The Small Business Revolution
The Small Business Revolution
How does a century-old check printing company with less than 1% brand recognition produce one of Inc. Magazine's must watch TV shows for entrepreneurs (alongside NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and HBO’s Silicon Valley), earning the company a BUY recommendation from CNBC’s Jim Kramer, and just a few years later end up with an Emmy nomination?
It all started in 2014. Minneapolis-based banking giant Deluxe had appointed agency veteran Amanda Brinkman to lead the marketing charge on a new suite of small business focused B2B services the company was rolling out. And compared to their competitors, they'd be doing it on a budget. Having worked on Fallon's breakthrough film series for BMW, Brinkman believed story was king.
As the newly-named Chief Branding Officer, Brinkman envisioned the launch as not just a campaign, but a movement. A movement celebrating the mom-and-pop main street businesses who'd been swallowed up by the big box giants moving in on the edge of town. And not just a movement: a revolution. As a nod to Deluxe's centennial, she set off to tell one hundred small business stories.
But the services she'd be promoting were new offerings, with no longtime customers. Where were the stories? How would they tie back to Deluxe?
"We felt like if we could go out and tell the stories of small businesses, we could own something larger than a marketing campaign, bigger than a brand awareness push. We believed we could start a movement.
We believed that by showing small business owners as heroes, we could compel more people to go out and support them. And in turn, we could own this space of just taking time to celebrate small business owners, celebrate the hard work, tell their stories, and be advocates."
Amanda Brinkman, Chief Brand Officer/Deluxe
Brinkman sold her CEO on the long-game strategy, and was approved to spend nearly all her marketing budget on the idea. The year-long content series would establish Deluxe as a champion for small business. The rest, she believed, would follow.
A mutual friend introduced Brinkman to Flow Studios, whose MSNBC docu-series Wounded: The Battle Back Home had just started its limited run on Netflix. The chemistry was immediate, and so was the timeline: the content would start its daily release schedule in less than eight weeks.
Quickly landing on the Small Business Revolution name and logo, Brinkman and Flow got busy mapping out a year-long campaign celebrating 100 small business stories. The assignment: deliver videos, images, a dynamic website, and social media copy, all in a leapfrog cadence that provided a year’s worth of daily content on the SBR social channels created for the campaign.
Acme led a national scouting effort, searching Facebook, Yelp, and for intriguing stories, and cold-calling indie businesses with a too-good-to-be-true pitch. “We started contacting prospective subjects before we even had an Instagram or website to show this was legit,” recalls Flow Studios principal David Rice. “We’d message the small business owners, saying we wanted to send a Nat Geo photographer - or in some cases a film crew - to produce and promote a beautiful, heroic piece on their business. There’d be no sales pitch for Deluxe services, no cost to the business owner, and virtually no restrictions on what they were allowed to do with the content. We lost a few good ones because they couldn't understand why there wasn't a catch."
The pitch got easier once the campaign launched: SBR social followings hit six figures within a few months, and a wave of enthusiastic earned media coverage gave an unstoppable momentum to the movement. The campaign culminated in a circumspect documentary film, with a host of academics, civic leaders, economists, and the head of the Small Business Administration. Their prevailing message? Small business isn't small: it's Huge.
The campaign’s wild success raised an interesting question: what happens after we’ve published the last story? The hundred stories explored the challenges faced by small business owners - but we hadn’t even started talking about how Deluxe’s services could help. That would soon change.
Since their very first meeting, Amanda and Acme had dreams of evolving the campaign into a cable or streaming show. And as the hundred stories were rolling out, it had become clear that Deluxe’s services would indeed help solve many of the challenges shared by nearly all the businesses we’d profiled.
Brinkman called an all-hands meeting to discuss a new mission: we’d revitalize small towns by bringing their main street businesses back to life. There was the show.
We modeled the unscripted series with a classic makeover show format. Six small businesses in one small town would get new equipment, websites, logos, signage, interior renovations, and marketing and business coaching from Amanda and her co-host, Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavic. The town itself would receive a half million dollars to spruce up the public spaces downtown.
We needed a distributor, of course. In return for a modest ad buy, Hulu would air the show right alongside its network-funded series. And what's more, the streamer relinquished any and all editorial input on the creative content.
We announced the show on our social channels, asking followers to nominate their small town and tell us what they deserved the makeover. The response was absolutely overwhelming. We received over nine thousand nominations the first year.
After narrowing the nominations down to five finalists, Amanda and Acme would pay each town a visit, cameras in tow. Over the years we were greeted by parades, dinners, dancing elephants, block parties, and mayoral proclamations in honor of the Small Business Revolution. Each season we released short videos from each of the finalist towns, and our social followers would cast the votes to pick the winner. The first year alone, over 180,000 unique votes were cast.
After two wildly successful seasons with Robert Herjavic, Amanda got a new co-host: Extreme Home Makeover’s Ty Pennington. By season five we’d been nominated for a Daytime Emmy in the Lifestyle category.
The revolution comes home
After five seasons helping small-town America revitalize its Main Street businesses, Small Business Revolution brings its signature marketing makeovers home to Minneapolis, where six dynamic Black-owned businesses take their game to the next level. NBA legend Baron Davis joins Deluxe Chief Brand Officer Amanda Brinkman and her team of tech and retail experts, who coach these young businesses - and learn some lessons of their own.
From the 87-years-running daily newspaper just four blocks away from George Floyd Square, to the barbershop owner whose Modern Gentlemen's Code of Ethics inspires customers to be a force for good, SBR's final season is a brave, exciting and poignant celebration of the fastest-growing market segment in America.
To truly thrive, businesses of all size and color need access to capital.