Using Big Brand Ideas in Small Business

Jewelry Small Business OwnerFollow your dreams, they say.
Work for yourself, they say.
Dream big and it’ll happen, they say.

But running a small business is so much harder than that. Just getting your name out there is one of the hardest things to do, and the same is true online. To succeed online, it takes more than just building a website. I’ve been talking with a number of small businesses lately and the one thing I always hear is “What do I do? I don’t have the budget of the big guys!”

You can win on the internet without a big brand or budget. I am going to tell you how and then show you how to turn big brand ideas into ways you can build up your small business on a budget. 

Starting Point: Website

There are a few things I would recommend a small business owner pay attention to in regards to their website before even thinking about any marketing campaigns.
  1. How does your site look on a desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone? The site should be accessible in all formats. If not, talk with your web developer about modifications to make it work on all devices. Idea: Get a few of your favorite customers and ask them to take a look at your site and give feedback. 
  2. Own your site and access to all services. Most small business owners don’t know how to login to change their site or analytics.
    • The first thing you should do after reading this post is to find out how to log into your site’s hosting. Then find out who else has access and limit that to just the people that need access. Unsure who has access? Change your main account password. They’ll come out of the woodwork if they need access.
    • The second thing is to login to your analytics. If you don’t know how, or not sure if you have an analytics account, ask the person or company that built your site. Don’t have analytics? Time to get that set up.
  3. Get social. If you don’t already use them, set up your account on Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp (for local businesses). Use these and any other social media sites in your space to converse with customers (current, former, and future) and fans. Social is just word of mouth that we get to participate in. Use it to your advantage.
    Idea: Check out this guide on how to find time for social media.

Big Business Ideas for Small Budgets

While big businesses have the budget to do awesome things, small businesses have the agility and personality to do amazing things as well. I’m going to use a few small businesses as examples of how you can take big brand strategies and apply them to your small business.


Virgin Galatic

One of the main tactics used by Distilled and many major brands is a contest. Many small businesses see mega campaigns and think there is no way they can do that themselves. What small business has $50,000 or a flight to space to give away?

There are a number of small business that run successful giveaway campaigns to get exposure to new potential customers. The Unrefined Kitchen recently got together with a number of product providers and made one big giveaway. This contest not only got her blog new readers via social sharing entries, but each business got new followers on Facebook and Twitter via separate contest entries. Case and point: I heard about it through one of the participating companies and about 4 other companies got a new follower due to the contest. Win.


We hear time and again about how small businesses don’t have the money for good videos. Here is the simple truth: You don’t have to be Old Spice.

Some of the most shared videos are not major production pieces. In fact, some of our best performing videos were not high production videos. The video below from former Distiller, Tom Critchlow, was shot along with about 50 others. It took us a day to film them all and another for editing. Not bad, even if Tom talks fast.

For a small business like Ceilume, videos are not only a great marketing tool but also a way to show their expertise and help their customers and other consumers pick the right ceiling tile. One video has over 80,000 views!

If you are thinking about getting into videos, I recommend checking out the YouTube AdWords Keyword Tool to do some background investigation. Use this tool as inspiration, not as a tool to tell you what videos to make. Once you have identified some potential video topics, check to see what videos have been produced already. Ask yourself (as a consumer, not the owner of a competing business), do these videos meet my needs? If they do, look for some other ideas. Don’t remake videos that already exist.

If you are at a loss of what videos to make, ask your current customers/friends, look at your own analytics to see what queries people are using to get to your site and check question sites like Yahoo Answers. It’s amazing how much inspiration you can get from those three areas.

Content (Interviews and Articles)

Friskies Grumpy Cat SXSW

Recently Grumpy Cat visited Austin and the South by Southwest festival. Friskies sponsored a campaign called Will Kitty Play with It? Friskies is not the best cat food ever, by a long shot (personal opinion here). There are many different kinds of cat food brands that would love to have a photo shoot with Tardar Sauce (Grumpy Cat’s real name), but think they can’t.

