevity and timelessness. This is an excellent example of using the medium creatively and meaningfully, which you can creatively replicate.
#4 Twitter (and YouTube Music)
Yes, Twitter uses Instagram Stories too. So does YouTube Music, for that matter. The former’s stories will often, but not exclusively, look like this:
Very similar in function, YouTube’s stories will often look like this:
Their aesthetics will, of course, differ, as the two have different audiences and different offerings. Still, what they both do is promote their own platforms. Engaged audiences can swipe up to find themselves on these platforms – which is effectively very similar to what Ecommerce Stories can do.
Platforms do tend to platform themselves; Twitter has a Twitter account, YouTube has a YouTube account, and so on. So does Instagram, and, unsurprisingly, knows very well how to make stellar Stories. Here’s a great example of one:
Granted, this is not a Story of Instagram. It is, however, one of motivational dancer Donte Colley, an Instagram user.
Indeed, the ever-effective strategy of promoting a platform’s own users ticks multiple proverbial boxes. It fosters communities, for one, and it shines a light on creators to let them thrive. It leverages user-generated content, as well, which is always a safe content idea. And, perhaps most importantly, it injects some fun into marketing, making branding a humanizing process. Here, Instagram is using Instagram Stories effectively – and rather effortlessly.
#6 Taco Bell
For a similar take, there’s also Taco Bell, which also comes with a great market position to use. That’s a welcome bonus, however, not a requirement:
As you can see, Taco Bell also leverages user-generated content in a few different ways. The first Story presents a surprising, unusual event that might entice viewers to swipe to learn more about it. The second employs a visual pun, injecting and embracing humor, and the third has fans express their loyalty.
Regardless of your audience size or niche, these are all very viable approaches to Stories. They can most certainly pay off, as they’re both engaging and easy to put together.
For an entirely different approach to user-generated content, at least in this example, we can cite NBA next. Like Disney, NBA knows it has an appealing product in hand that it can lean on:
What it did, then, was to add urgency to its offering. Countdowns do entice engaged audiences, getting them excited for what’s to come. At the same time, the Stories remain tidy, serious, and on-brand, leaving creativity and cause marketing for ones with other purposes.
Marketers should not be unfamiliar with this approach either, as popups with countdown timers convert much better than those without. So do traditional social media posts and email promotions, so using Instagram Stories effectively could hinge on some urgency.
Next comes NASA, which has seen some very notable success on Instagram over the years. Granted, it has excellent material to work with; space holds some universal appeal, pun not intended. Still, the reason their Stories are noteworthy is not their subject matter but how they leverage it aesthetically:
First, they employ a simple layout, a short, digestible headline, a clear vision, and a gamified yes/no quiz format. Then, they use a more information-packed but still digestible page to explain what’s to come and generate hype. Finally, they promote their content on other platforms with #moon2024.
This is an excellent approach to Instagram’s buzzing feeds. Strong visuals and brief, gripping texts can attract attention very effectively. These principles, too, have seen ample use in email marketing and beyond, and for a good reason.
#9 National Geographic
On the subject of science, National Geographic has also seen tremendous success on the platform. By this point, the primary reasons as to why should already be clear in such examples as the following:
Their visuals are slick and clear, for one. Beautiful in-brand landscapes make for great templates where simple information or instructions can be presented. Disclaimers, contest details, and fine prints resting at the bottom don’t detract from the visual appeal either.
But second, which is the key takeaway here, they’re using Instagram Stories effectively by making them engaging. They partner with like-minded brands, hold contests, and encourage user-generated content. And, much like NASA, they add hashtags for cross-platform visibility. The two do share audiences, which allows for Stories interactions after all:
That said, not every Story needs to be grand and actively seek audience engagement. Many can simply speak to your customers using tried-and-true marketing principles, like REI’s:
Here, REI is simply promoting its product to invested audiences. The way they do so is by offering concise, one-sentence solutions to everyday problems. Selling a product very often hinges on how it meets the customer’s pain points, exactly as REI does here.
That the visuals’ contrast and the text’s font make for excellent readability is a plus as well, of course. Attracting the eye at a glance is among the most fundamental qualities of a Story.
Having touched on popping visuals but following a different approach, here we may move on to Sephora:
Sephora tends to use simple backgrounds, so the products stand out, much like REI. Here they opt for a different layout, however, juxtaposing two products over matching but distinguishable backgrounds. How each approach best resonates with audiences and suits brands is rather subjective, however.
The more actionable strategy here is that Sephora uses polls very generously. This serves a few different purposes, such as engaging audiences and gamifying the experience. It’s also free product research – and let’s not forget the science of micro-commitments either, which helps polls drive conversions too.
#12 Nordstrom Rack
You’re likely noticing some recurring patterns at this point, as using Instagram Stories effectively tends to follow similar principles. Still, Nordstrom Rack demonstrates how a different marketing principle of humanization can see use too:
This particular holiday shoot went behind the scenes, breaking the mold of simple professionalism. Models had fun in-between shots, which made for more and more relatable shots. And promoting products in this way works wonders for them since it clicks with Nordstrom Rack’s audiences.
