Creativity is more than just an ad campaign: Big lessons from small businesses

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention. And invention is just another word for creativity. I’m talking about creativity beyond 30-second ads and clever copywriting. It’s the kind of creativity that small- and medium-sized businesses, often operating under resource or budget constraints, exhibit on a daily basis. And it’s the kind of creativity businesses of any size can learn from.

I was repeatedly reminded of this while reading through this year’s Economic Impact Report and watching the stories collected by our Grow with Google team, projects that focus on small- and medium-sized businesses.

These companies are launching new businesses and growing legacy ones, and they’re able to unleash this creativity thanks to digital tools for business that go a long way toward leveling the playing field.  

Want to be more like them? Be sure you do these three things.

Use digital to disrupt

How’s this for thinking outside the box? Zume Pizza in California employs a team of robots and humans to make and deliver pizzas that are baked en route to their destination. What it doesn’t have is a physical storefront, which seems like a pretty big break from a few hundred years of pizza tradition. According to co-founder Julia Collins, “our outward facing presence on the web and mobile is at the center of how we connect with customers in every way.”

Thanks to digital, you can launch a business without massive manufacturing, real estate, and marketing costs once associated with such an endeavor.

Using a digital-first marketing strategy, [Strider Sports] has sold nearly 1.9 million bikes across 75 countries.

And it doesn’t have to involve robots or upending an entire industry. After building a series of custom bikes for his young son, Ryan McFarland started Strider Sports in Rapid City, South Dakota, so he could do the same thing for other children. Using a digital-first marketing strategy, the company has sold nearly 1.9 million bikes across 75 countries. “The internet really is the prime location to run a business in today’s world,” he said. “The beauty of the internet is that, even from the most remote locations, you can still be connected to the whole world.”

Embrace online video

Some companies don’t have the budget to do traditional TV advertising. Others might feel they don’t have a product that lends itself to ads or a service that can be explained in 30 seconds or a minute. But businesses across the country are finding that’s no reason to eschew video entirely.

“It’s a substantial part of how people get to know us, feel a level of comfort with us, and trust us to make their motorcycles.”

“YouTube is the unsung hero of our business,” says Grant Longenbaugh, the marketing director of Janus Motorcycles, based in Goshen, Indiana. Video allows interested customers to follow every step of a Janus bike’s journey, from design, to prototyping, to production — which is important for a motorcycle manufacturer that sells directly to consumers rather than through a dealer network. It also allows the company to tell its own story. “It’s a substantial part of how people get to know us, feel a level of comfort with us, and trust us to make their motorcycles.”

For Sweeten, a New York-based company that matches homeowners to contractors for home renovations, video lets them “show clients that we’re real experts who care deeply about making our homeowners and general contractors happy,” said founder Jean Brownhill.

Even if you don’t have a gripping story, video can be used for customer service. Clickstop, a multibrand manufacturer and retailer in Urbana, Iowa, sells things like ratchet straps, organization supplies, building products, and other specialty items. Most of its brands have their own YouTube channels to provide customers with helpful content, such as how-to videos and product reviews.

Couple creativity with data

Clickstop does something else that small- and medium-sized businesses can now do thanks to digital. It uses analytics tools to understand how changes to their websites and ad campaigns impact their online performance. “Over 90 percent of our marketing budget goes to digital, so these insights are very important,” says company founder and CEO Tim Guenther.

Such insights aren’t only for startups. Langston’s Western Wear in Oklahoma City was founded in 1913. Brian Barber, its vice president of e-commerce, uses Google Analytics to optimize the company’s website, continually improve marketing campaigns, and maintain a competitive edge. “It’s kind of a game of finding our opportunities in nooks and crannies,” he explained. “You take Google Analytics and add in a little intuition, and things start to become a little clearer.”

In other words, he applied a little creativity even to his analytics. It’s a nice reminder to apply creative thinking across your organization no matter how big or small, young or old it might be.

Small businesses, big impact: 8 lessons from our Economic Impact Report