Brands like Friskies might have the money to fly Grumpy Cat to Austin, but a small maker of organic cat food like YogiPet (found randomly via Etsy) could do something like it just as easily. For YogiPet, I would recommend they use social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest to start a series of YogaPet photos. The best or a random photo every month would receive free treats for their yoga pet (pending verification that the image was the account owner’s, etc.). This way you get exposure and lots of awesome photos to use (with permission!).

In Short: It’s all about the time. Larger companies have the money to put into hiring someone to do the work, but you can win by bootstrapping and making a splash.

My Business is Boring!

No, it’s not. We hear this all the time. Just because your business isn’t cat food or intergalactic travel doesn’t mean you can’t do amazing things on the web to target your market. The key is to ask your market, spend time getting to know them and thinking outside the “normal” realm of marketing ideas.

Still think you have a difficult business to market? Comment below and I will do my best to come up with some ideas for you. Ready? Go.

Kate Morris

Kate Morris

Kate joined us after a year running her own search marketing consultancy in Austin, Texas. She brings with her a wealth of experience having worked in-house and agency-side in SEO and PPC. Kateh264 // A native Texan by birth, Kate got her BBA...   read more

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  1. Adam

    Hi Kate, I hear what you're saying about businesses not being boring, but it's not like any of these 'big idea' articles ever have any suggestions for something as boring as accountancy for example.

    Just saying.


    reply >
    • Accounting huh? We actually have a client in that space and they have done some awesome things there. For accounting I'd say that the biggest thing is taking ideas and making them more understandable. Accounting is such a hard thing for the standard person, finding a way to explain it is the fun part. One of the greatest campaigns I've seen is by Intuit, but not doing something that takes lots of money. They have built a section of their site for small businesses and gotten great resources like For a small accounting firm, they can build out resources for companies like the companies they serve so that people that can't afford them yet can do things they need to, find the answers they want, and when they are ready to stop doing it themselves, they have a local company to turn to.

  2. Nice call to action at the end of the post.
    Somebody at a conference asked me "as a doorknob seller do you have a good idea for a marketing campaign?"
    I did give him an idea for an infographic he can create but it can be tricky in some industries.

    reply >
    • Doorknob seller! All I can imagine is someone going door to door, selling doorknobs. "Hi, I see your doorknob is rusty, would you like a new one?" Or OOOHHH, doing a video series ... the life of a doorknob seller. The video series goes through the many ways the doorknob seller tries to sell doorknobs to people like:

      Breaking In - The seller breaks into the potential customer's house to show how weak their doorknob is now ... and the police get called. Ends up being a funny story.
      Leaving door hangars ... that won't hang on the doorknob someone has and it blows away ... so the seller tries sticky notes, but it leaves a residue on the doors incensing people.

      You get the idea. :)

  3. How about CFO Services? Similar to accountancy, but even more kind of ethereal since many business owners don't really know the difference between an accountant and a CFO.

    reply >
    • Andrew,

      That's an awesome one. How about simply exploring what are cfo services? No one has a good resource for that (not from my search at least). A guide for small businesses on what they need, an accountant or a CFO. When to hire a CFO? What are the milestones for a business that show they need a CFO? All kinds of material like that, presented in a way that even the corner baker can understand. You never know when their signature cinnamon roles are going to go national afterall. :)


  4. Office Space? Now that you mention it though, it really isn't that hard to come up with ideas for some contests. Contests are something we've already been looking at as a way to generate some new content and buzz for our facebook page, anyway. I'm already thinking how easy it would be to do a sort of office space design contest. Thanks for the ideas.

    reply >
  5. Great post, Kate!

    Let's see - I have 2 - an information based site that is essentially a recruiting toolkit for CTOs and CEOs.
    And my other startup is pre-launch but will be Leadership software for managers and teams.



    reply >
    • Kate Mats!!!!! Hi!

      Alright, some real challenges. The first one is hard because you are already building resources there. I love the post on dating advice. :) For you guys, I think it's actually all about being able to reach the people looking for technical talent, and those are many times not going to be the CEOs, etc. Something like "ask a developer" area where people who are looking to find good developers can ask a developer (ala weekly column style) for advice on how to reach people in their specific area or situation. You can have one main person do the answering or open it to the community. Get developers involved in answering the questions. Might work, might not, but I know your target market would appreciate it.

