Oftentimes we only talk about awesome examples of content marketing from sexy brands with interesting products. I mean, really, how could GoPro not have amazing content marketing?
But for those of us who work in industries with lesser cool factors, how do we compete? How can we also produce great content that inspires and engages an audience and also drives business value?
Deluxe Corp. is a company that’s done just that. Despite offering a wide range of products and services, Deluxe has historically had less than 1% brand awareness and is often thought of as just “the check company.” Looking to celebrate its company centennial and improve brand awareness, Deluxe enlisted Amanda Brinkman as its Chief Brand and Communications Officer. Brinkman accepted the challenge and created a content marketing program that has received national recognition and earned the brand over 1.1 billion media impressions.
We sat down with Brinkman, to find out how she transformed Deluxe with the content marketing program, Small Business Revolution.
First, tell me about Deluxe.
Deluxe Corp. (Deluxe.com) is a growth engine for small businesses and financial institutions. Nearly 4.6 million small business customers access Deluxe’s wide range of products and services, including customized checks and forms, as well as website development and hosting, email marketing, social media, search engine optimization and logo design. For our approximately 5,600 financial institution customers, Deluxe offers industry-leading programs in checks, customer acquisition, fraud prevention, profitability and financial technology solutions including receivables management and data analytics.
Tell me a little but about your background. What did you do before you joined Deluxe and what drew you to the company?
I originally started my career on the agency side and had incredible experiences at Mithun and Fallon. I moved over to the corporate side with the hopes of being able to build creativity from the inside out and I have enjoyed every opportunity I have had to do just that. At UnitedHealth Group I built out a consumer engagement division called Carrot. We created health and wellness campaigns that (hopefully) motivated people to make healthier decisions. At Allianz and General Mills I helped build out the marketing functions to turn work around faster and to elevate the creative capabilities internally.
I was attracted to the opportunity at Deluxe because it was a huge brand challenge. How do you turn around a 100 year old brand…with very limited brand spend, brand awareness of <1% and honor the centennial in the mean time? Let me at it…I love a daunting challenge. We have such an amazing story to tell at Deluxe. I am so proud to be here to help us tell our story louder!
When was Small Business Revolution launched?
The Small Business Revolution was launched on Jan. 4, 2015. We have been telling 100 stories over the course of the year and started right at the beginning of January.
Why was it launched?
At Deluxe, we love small businesses. We have worked with small businesses for the last 100 years and we offer a wide range of services and products for small businesses. As we came closer and closer to our 100th anniversary, we decided that we didn’t want to shine the spotlight on ourselves, but instead turn that spotlight onto the small businesses that make our country great. We thought telling 100 business stories from around the country was a great way to celebrate our anniversary.
At the same time, Deluxe has been known as “the check company” for a long time. That is our heritage and how we built the company, printing checks, checkbooks and forms for banks and small businesses. But we have also grown and changed over the years, and we want to be able to showcase that change and have the public understand what we do and who we are today in 2015. We decided that we would use authentic content – in the form of 12 mini-documentaries and 88 photo essays, along with a full-length documentary – to tell our story. In doing so, we shared those stories through earned media, helping to amplify the dollars we put into the program.
How did the idea come together? Where did you find inspiration?
Our inspiration really came from the small businesses themselves. Their stories are remarkable and compelling and we truly want to start a revolution…a movement – we want people to frequent small businesses more and more. We also knew that we were not in the position to invest in a multi-channel advertising campaign. So we made a scrappy bet – rely on exceptional content to tell this story. And it has worked. So far this year, we have had more than 500 media stories that have gained roughly 1.1 billion media impressions. We have also cultivated a significant social media following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We’re very proud of this program.
Who is the target audience for Small Business Revolution?
Really everyone is – we want to reach the small business owner, but also their customers. We want to inspire people to start this revolution and invest in their communities and their ideas in order to raise awareness about what small businesses do for their communities.
Small Business Revolution lives at “smallbusinessrevolution.org” versus something on-domain for Deluxe, such as “deluxe.com/smallbusinessrevolution.”
What was the thought process behind that decision?
I’ve used the word authentic a lot for a reason – throughout this campaign, we have not tried to sell anything. Sure, we want to raise awareness about Deluxe’s small business marketing suite of services, but we didn’t feel that we could truly call this campaign authentic if it was tied to a business platform. So we created its own platform and lightly branded the campaign, saying the Small Business Revolution is “Championed by Deluxe.” Again, we’re shining that spotlight on the small businesses themselves, letting them shine in the process, giving them the stage to talk about who they are and what they do.
Can you share the thought process behind how the site was designed and how the content was structured on the site?
We really wanted the stories to speak to our audience, to stand on their own. The site itself needed to convey “Americana,” bringing the authenticity of this work to life visually and through the design.
