6 Marketing Ideas Small Businesses Can Learn From Big Brands

Marketing veteran Rob Schuham spends a lot of time encouraging big brands to act like small companies. Be nimble, he advises, be creative, be agile. Take a risk, he tells them, and act like a startup.

And when major clients on his roster at Boulder-based Match Action Marketing have listened to his counsel, they’ve backed some groundbreaking campaigns that are instructive not only for their Fortune 100 brethren, but to the little guys, as well.

“If you get a marketing program right, you can set a category on its head,” said Schuham, CEO of Match Action. “The big guys have scale, so they can be kind of a beta test for innovative marketing. Small companies can find useful data points and adapt some of those tactics for their own purposes.”

The Match Action team created the Ford Fiesta Movement, a step out of the behemoth car maker’s comfort zone, blending digital and social media with live events. The experiential marketing program, launched four years ago, has become an annual event and a calling card for the agency and the brand.

“We didn’t want to overly commercialize it — we wanted it to be really accessible and engaging,” Schuham said. “At its heart, it’s about storytelling and building communities, and lots of startups took cues from that.”

Forget about David vs. Goliath. Marketing mavens say small companies can and do learn valuable lessons from their muscular, deep-pocketed rivals. In conversations with Mashable, several executives pointed to experiential marketing, real-time marketing, brand building, storytelling and social sharing as tactics that startups are cribbing successfully from the big guys. Those that aren’t yet mimicking the A-list marketers like Apple, Nike, Starbucks and Mercedes might want to take note of some best, most adaptable practices.

1. Go for the experience to bring the brand to life

Major brands, in the past, have considered sponsorships and live events to be an important part of their marketing mix. The pendulum swung the other way in recent times, however, when some companies didn’t see enough perceived return for their high-dollar investments.

But there’s a renaissance going on now, said Gaston Legorburu, worldwide chief creative officer for ad firm SapientNitro, because a well-executed event or stunt can make a huge impression via social media.

“It’s important for small business to realize that they can compete in experiential marketing,” Legorburu said. “It’s not just about the splash, it’s about the ripples. If you connect with consumers emotionally, give them an experience they want to talk about and share, that can have significant impact. It’s not just the event itself, it’s the amplification.”

A few examples, Legorburu said, would be the American Girl property, with its dolls, accessories, books and tony retail locations, and Build-a-Bear, where fans’ creativity and customization is king.

And Red Bull, by “turning a product in a media property,” and Uber, by “leveraging how large lifestyle brands surprise and delight their consumers,” count as additional success stories, he said. The latter, whose stunts have become media magnets, delivered rescue kittens in honor of National Cat Day and gave helicopter rides to the Hamptons to hype its car service to the well-heeled vacation destination.

2. Use real-time marketing

Blue-chip brands have provided innovative road maps here, Legorburu said, running some of their ad campaigns like deadline-driven newsrooms. With an eye on pop culture and current events, brands like Coca-Cola, Google and Oreo have linked their own messages with the Super Bowl, the Olympics, national holidays and news of the day.

Since the approach doesn’t necessarily require a ton of investment, there’s no reason the small guys can’t do it, too.

“Brands can inject themselves into the conversation without paying for media,” Legorburu said. “The idea of a big bureaucratic organization giving a creative ad team full control to release content out to the world within minutes sounds kind of crazy. But the big brands are pushing the boundaries of what we’’e thought possible. A small company doesn’t have all those layers and red tape. They can exponentially grow their exposure by taking advantage of those same techniques.”

3. Tell your own story with original, compelling content

John Jantsch, an author and consultant who’s worked with small businesses for 25 years, said he’s seeing a real commitment on their part to create their own content, just as the major brands have done for several years.

“They’re investing wisely and hiring professional journalists for content marketing,” Jantsch said. “And they’re also working to aggregate interesting, relevant content and use curation tools to make sense of it. They’re telling their potential customers, ‘Here’s what you need to know.’”

4. Get techy with it

Using technology to run a business and collect and analyze data costs far less now than it did even a few years ago, Jantsch said. Thanks to Google Analytics, Kissmetrics and other tools, small companies have become “much more sophisticated in their marketing automation.”

“It’s available, easier, cheaper, so we’re seeing even the smallest businesses now having access to technology that used to be in the realm of only the very large organizations,” Jantsch said.

Use it well and often, he suggests.

5. Build communities

Match Action worked on the Pepsi Throwback campaign, handling social media for the limited-time-only versions of the flagship soda and Mountain Dew that contained real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The goal was to draw in consumers who were passionate about the ‘80s, the last time the soda giant used real sugar in its drinks.

“We used movies and TV shows, Back to the Future, Baywatch, Star Wars and other icons to build a social community around the ‘80s,” Schuham said. “We’ve since seen a lot of startups building communities around certain time periods.”

6. Build strategies

Hacking away at the idea of the week, scrapping and clawing for business, is becoming an outdated notion for mom-and-pops and startups, said Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing.

What’s replaced it? Brand building and strategic brainstorming.

“Small companies are being much more intentional about what they’re doing,” he said. “The word ‘brand’ used to be a foreign term, but it’s not anymore. That emphasis on strategy, demographic targets, differentiating themselves – that’s honed from watching the big guys.”

Source: mashable.com