What I Learned From Small Brands That I Never Would Have Learned From Big Brands


I have heard so many times in my search for a job over the years, “You don’t have any big brand experience.” This is a statement that has always puzzled me. Yeah, I haven’t worked with a Coca-Cola, Home Depot, IHG or UPS. My limited big brand experience is limited to Verizon for three months. The reason it puzzles me is working for small brands makes you learn everything! I’m not talking just social either. You must know different types of media. How to make them work together and report on the strategy you developed.

Would I have loved to work for a big brand? Sure, I would but the experience I have gained through the smaller brands has been invaluable to me and my future. It has allowed me to learn things I never would at a big brand/agency. Bigger organizations can be siloed into different areas of marketing that never over lap. This isn’t conducive for my love of learning. Smaller brands allow me to dive in and figure things out and learn new things.

How has working for small brands benefited me?

Budgets – Small brands have a limited budget and sometimes no budget at all. This doesn’t make them want things any less. I had to find a way to create amazing social content on a small budget. This includes graphics, contests and more. This is done by searching for free web tools, apps that cost a few dollars and services offered by Social Networks. Each of these are have many different tools in them. Let’s face it how many large brands want to spend money when they don’t have too? Here are some examples I have found over the years.

  • Free Services – Canva, Iconosqaure and Hemmingway
  • Apps – WordSwag, VSCO Cam, Waterlogue and Toon Cam
  • Social Networks – How to blog posts,

Creativity – Where the budget ends the creativity begins. Creativity in budgets is one thing but artistic creativity is something that is heightened. One post I did earlier this year is how to create your own stock photography. This came about because there is no budget for a ShutterStock or Getty Images. Using my phone or DSLR and a few apps I have created some pictures that even impressed myself. Working with small brands makes you think outside the box on how to get things done and make them happen. Creativity comes into play in many areas of working for smaller brands.

Analytics – Working on the Verizon account I was in charge of redoing their monthly analytic reporting. It wet my feet to analytics. Back then it was only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Now we have Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and each day the list goes on and on. Each of these services has different metrics and jargon. You have to know all them and talk about them to your client. Its important to show what is working and what needs improvement. Each small business is different and have different goals. I must match the metric that is most important with each client. The down side is not all these networks have official analytics. Instagram doesn’t offer any type of dashboard. You must rely on third party solutions. Then you have Tumblr that has very basic analytics over the last month. You have to piece together results because you do not have access to high end analytics suites. Let me also say, it’s a great thing that Excel can do the heavy lifting on stats.

Trends/News – Many small businesses are not on top of what is happening in the world of marketing. They have to mange their own business and have to triage their attention as to what’s important.  This made me to start reading everything I could find on social. I have to be a knowledge base for clients. I try to let them know is changing on current networks and what new things are on the horizon. The biggest knowledge bases for me are Facebook for Business, Facebook Media, Newsroom at Facebook, Official Twitter Blog, Pinterest for Business Blog, Instaram Business Blog. The list goes on and on! But the biggest wealth is official posts on social media blogs. Pair these with sites like Marketingland, Social Media Today, Social Times, Convince and Convert, eMarketer and Social Media Examiner. All this reading keeps me on top of all the latest trends and news. It always amazes me when I talk to people who work at big brands about a feature that will be released, and they have no clue about it.

Media – Media is not about buying or planning media. Rather, how they all work together. I’m not talking strictly social. Its how traditional works with social that works with digital. Being immersed in the all of these areas I never forget to add in social or digital. The plan takes shape and all these are presented to clients if it fits in with their goals. Sometimes I just do social and digital. Other times I do traditional. My first job in marketing taught me all about traditional marketing. It included print, magazine, journal, radio, outdoor and some TV. It amazes me how all these types of media work together to accomplish a goal.

These are some of the things that small brands have taught me. It allows me to learn, be creative and try new things. Plus, it allowed me to start Marketing Elements! This year I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge and how to accomplish marketing strategy on a budget.

Tim is the founder of Element33. A social media agency specializing in education, management and strategy for small businesses. He comes from a traditional marketing agency but has embraced all things digital. He considers himself a marketing nerd and believes that all marketing is tied together. This means no matter what silo you are in, social, email, seach, etc, changes in one will affect the other!

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