      And I can't see PopForms. Any idea what people are using now? Anyone you envy in that space?


  6. Phil

    Kate, great info!

    I think I might have a tough one - dog poop bags.

    I'm just starting out and would love your thoughts.


    reply >
    • Hahaha. That is so not a hard one. Dog poop bags are creative gold.

      One idea is to focus on the recent trend of banning plastic bags in major cities. Seattle did it and now Austin. A friend wondered what to do about her dog walks now that her free doggie bags were gone.

      A campaign around that, especially if you have eco-friendly doggie waste bags, would be phenomenal.

  7. Hi Kate,
    How about in the Web Design space? There is a ton of competition, and we are evaluating different ways to make our site and approach to our clients different.



    reply >
  8. What I have found, as an in-house designer/developer and online marketing assistant to SMB's, is that small businesses do have great ideas, but what they lack is either the team members to put in the time for content creation, or a lack of finances to go out and hire those team members. They get stuck with "I know what I want to do, but I can't find the time, money, or people to help me".

    My question is - how do you combat that?

    reply >
    • My reply to that is the same as someone wanting to lose weight. Why not do small things now? Take one good idea and dedicate 10% of your time to it. Accomplish that one and then move onto the next one. If people don't have time to do it, then it's apparently not of high priority. I am sure there are things that can be moved around to create time for something that would grow the business. If a few meetings could be canceled each week, saving an hour, that hour can be spent on the one awesome project. Starting now, starting small will give the company the resources in the future from the growth it creates.

  9. Hi Kate,

    Interesting post. One of my clients wants to start a blog and generally market his business better. He sells fire extinguishers and has the same concern that he will not be able to find an audience for his blog. I think he could do something along the lines of health and safety requirements, new technologies etc.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Thanks, Dave

    reply >
  10. Hey Kate,

    This post was very helpful. I work at a local Knoxville shop called Rococo Boutique. We have been open since June 2012.

    We have tons of unique gifts- jewelry, baby onesies, screen printed ties, etc. We have home decor- cowhide couches, pillows made from recycled sweaters, large candelabras, hand painted picture frames, etc. We also do custom graphic work- logo design, wall tattoos (murals), invitations, custom printed tea towels, and we offer custom wedding invites, favors, etc. We also just started offering Jewelry Making Classes hosted by a local jewelry artist in our shop about three times a month. For Rococo, it is all about bringing our customers custom/unique items that they haven't seen before.

    We want to do a short promo video that showcases our shop , but not sure the angle that we could take on it. Check out our website. We also have an Etsy shop.



    reply >
    • This is adorable! Just after looking at a few products, I'd go first for the one of a kind angle, make that very apparent, but then go after the southern angle. You have great products like "Freak out and throw stuff" towel and southern women apron. It seems like you're a really good shop for women that want to be unique and different in a society that values just that. Just keep that personality in mind when you're shooting, show it to some customers in Knoxville (who don't know you, no biased opinions) and give them 10% off for their honest opinion. :) It's amazing what people will do for 10% off.

  11. Hi Kate

    I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog and advice. I am in the furnished accommodation business and have now discovered a wealth of creatives I might use to create a bit of a buzz around my properties and location. It appears that "images" like in video and photos are what you have recommended at least as a start. That sort of got me thinking - right - I deal with photos of attractive properties, views of properties and images of where i live. Now I just have to get them "Pinterested" and posted where they might attract some interest.
    I will check back again for some easy ideas I can implent. Thanks Kate

    reply >
  12. Great post Kate! A lot of great tips in here. I've been considering doing video clips for our blog and website so I'll have to check out the suggestion you made of YouTube AdWords Keyword Tool. Thanks for the tips!

    reply >
  13. We build custom transformers and I can't think of anything to make it more modern and interesting. Any help would be taken with pleasure.



    reply >
    • Haha, I think the fun is in the name. I am not sure who you sell to, but I'd do something around what a transformer is and how it has changed modern society. I know transformers are behind most of what we do today with technology but I am not sure kids (or most adults) do. You could use something like the Transformers (not them in particular without permission from the brand) to visually show what a transformer is.