The only Deluxe branding that exists on Small Business Revolution is very subtle and at the very bottom of the page. Can you tell me a little about how that decision was made?
Deluxe is trying to start a movement, a revolution, where people celebrate their love of small business. We didn’t want to dilute that message by being heavy-handed with advertising our own services. We made a bet that people would want to learn more about the company behind the Small Business Revolution if we lightly branded ourselves.
What agency did you work with to create the mini-documentaries and photo essays for this project. Can you tell me about how you decided to choose them? What was the selection process like?
I really wanted the content to be able to stand on its own and I wanted to find true ARTISTS. Documentarians who know how to tell stories visually. I had a meeting with Flow NonFiction through a mutual acquaintance and once they showed me their work, I knew I had the right team. I did look around at some other partners, but it was clear from the beginning that Flow had the vision and the understanding of what we wanted to do and how it would all come together.
How many members are on your internal team? What are their roles and responsibilities?
Since joining Deluxe, I have put together an exceptional internal team that really has done a great job sharing the Small Business Revolution with the public. I’m very much a believer in finding talented people who bring different skill sets to our team and then letting them do what they do best.
I have a vice president of public relations who has led all of the PR for this campaign, along with managing the day-to-day aspects of public relations for a company our size. We have also hired a director of social media who has done an exceptional job driving traffic and awareness not only to the Small Business Revolution channels, but across our many Deluxe channels. We have a brand manager and a PR manager as well, both of whom have been instrumental in sharing our story, and we have a social media coordinator who helps create content and monitor the dialogue on social media.
Getting back to the content, how did you select which businesses to profile?
At first, we asked our Deluxe employees to nominate their favorite businesses. We have employees across the country and we were able to source a great number of businesses that way. Then, to ensure we were able to cover the entire country, we began to source through chambers of commerce and media stories to find compelling businesses to showcase.
How did you select which businesses to record versus photo essay?
When we found a business we thought would be a good fit for the campaign, we would do a phone interview with that business. Not all of them made the cut, but the ones that did, we had to determine which they were more suited for, the photos or the mini-documentary. Sometimes, it is about personality and you could see that shine through in the mini-documentaries we did. Other times, in was obvious that a business’s setting, products, etc would be visually dynamic for a photo essay. It was a hard decision on many occasions, but in the end, I think we made some excellent selections.
How would you describe the tone of Small Business Revolution? What emotions are you trying to evoke when someone reads/watches a story? How do you want someone to feel?
We want people to feel the struggle and the challenge and the happiness of the small business owner. It is hard to be a small business owner. They work very hard, every day and that needed to shine through. One interesting theme that really popped out of these stories is about community. Nearly every story has a community element to it, so that has been something that has been really important to share.
How far in advance was the planning process planned?
We began planning in the summer of 2014 and continued to source businesses into the summer of 2015. Production has been ongoing even now as we finalize the plan.
What has been your distribution strategy? (Paid vs. owned vs. earned media)
We made a huge bet on earned media. We really believed that great content was going to go a long way toward telling our story and we were right. To date, we have had more than 500 media stories that have generated 1.4 billion media impressions. At the same time, we put a modest amount of money into paid advertising, with print ads, TV ads, billboards, bus/light rail wraps and social amplification.
What was the publishing cadence of the stories?
With 100 stories, we had to be fairly aggressive, so we launched one mini-documentary per month, and 7-8 photo essays per month.
Any pieces of content that have performed particularly well? Why do you think that is? Do you have any personal favorites?
The video content has performed incredibly well – not only the mini documentaries, but we have had a lot of shorter video content, roughly 15 to 30 seconds that we have used in social media that has performed so well. And our full length documentary has really been a strong player for us online. We have also noticed that stories about veterans or multiple generation family businesses have performed exceptionally well. Lastly, food stories – restaurants and food trucks – have huge followings.
How important was social media to the program’s success?
Social was hugely important for us. We have driven a great deal of engagement through Facebook and Twitter. And at the same time, Instagram has given us a tremendous audience for our photo essays. People have really loved the photos on Instagram. Social proved to be one of the most importance vehicles for us because we were able to engage our constituencies where they were enjoying our content.
What’s next for Small Business Revolution?
We will continue to build on the authentic movement we have created in 2016. Documentary-style storytelling will continue to be a focus of the next stage of the Small Business Revolution. We have built something remarkable here and we want to continue to reward our enthusiastic and loyal following with motivation and celebration around supporting small businesses.
Any advice you have for fellow content marketers?
Yes! I think we can hold ourselves accountable for better work. For doing things that matter. Enough with the “top 5” lists and move on to doing something good…something that makes the world a better place as a result of the work. I think any brand or company can hold themselves accountable to that.
Also be sure to follow Amanda on Twitter at @AKBrinkman.
Thanks so much for your insight Amanda!