Humanization is among the most common reasons why brands work with influencers, as the article linked in the introduction showed. In this case, the brand put it into action by itself – and it paid off.
Starbucks frequently does so, too, as their beverages’ very names reflect. The typical Starbucks Story rarely feels like a product promotion going for a hard sell, if ever:
Instead, Starbucks also leverages brand recognition and loyalty to engage with audiences. It runs quizzes on returning beverages, shares fan input, and content, and keeps the tone fun and playful. And it runs polls, of course, just like Sephora; free product research never hurts.
Now yes, this approach may best work with massive established audiences. But while few marketers would challenge Starbucks head-on, drawing inspiration to improve one’s own market position is always logical.
Speaking of knowing one’s audiences, social media toolkit company Buffer very much knows its audiences. It caters to ones with great interest in, and often deep knowledge of, social media platforms. So, how is it using Instagram Stories effectively, as one would expect, with this in mind?
Simple. In this example, it steers clear from its product and instead focuses on the platforms themselves. It runs trivia quizzes, highlighting audience responses and winners, all while employing quirky, popping visuals too.
Unlike Disney, Buffer doesn’t have world-famous trademarked characters to lean on. That’s not stopping them from using trivia quizzes, all the same, focusing on what their audiences like – and so can you.
#15 Minimalist Baker
While this list has largely focused on the principles behind successful Stories, perhaps you feel your market position or audience size doesn’t lend itself to using them fully. In that case, how about a return to the basics of standalone Story crafters? Specifically, Minimalist Baker:
Simple, concise, and informational, Minimalist Baker knows its audiences. They start with bite-sized, pun not intended, recipe instructions and encourage audiences to swipe up for more. Just like REI, they address specific pain points and employ playful visuals as Buffer does. That Story highlights allow their most popular recipes to persist only helps, too.
#16 Stephen Colbert
Boasting quite different, quite larger, and often cross-platform audiences, Stephen Colbert offers another example of a successful influencer at work. He’s not exclusively an influencer, granted, which certainly helps expand his reach. Still, he’s delved into a unique, noteworthy means of using Instagram Stories effectively as well:
That this is not Stephen Colbert is actually the essence of what he did; a takeover. Indeed, takeovers may not suit every brand or influencer, but they work distinctly well when they do. One might consider them the extreme form of a partnership in some regards.
In this case, country music legend Dolly Parton took over his Instagram Stories for a day, as others have before. As NBA did, audiences were given prior notice, and the two creators found common ground to entertain their respective fans. Playful visuals, within reason and on-brand, were also employed to great effect.
If this feels extreme or risky, Forever21 has taken a similar but less full approach. It didn’t quite do a takeover, but it did find great success with a traditional influencer partnership:
The number of proverbial boxes this ticked, on top of simply producing engaging content, cannot be underestimated. Forever21 celebrated Latina Heritage Month by partnering with a Latina influencer, demonstrating societal leadership like Nike. It promoted the influencer’s own content, demonstrating its values and humanizing its brand like Nordstrom Rack. And, importantly, it directed content to promoting food locations, driving in-person visits, while location variety expanded its reach.
Even discounting all the specifics, this still serves as a great example of simple influencer marketing. You likely need no reminders of just how effective it can be, but this example should cement it.
Finally, to conclude with another world-renowned brand that keeps using Instagram Stories effectively, we can examine FedEx. Generally, FedEx doesn’t quite need brand awareness – but it does need good branding and engagement like all brands do. Knowing its audiences well, too, this is how they often approach Stories:
Leaning into its offerings, then, FedEx uses Stories to tap into engaged audiences again. Less playful but still approachable visuals, brief taglines, and cross-platform promotions are tried-and-true qualities they maintain. These are all highly imitable and very desirable qualities for all Stories.
In addition to those, however, FedEx taps into the psychology of holiday shopping. It leans on notable occasions which excite and please audiences, positioning itself as a bringer of joy. Like NBA, FOMO is a very powerful tool for marketers, which you can use just like FedEx does.
To summarize, there is an absolute wealth of ways to make an Instagram Story stand out, entice, and serve your goals. Using popping visuals and brief, readable texts alongside tried-and-true marketing principles is always key but is only the foundation. Encouraging engagement, gamifying the experience, and humanizing a brand are all welcome endeavors too, and there are few limits to creativity – as the above examples show.
Of course, not all approaches will suit all brands equally. There are considerations like market position, brand image, and ideal audiences, which should inform creativity and sometimes rein it in.
However, that’s the same across all marketing endeavors, and using Instagram Stories effectively doesn’t differ in that regard. Knowing your audiences, catering to their needs and tastes, and grabbing their attention creatively are goals you’ve been pursuing already. Hopefully, while you always know your business best, the above examples have given you some newfound inspiration on just how to do so.
Nick Djurovic’s success in the field is an uncanny product of having a Bachelor with Honors in Mechanical Engineering, Psychology, and Psychotherapy. With all these skills under his belt, he turned his focus to understanding and mastering Programming & Developing and improving other processes. In 2019, he co-founded Digital Dot New York, a digital marketing agency based in New York. He adores WordPress and is dedicated to a loving relationship with search engines and social networks.