My favorite interview: Product managers can create a consumer research platform, re-energize a brand, and do good all at the same time
What is coming up is my favorite interview I have done, at least until I have the opportunity to do an update next year. You’ll hear why in the interview, but it stems from a personal connection I made with the product we discuss, which is a reality TV and web video series.
First, let me remind you that product managers need to think more strategically to expand their success – to become product masters. This is what executive teams want from their product managers, and this interview with my guest is a great case study for thinking strategically and reshaping an entire organization.
What if you could create a new product that significantly increased the visibility of your brand – making it top of mind for your ideal customer – resulting in new sales and increased brand equity while at the same time creating a rich market research platform?
Oh, and if that isn’t already enough, do real good in the process – transforming your organization’s brand from traditional corporate America to one of the good guys – a company doing genuine good for people that further attracts your ideal customer.
That is what Deluxe Corporation has done with the creation of the Small Business Revolution – Main Street, a TV series spotlighting the importance of small business in American small towns. The show is hosted by Robert Herjavec, known for his work on Shark Tank, and Amanda Brinkman, the Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Deluxe. Amanda formulated the strategy for the Small Business Revolution, and the show is a real winner and a perfect example of a product that creates value for all the stakeholders involved.
I talked with Amanda to learn more about the creation of the show and its impact. Amanda is a veteran brand and creative visionary who is drawn to purpose-driven marketing and brand transformation. Her work is currently turning around Deluxe Corporation, a 100-year-old company. What she is accomplishing is phenomenal and contains many lessons to inspire product managers and innovators. I’m delighted to bring the story to you.
Summary of some concepts discussed
- [4:00] Why did you start the Small Business Revolution? Deluxe’s founder invented the personal checkbook, starting the company in 1915. We have evolved to provide small businesses with marketing services, including marketing strategy, website development, logo design, customer management, and more. However, many people still think of Deluxe as the check printing company. The Small Business Revolution was our answer to how we could change those perceptions. But, it had a deeper purpose as well – we wanted to do good for that very community we love serving, the small businesses that make America great.
- [8:22] Why was storytelling chosen? We felt by telling the stories of these small business owners through films and photo essays, we could create a movement to draw attention to the importance of supporting small businesses in communities. In the first year, that’s how it started. We went across the country, telling 100 stories in our 100th year of business in 2015. We also issued a longer form documentary that told the story of how important small businesses are to our economy, to our local cultures, to our neighborhoods, to our community, and to our country. Those 100 stories were very successful. Thousands of stories were written about them. We had billions of impressions. People were talking about it, they were sharing it, and this movement was picking up. Storytelling was working.
- [11:20] How did you move from stories in print to stories in video? We knew we wanted to keep going down this path of sharing the stories of small businesses. Rather than telling 101 stories the next year, we considered alternative ways to keep this movement going and encouraging people to support small businesses. We helped prove the thesis that if you help revitalize a small town through its small business core, the town itself would thrive. We wondered if we helped one town if that could inspire other towns to follow suit and support their small businesses? We knew we had to do something about this and continue to help businesses struggling in smaller communities. We issued a contest where people could nominate their favorite small town to receive small business help. Deluxe would invest half a million dollars in revitalizing one town’s main street. That was how the movement evolved into a video show that reached many more people.
- [12:43] How do you help the businesses featured on the show? Each season is eight episodes. The first and the last are about the town, what we did for the town, and the momentum it created that resulted in further benefits. Episodes 2-7 are each about an individual business. We help them think through their business strategy and marketing. What we found was that each business was struggling at the same thing, which are the things we see in businesses across the country. Deluxe works with 4 ½ million small businesses, so we’re very familiar with the struggles of small businesses. The most common problems are that they don’t know their numbers very well and they don’t know how to market themselves. We help the small businesses address both problems as well as other issues. Also, part of what we’re trying to do in the show is to affirm other business owners that they’re not alone. Other businesses are struggling in the same areas because most people start a business with an idea or a passion or a specific skill set. They might be very good at baking, or they really love cutting hair, but rarely do you find a business owner that says, “I couldn’t wait to figure out how I was going to manage inventory or hire and fire employees.” Those things don’t show up on the radar of why you start a business, but they’re as essential to the success of your business. We like helping them round out the business and marketing aspects so that they can live their passion.
- [15:30] How has the show created a market research platform for improving and creating new products? The product insights we are getting has been an interesting side effect that is becoming very important. It is the best kind of empathic research. Our product teams pay close attention to what we’re hearing. We have tools in place to keep track of what small businesses are struggling with and that informs the product development cycle. The show gives us qualitative insight that you just can’t get from a focus group. We are in our customers’ businesses. We are standing alongside their kids, being part of their struggles. It’s hard for a business to know what they don’t know. They don’t know that they don’t know how to reach new customers or that the way they’re doing social media isn’t quite right, or that they have an opportunity to present their brand in a different way. Our product team is gleaning rich insights.
- [21:00] How did you attract Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank, to be involved and co-host the show? I told him how we were trying to get more people to support small business by telling these stories. He couldn’t believe that a big brand, Deluxe, was redirecting ad dollars to genuinely doing something good for the community that they serve and in an authentic way. Brands have done storytelling before, but this is literally trying to help. He said, “I’ve got to be a part of more of this. This is really cool.”
- [26:35] How is “doing good” part of the movement? This is a genuine program where we are dedicating real dollars to make a difference in our customers’ lives and improve their livelihoods. Doing good is not just a nice commercial that says you’re doing good or you care. It must be real and genuine. It has created a win-win-win for the small business owners, their communities, and Deluxe. This is what I most frequently speak on now, how companies do well by doing good.
- [27:36] What are the synergies for product managers? As product developers and managers, you’re always concerned about how can I make something faster, more efficient, and improve people’s lives through this product or innovation? There’s a lot of synergies here. Solving customer problems, learning more about their needs, and doing good.
- Small Business Revolution – Celebrating small businesses everywhere
- Deluxe – changing the way business gets done
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?” – Steve Jobs
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.