Content Strategy

The Hand-Made Tale: How Direct-to-Consumer Micro-Brands Are Changing Content Marketing

By Kyle Harper on May 4, 2018

Keeping up with content marketing trends can often feel like a giant game of stop-and-go. On one hand, it takes me about two seconds to find a fresh article or blog post about how one technology or tactic is going to completely revolutionize the way we do marketing. But five minutes after the read, inspired to try something new, I return to my job where our content marketing engine continues to chug along as per usual-revolutions have given way to incremental tweaks and improvements that continue to grow and improve the business. We're not immune to digital disruption. We've just come to think of it as a stage that our business has outgrown. It's a dynamic that suits many enterprise-scale brands, where producing efficiencies is regular practice and share-of-voice has moved beyond large territory grabs into gradual, steady growth.

But now it seems that micro-brands might have something to say about this.

You probably know what micro-brands look like. They pepper our Instagram feeds with high-quality photography of their take on custom fashion accessories or healthy reimaginings of our favorite foods. They interrupt our podcasts to tell us about their quirky but interesting services. They sneak their way into our business publications, astonishing editors and readers alike with rapid grabs for small bits of market share that equate to millions of dollars. They take bright and brash approaches to brand image that enterprise marketers comfort themselves in knowing they couldn't possibly do.

Yet there still remains much that content marketers-from brands big and small-can learn from micro-brand marketing.

Top down shot of a person holding a large print of a sunflower

Image attribution: Raw Pixel

The Problem With Innovation

To break apart how micro-brands are able to cause so much disruption in comparison to their size, it's helpful to understand that the difference between small businesses and large enterprises isn't just a question of scale. Back in 1997, Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen laid this dynamic out in his popular book The Innovator's Dilemma. At an essential level, small businesses tend to be more able to disrupt their markets because they have much less inventory or established audience to lose by taking innovative risk. Enterprise businesses, on the other hand, stand to risk established audiences and finely tuned lines of production and sale, and so they lean into incremental efficiency rather than rapid development.

On the surface, this tension between small and large businesses can sound like a product-oriented one. But as Christensen aptly points out, "disruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one." While a handful of micro-brands might have a truly revolutionary product to offer, most actually take their risks in marketing rather than in inventory. They dive deep into their niches, adopting highly specific aesthetics, language, and attitudes that can quickly win over communities that larger brands miss out on by appealing to the masses. They create pockets of influence that project authenticity as a counterpoint to large-scale advertising and canvassing tactics.

When you get down to it, micro-brands are winning at some key cornerstones of good content marketing strategy, and enterprise brands should take notice.

Digital Disruption From an Evolving Web

Tactics that are winning for micro-brands aren't the latest thing in content marketing trends. They're the result of essential changes to the web that enable even casual users to take advantage of what they know about their audience.

Website builders make it simple and affordable for anyone to buy a domain and build a site. SEO continues to move towards an emphasis on user-experience rather than solely on technical exploitation, making best practices easier for marketers to implement. And all the while, social media's entrenched presence in digital society gives any brand the tools to build a dedicated audience that is somewhat insulated from the noise of advertising through follows and page likes.

All of this accessibility combined with a bold understanding of a specific audience makes micro-brands the perfect candidates to take advantage of what Google calls micro-moments. Micro-moments are when immediacy, convenience, and usefulness converge into a brief period of expectation from an audience member. They want to know or do or feel something right in that moment, and they will seek out the first brand that can meet that need quickly and effectively. By committing so uniquely and boldly to a disruptive brand strategy, micro-brands are able to capture specific pools of people who share similar expectations and pull them away from larger brands that might try to satisfy more people on a more general scale.

Macro shot of a shoe stepping on a small toy knight

Image attribution: James Pond

Keeping Up With the Little Guys

Taking these tactics to heart, there are plenty of ways that enterprise-scale brands can compete for micro-moments in the way that micro-brands do.

Use a Subsidiary or Off-Domain Content Hub

Often, enterprise-scale content marketing teams don't want to try dramatic shifts in brand positioning or messaging because they're tied to the larger, more stable brand image of their company at large. This risk can be mitigated, however, by partnering with a smaller subsidiary of your brand or by creating an off-domain content hub with its own brand. This requires some reorientation of your overall content marketing strategy, but affords a level of nimbleness that you might otherwise miss out on.

Engage a Micro-Influencer

Rather than spending thousands of dollars to get a celebrity to push your products, research small- to moderate-sized social media influencers who have a distinct, clear audience that you want to engage. Seek out organic ways to support that influencer through shared content, sponsorship, or cross-promotion so that they can speak naturally about your brand to their community. A small network of high-touch micro-influencers can help your brand spread into hard-to-reach communities at limited cost, compared to the inauthentic canvassing of an expensive social celebrity.

Build Out Resources, Not Just Content

The micro-moments mentality is helpful for content marketers to consider, because it orients thinking to specific audience impulses, rather than simply relevance. As your content team pitches ideas or thinks about new formats to expand into, try to identify opportunities to create longer-lasting resources in addition to your regular timely content so that your content hub can cover all four of the micro-moment needs-want-to-know, want-to-go, want-to-do, want-to-buy-and as a result keep a consistent conversation going with your audience at any time.

Our folklore is littered with stories of smaller champions beating big challengers. The tortoise and the hare. David and Goliath. A thousand other underdog stories that tell people and brands alike that there is always room for the little guy to succeed. But in all such stories, the victor always wins because their opponent willfully ignored some advantage that should have been apparent.

The Internet is only going to continue to level the playing field for brands big and small to reach their customers on a timely and relevant basis. Understanding how micro-brands take advantage of this space to intentionally target and serve audiences that they know extremely well is a lesson that any content marketing team can learn from-and one that brands should be careful not to ignore as their markets because more crowded each day.

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Featured image attribution: Brooke Lark


Kyle Harper

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?