      Other than that ... the answer lies in your target market. What do they use your product for, how do they find you, and are there any conferences or other events you can get in on? You don't have to spend tons of money in most engineering industries, you just need a really good schwag idea. Not sure what you've done in the past, or if that's even a thing ... but a really cool giveaway at a conference could get you some nice attention. The more you can give something for people to play with, the more it'll stick around on their desk and in their minds. Think branded Nerf gun. :)

  14. I agree with Adam. This is a good article. The problem though is when businesses are boring, such as accountancy and law and they are also inherently unsocial.
    Everyone is recommending utilising social platforms, but I have not seen a law firm or accountancy firm manage to do this effectively yet.

    reply >
  15. Fiberi

    Really great article! Any good ideas to attract international students that are going to study to a xx country?

    thanks in advance Kate!

    reply >
  16. Fiberi

    We are an health insurance company for international students that wants to study in our country. We have created some study guides, info-graphics but would like to hear from you for any good idea or tip that might help! thanks!

    reply >
  17. Sara

    Any suggestions for the gaming industry?

    reply >
  18. Hi Kate

    Thanks for the link to my article about finding time for social media. :)

    Great article. The last point about businesses being boring is spot on!


    reply >
  19. Love all the comments. I'm an Event Planner/Wedding Planner in Boston. My field has been saturated lately. I'm having a real hard time trying to make myself stand out. I've won a handful of awards and do my best to showcase that but with an industry that is telling people DIY is the "in thing" and TV shows making planning seem so glamorous, it seems harder and harder each day. I've just launched a new website, overhauled my logo and social media pages, re-vamped my marketing material and have put myself back in to my community and have been asked to sit on a few boards. Anything I'm missing?

    reply >
    • Hi Leslie!

      The nice thing is you are in a beautiful industry with a local focus. There is a ton you can do to help your business. But first some SEO advice.
      1. Get your site set on one subdomain. What I mean by that is and are two different pages to Google. You need to pick one and use that only. If you use (which is what Google is using right now), then use that in any links (like the comment here). Have the other one redirect to that. More here.
      2. Start your homepage title tag with something like "Planned Perfectly - Boston Wedding and Event Planning" and add some more text to your homepage about what you do, etc.
      3. Start building up your blog, but focus in on your area. Ask past clients about things they wish they knew before hand. Ask current clients what they are looking for and then answer those questions on your blog for everyone else.

      The rest you are doing perfectly. The site is gorgeous and the pinterest account is making me unproductive (love the orange and aqua). Great job!

  20. Hey Kate,
    What is a web design business in South Jersey to do? ( This is a hard industry to make myself stand out. I will be giving business cards to smaller local businesses in my area soon. I have little to no budget but I'm on Facebook. I've also tried to use a cooler, relaxed tone in my writing. Any suggestions?


    reply >
    • Hi Joseph,

      For small business, you have the agility bigger companies don't have. Just building those relationships through local organizations will bring you more business than you can imagine over time. Once you complete sites, ask for case studies and take the time to put those together. I am not just talking about the design work, but also testimony from the client about how you worked with them. Strive to get the best reviews in terms of timing (getting the site done in time), quality, and other common web design issues/ If you are more worried about competing with other local web design businesses, find out via social media, Yelp, and local businesses what their weaknesses are and make your business better.

      Hope that helps!

  21. Hi Kate,

    It is a refreshing post to go through your thoughts about making big from small. No business is big from the beginning but the power lies in the initiator of a business.

    'My business is boring!' Well, I believe that is one of the major reason behind the failure. If someone says that his or her business is boring, it simply means that they don't have a zeal and interest in doing it. It is important to select something that we love to do and then we will never feel that it is boring.

    I think that point can be used as a test by an entrepreneur to understand the prospects of his business. Borning must be used as a red signal before starting any business whether big or small. If an entrepreneur feels that his or her business is boring then they must look out for other options and never get into it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping me gain some insights from it and I am going to explore it further in my upcoming posts.

    Ashutosh Kasera

    reply >

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