In 2013, when Amanda Brinkman took the job as chief brand and communications manager for Deluxe, a provider of services to small businesses, the first thing she did was conduct brand awareness studies. She discovered the awareness, at 40%, was high, but looking deeper she found that people only thought of Deluxe as a company that provides checks for businesses. Only 1% knew they also did business cards, email marketing and website design.
Meanwhile, the competition was outspending Deluxe by 14 to 1. So Amanda reached into the content marketing arsenal and launched Small Business Revolution, a micro-site populated with originally produced videos, slideshows and articles to shine a light on small business owners and their contributions to their communities.
In short, she made a bet on content, and we asked her how it’s been paying off.
Content: So you’ve decided to out-storytell the competition.
Amanda Brinkman: I wanted to do something that people wanted to spend time with, so I’ve used my paid media budget to invest in these high quality films. We went out and found an actual documentary company and are really investing in the quality of the story-telling. The bet I’m making is because of the quality and because the messaging will resonate with people, that we’ll earn more media than we could have paid for. If on our way to creating that movement we raise brand awareness that’s great but I’m keeping it really lightly branded. It’s not “Deluxe brings you the Small Business Revolution.”
A lot of other companies would go with a bit of a heavier hand and actually talk about how their product solves problems.
All the messaging surrounding this is “If you’re moved by this story then go out and support a small business.” I felt if it’s too heavy-handed from a corporate perspective, then that doesn’t sound like an authentic movement. We’re certainly not hiding from the fact that we’re behind it. Part of the reason we’re doing this is because the company is 100 years old, so we’ll spotlight 100 companies. If you go to thesmallbusinessrevolution.org, the content hub for all this, it’s very obvious it’s Deluxe that puts this on. I just felt if we started with the movement first we’re likely to capture more attention and authentic engagement versus it sounding like a commercial.
How have you been measuring success?
Eventually we’ll go back and do more brand awareness studies and track from year to year, but building brand awareness can take a long time. So while that’s our main intention, to build brand awareness from a KPI perspective, what we’re really measuring is engagement online. Not only are we measuring the uptake of our social following, but also the kind of engagement we have with those followers. We’re encouraged when we see an Instagram post gets lots of comments, where people are saying “Oh, this reminds me of my grandfather’s business” or “There’s a business down the road like this. I’ve never even thought to pop in.” So we’re really kind of measuring sentiment, and also impressions and how people are seeing these stories. The measuring that we’ll do at the end of the year is we’ll look at all the impressions and engagements and we’ll do a reverse calculation to figure out what we would have had to pay for: what that would have cost if it would have been a pure paid media plan.
How involved are you in terms of the actual scripting and story-telling? Are you on the front end and the approval stage?
It’s a fine line. For me it was important to find actual documentarians who have done this before. When I found this company in Austin, Texas—they’re called Flow Nonfiction—one of the things I promised them was that my job would be to protect them from a lot of editing. It would really be about letting this be an art form, but with a clear brief: Each of these stories needs to showcase the trials and tribulations and the joys of being a small business owner, and to bring to light the unique story of that owner and their business and the people that surround them.
In the past you’ve done work creating brand stories for content marketing companies. Can you talk to me about the process?
So many content marketing companies are like “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” type of thing: they’re experts at crafting the brand stories for clients, but not when it comes to getting out and telling their own. So I’ll spend a lot of time with lead writers and editors and ask “What makes you different to not only competitors but to alternate sources for content?” Because businesses have a number of different places where they can get content—an agency, or in-house or they have experts on a panel. So I ask, “If you guys went away tomorrow, what would the business world be missing?” Those conversations can help hone that brand story.
What are some “a-ha” moments, where you start cobbling together different viewpoints and messages and where it actually starts to take shape?
I think one “a-ha” was when someone said something about “There’s so many different great journalists out there and so many companies that really want to try and engage people through content, it’s kind of a shame that those two things don’t match up better.” I said “Well that’s exactly what I see you guys doing here.” So that’s where we came up with this term “brand journalism” that’s really about telling the stories of brands through the eyes of journalists. For some agencies, that can be the biggest differentiator: the fact that they have really well respected journalists on staff who are writing these articles; journalists who know how to dig in and tell a story and make it different and make it unique and write a good headline and capture attention. How does a company take advantage of those kinds of resources? That’s a good starting point to differentiation.