Big-Budget Content Marketing Lessons For Small Businesses

*Melanie Deziel is Vizion’s featured guest this month and we are excited to feature her post below written exclusively for you!

Many small businesses are starting to see the power of content marketing and are looking to build out their own content practice, whether it’s through larger media partnerships, a consistent blog or just an amped-up social presence with custom content for each network.

But when they turn to the web for tips, examples, and insights from large brands in their same niche, they find that the most widely publicized native advertising campaigns seem too out of reach to provide any actionable insights for them: the budgets are too big, the production values too high, and the media partners too inaccessible.

But there are lessons in these large native advertising and content marketing programs that can inspire businesses of all sizes, with budgets at any scale. By finding the common trends in some of these big-brand success stories, small businesses can bring their own content strategy to life at a scale that makes sense for them.

  1. Think Outside The Box

Literally. Some of the best big-budget native ads have had hardly any mention of the product or service being offered. In successful content campaigns where storytelling is at the core, those stories tend to be about something other than an item or service for sale.

For example, this piece by Netflix, called “Women Inmates”* was one of the most widely publicized examples of quality native advertising and was awarded the Best Native Advertising Execution award from OMMA in 2014. But you’ll notice that the piece makes only one mention of its sponsor. Instead of talking about their product — their show — they’re talking about a broader subject that the show addresses. Not plot lines. Not characters. Not streaming packages.

While you may not be able to produce a piece as large and with as much multimedia, given your available budgets and equipment, you can focus on the broader challenges that your product or service address, and the way that you can make a tangible difference in your consumers lives. Educate them about a broader subject through whatever medium is most comfortable for you.

  1. Tell Someone Else’s Story

Echoing the lesson above, sometimes the best way to tell an engaging story, show your values as a company, and help keep your content topics fresh is to explore other people’s stories.

For Cole Haan, this meant a big project called “Grit & Grace,”* where they highlighted three talented dancers at the New York City Ballet, some of whom had helped inspire the design of their ballet flats. The piece, which won Best Native Advertising Execution OMMA in 2015, focused solely on those women’s experiences, without making a hard sell on the product, allowing Cole Haan to showcase and highlight the value they placed on their partners. Johnson &

Johnson has similar goals with its Global Motherhood program, where they give their nonprofit partners in the maternal health, infant health and related sectors a chance to share their stories through blog posts, slideshows and other content pieces.

Both of these big-budget advertisers, and many others, have focused their content efforts on sharing the stories of the people and groups they support. Your business can do the same. Tell the stories of your vendors, your customers, your employees and other members of your local community to show your customers what you believe in.  

  1. Tap Into Larger Trends And Timely Moments

One of the most talked about “real time” content marketing moments was Oreo’s famous “Dunk In The Dark” tweet. Their social media team was sitting in a tech-filled war room, ready and able to make content at a moment’s notice, which allowed them to capitalize on the momentary black-out at the SuperBowl with a tongue-in-cheek tweet sent just a few moments later.

But even if you don’t have a war room filled with the latest technology and a large social staf, you can still find unique ways to tap into trends in your area and outside of it. Take a look at this video by August Oak Woodworks, a local business in California. The video is a lumber-filled take on the “hands and pans” recipe videos that are flooding Facebook feeds around the country right now, but in this version, the ingredients are non-edible props found around the shop, and the finished product is not a recipe, but a separate thing of beauty.

Cooking up a Box This is something I came up with because my Facebook feed is constantly flooded with recipe videos and I thought this would be funny. Hope you enjoy.
Posted by August Oak Woodworks on Monday, December 7, 2015

Examine the cultural and social media trends that have captured your attention, whether it’s an event, a song, a social network or a style of video shooting, and see how that trend can be re-imagined for your business, using the people and resources you have. Ask your people, too. They may have ideas just waiting to come to life and could make magic with just a few bucks and some simple props.

Though your budgets may not match those of your high-profile competitors, keeping an eye on the pieces and campaigns that they successfully execute can provide valuable insights for creating compelling content. Businesses of any size can leverage what resources they do have to tell compelling stories that are larger, more collaborative and more more timely than they thought possible.

*In my previous roles at The New York Times’s T Brand Studio and Huffington Post’s Partner Studio, I wrote the  “Women Inmates” piece and the “Grit & Grace” piece, and worked on parts of the Global Motherhood program mentioned in this article. I am no longer affiliated with these advertisers.