Data Ninja BuzzFeed Named Fast Company’s Most Innovative Brand

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Since 2010, Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies list has designated the world’s 50 companies to watch for their game-changing ideas, whether disrupting an existing category (or creating an entirely new one) or completely up-ending their own business in a radical transformation. The 2016 Most Innovative Companies ranking, announced Tuesday, crowned BuzzFeed as FastCo’s top innovator for the simple act of “shaking up media across the globe.”

Recognizing CEO Jonah Peretti’s media empire as one “that embraces constant change yet remains devoted to data-driven metrics,” as Peretti commented in a cover story, the mission was clear from the start: “With BuzzFeed, I always felt like, let’s have as big an impact as we can. Let’s grow this into something giant.”

Mission accomplished: BuzzFeed now has 5 billion monthly views, “half from video, a business that effectively did not exist two years ago.” While Fast Company calls it “the envy of the media world,” it doesn’t attribute its growth to listicles or click bait headlines—although both certainly helped it get to where it is today—but to a culture “that embraces constant change yet remains devoted to data-driven metrics.”

Fast Company BuzzFeed Most Innovative Companies 2016

BuzzFeed has all the tools required for media success in today’s global marketplace—a news team, video production studio (BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, run by the irrepressible Ze Frank), data operations and in-house creative ad agency.

Since 2014 Peretti has transformed what he once called the “bored-at-work network” to a pioneering platform pushing digital content, creation and consumption.

As Fast Company notes, “BuzzFeed has become the envy of the media world for its seemingly magical ability to engineer stories and ads that are shared widely—whether it’s a dress that looks to be either white and gold or blue and black, an investigation into taxpayer-funded ‘ghost schools’ in Afghanistan, or an older cat imparting wisdom to a kitten on behalf of Purina.”

buzzfeed-arrow-logo-225With the focus not just on clicks but on social sharing,BuzzFeed is a 24/7 feedback loop that Peretti summarizes as “data, learning, dollars.” Or as he tells FastCo, “If we actually learn what works on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and we actually learn what works in Brazil and the UK, and we can figure out a way of sharing that knowledge, we should have a better understanding of how to make great content that people love.”

“What is the competitive advantage that you can gain as a publisher today? You’re not going to inherit one or get one given to you by a spectrum grant,” Peretti adds, referring to how traditional media brands (such as a family-run newspaper or a TV station) once got its start. “Having technology, data science, and being able to know how to manage, optimize, and coordinate your publishing is the thing that gives you a competitive advantage.”

Venture capitalists are among those who love Peretti’s offering. “When he [Peretti] hangs out with us, he speaks tech natively and media with an accent,” said Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz, who led a $50 million investment in BuzzFeed in 2014.

BuzzFeed Video Dear Kitten

BuzzFeed employs about 1,200 people and is valued at $1.2 billion. On the tech data front, the brand’s Pound and data initiative Hive give brands that ethereal gold known as ‘lift.’ Pound dives deep into audience insight while data initiative Hive improves editorial content shareability.

“BuzzFeed is this insane morphing rocket ship,” Emily Fleischaker, a creative director overseeing its Food vertical, tells FastCo. “And you have to be like [snaps fingers], “ ‘All right, let’s do this!’ ”

As for the kinds of content it creates for brands, BuzzFeed churns out lists, quizzes and custom video for HBO, Taco Bell and Ford, placing native ads on BuzzFeed and everywhere they distribute editorial content.

BuzzFeed’s calling card for advertisers, The “Dear Kitten” branded campaign for Purina’s Friskies cat food brand has been viewed more than 25 million times on YouTube, with nine subsequent videos garnering another 40 million views.

BuzzFeed is now working with GroupM, a division of WPP, in a yearlong, multimillion-dollar deal to create and distribute content; commissioned videos so far include projects for Nike, Target and Unilever.

It’s BuzzFeed’s second time on the list, which it first graced in 2013, but its first time at the top. Completing Fast Company‘s top ten list after BuzzFeed:

#2 Facebook: For not letting size get in the way of acting like a startup

#3 CVS Health: For becoming a one-stop health shop

#4 Uber: For hustling corporate business

#5 Netflix: For giving unexpected audiences exactly what they want

#6 Amazon: For evolving from commerce to cool cloud services

#7 Apple: For acing its China test

#8 Alphabet: For finding a better way to bet big

#9 Black Lives Matter: For turning the conversation about race into results

#10 Taco Bell: For combining corn, beans, meat, and cheese into genius

Six companies have the distinction of being recognized on both the 2015 and 2016 Most Innovative Companies lists: Warby Parker, Apple, Alphabet (Google), Slack, Netflix and Facebook (Instagram).

First-time honorees this year include Taco Bell, Hasbro, CVS Health, Bristol-Myers Squibb; newcomers Shyp and Robinhood; retailers Everlane, Shopify and Farfetch; and mission-driven organizations Sama Group, Black Lives Matter and Social Capital.

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