4 small businesses using YouTube creatively (and successfully)

There was a time, not too long ago, when a popular ad campaign (i.e. TV) required not only a big budget, but a whole lot of media buying savvy as well. This meant that if you were a small business, you had pretty much two options:

You could be a hammer…

Or you could be huuuuuge…

But all of that has changed. On YouTube—the great equalizer of video content—a mom and pop cupcake shop is as welcome as a corporate giant, like, say, Nike. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can slap up a few videos of cats playing keyboards and be instantly successful (you’ll get lots of hits, but not from anyone looking to buy something from you). In fact, as you’ll see in this well-articulated small business guide to YouTube, there actually is a strategy and a craft behind successful YouTube campaigns.

Let’s take a look at a few successful campaigns to see what lessons there are to be learned.

1. Rush T-Shirts

From big brands like McDonald’s and Coke, to smaller brands like Rush T-Shirts, plenty of companies are turning to the witty and wild videographer duo, Rhett and Link, to be their “pitch” people these days (I put pitch in quotes because their work is so well done, it doesn’t even feel like advertising). In the video below, the duo begins by taking 222 t-shirts of various shades from Rush, and then proceeds to use the t-shirts as a canvas for animating a full-blown t-shirt war. Rhett and Link are pitted against one another with new and curious weapons for the battle popping up with every new tee shirt they put on, or pull off, as is the case in the video.

These guys are just plain silly, but it works! As audience members, we can’t wait to see what will pop up the next t-shirt! How will it end? And all the while they are subtly promoting the canvas (i.e. t-shirts) on which all of their creative genius is expressed. How’s that for product placement?

What This Means for You

1. Team up with creative people.

As we’ll see in other examples of small businesses using TouTube that you’d be surprised to see how eager those creative types with large followings on YouTube are to work with you—especially if they believe in your product, and if you offer them free swag. Whether you give them the raw materials and just let them go, or you sponsor a video series, or you try something else entirely, partnerships are a great way to tap into someone else’s following and feature your product in interesting ways.

2. Open up your mind.

Lose your preconceived notions of what advertising is. Let the creative juices FLOW. There’s a classic test of creativity called the Brick Test, which challenges you to think of as many alternative uses for an everyday object as possible. A brick, for example, might be used to build a house or pave a path, sure, but it can also be used to break a window. It can be broken up into bits and used for a collage, it can be used in an oven, or as a paperweight, or as a bug squisher…You get the idea. On YouTube, viewers want video content that surprises and delights them; to get that, it’s crucial to get away from literalism and into the “alternative uses” mentality. If t-shirts can be canvasses for computer animation, what can your products become? Take a risk!

3. End with promotions.

What happens as this video closes? Credits are linked not only to other Rhett and Link videos, but also to the channels of those who helped out. AND there is some shameless direct promotion in the mix as well. While posting annotations too frequently and too soon is incredibly annoying to viewers, saving a few for the end that provide helpful information about your website or product is essential for sucking them further into your media empire.

2. HerCampus

The online magazine and marketing firm, HerCampus, focuses on—you got it—female college students. Videos are sometimes sponsored; for instance HerCampus published a New Balance series which featured students vlogging about their workouts. Other videos, like the one below, are simply instructional. As you can see, there’s not a lot of fuss here—just one female student articulating shared goals and showing viewers how to reach them, step by step. While each video may not go viral or garner a ton of shares, taken together, the series provides regular helpful content that the target audience is definitely looking for.

What This Means for You

1. Know your audience. 

You can’t provide your potential customers with video content they actually want to watch unless you have a true grasp of what those wants are! It also helps to understand where there are gaps in the market that need filling. As the co-founder of HerCampus explains, much of this is a process of trial and error. Pitch a few different focuses and styles and see what sticks. Don’t let low viewing numbers get to you; that is real data you can use.

2. Don’t be afraid to instruct or guide.

In the last example, we focused heavily on creativity, but educational videos can be just as successful (not all of us can animate t-shirts!). Whether it’s a quick how-to, an in-depth video, or top 5 tips, demonstrate your expertise as you help potential customers get where they need to go. Doing so is bound to lead to shares.

3. Blair Fowler and Shoes of Prey

When you’ve got a popular beauty and lifestyle vlogger on your side, a straight up pitch can do wonders for your brand. At least it did for Shoes of Prey—a website that allows customers to design their own shoes—when they teamed up with popular YouTube vlogger, Blair Fowler. Fowler raves about the site, takes the audience through a demo, and offers subscribers a free pair of shoes for creating a design she loves. The video was immensely popular, and it even led to mainstream press coverage for the site.

What This Means for You

1. Try a contest or giveaway.

Again, it’s great if you have an influential vlogger who really believes in you on your side, but even without one, doing a contest or giveaway is a great way to build a following. As you promote the contest across your social media channels, you may want to offer entry there as well, or you might want to make channel subscription a requirement for entry, so that your audience must be linked into your YouTube brand to participate.

2. Have your channel and playlist ready to go.

If you take a look at Shoes of Prey’s YouTube channel, you’ll see that their content, while always on theme, is rich and varied. There’s a feature on fabrics, another on party shoes, a demo for the site, a more traditional ad, an inside look into how shoes are made, and even a “heels run” on Bondi Beach. When one video ends, the next starts playing automatically, sucking the viewer further and further into the brand’s content. So, start bulking up your video offerings, sign up for a full channel, and take advantage of playlists.

4. Valencia Property

Another great example of a subject expert who knows his audience well is Graham Hunt of Valencia Properties. Like many realtors, Hunt effectively uses video to give potential customers a glimpse into his properties. This is especially important, since he works with many expats looking to buy in Spain, and they may not make a trip unless they’re really convinced.

But even more convincing than the properties is Hunt’s expertise, which he establishes well in videos like the one below. This was part of a “100 tips” series, done one short tip at a time. Each tip is highly actionable. Together, the tips go a long way towards establishing trust quickly and efficiently, as viewers instantly see Hunt as an authority. Of course, what Hunt is doing here is giving the audience information he knows they really want.

What This Means for You

1. As they say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Speak with authority in your area of expertise. After all, there’s a reason your product or service is in demand in the first place: customers are missing what you have to offer. Show them what you can provide—demonstrate it—and you’ll establish trust from the get go.

2. Make it short and sweet.

It’s important that you’re providing your customers with in-depth information, but that doesn’t mean posting an hour long video. Instead, break up your expertise into snippets that they can consume as they go. Not only will this give you more content for your social media feeds, but, it is a low cost investment for users as they find themselves, step-by-step, being drawn to your brand. Again, use playlists!

The Takeaway

On YouTube, creative videos are well within the reach of even the smallest business. With a little research, some old fashioned teamwork, and permission to let your creative juices flow, you’re sure to be a hit. Good luck!

About the Author

Britt Klontz is a Digital Content Strategist and PR professional. Say “hi” and give her a shout @Britt_Klontz, she’s always up for having a conversation about digital marketing tactics and social networking in general. 



Photo credit: Pixelmanie_Texture (Flickr)

Britt Klontz

Britt Klontz is a Digital Content Strategist and PR professional. Say “hi” and give her a shout @Britt_Klontz, she’s always up for having a conversation about digital marketing tactics and social networking in general.

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