Deluxe Corp. celebrated its centennial last year by commissioning 100 stories about small businesses. The idea was to highlight the diversity of companies from across the country, and it has culminated in the launch of a web series.
Long known as a check-printing company, the next 100 years for Shoreview-based Deluxe will be more dependent on its growing small-business services that include logo design, marketing, promotion, website design and digital marketing, among other offerings.
The shift is by necessity: A Federal Reserve study found that the number of checks written has declined 8.8 percent each year from 2009 to 2012, Deluxe said.
For the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2015, Deluxe had revenue of $1.8 billion, with the checks business contributing 49.3 percent, marketing solutions and other services 30 percent and financial services 26 percent.
That compares to 2011, when checks were 61.5 percent of the company's $1.4 billion in revenue, with marketing solutions and other services at 10.6 percent.
The shift also means the company needs to find a way to market its transformation.
Enter content marketing and a new video series that the company is rolling out on its website, smallbusinessrevolution.org.
Don't think corporate video, think storytelling that emphasizes Deluxe.
Last year, the company ran a contest that awarded $500,000 in products and services to the small businesses of one small town in America.
Deluxe received more than 10,000 nominations for its Small Business Revolution Main Street campaign. The winner was the town of Wabash, Ind., just off the Hoosier Heartland Highway in central Indiana.
The eight-episode series is on the company's efforts to help the small businesses of Wabash pull up their community.
The series is hosted by Amanda Brinkman, the chief brand and communication officer of Deluxe, and Robert Herjavec, a Canadian businessman, entrepreneur and investor on the "Shark Tank" reality TV show.
But the star of the series is meant to be the town of Wabash and its small-business owners.
"It's a show that tells the story of one small town coming back to life through its small businesses," Brinkman said.
Wabash is representative of many small towns across the country that are facing declining populations as more people gravitate toward bigger cities. The first episode tells its story and how Deluxe identified ways to spend the $500,000.
The second episode highlights a historic saloon in Wabash where the owners wanted to add food so it could continue to grow.
The 21-minute episode shows a personal history of the saloon through its owners, Harry and Judy Kilmer, and how Deluxe helped the company reach its next step.
Other episodes will be similar in length.
"That gave us the freedom to tell the story the right way," Brinkman said.
The Kilmer episode, for example, shows how the Deluxe team brainstormed and provided the pub new branding, signage, website and eventually a new menu. In other episodes, teams from Deluxe solve unique problems of some of the town's other small businesses.
"We wanted our brand as a character in the show," Brinkman said. "We want people to realize we do more than print checks."
Small Business Revolution Main Street is essentially content marketing as a long-form video series. The episodes are entertaining and informative but throughout this campaign Deluxe plays a role in the evolution of the small businesses of Wabash.
"I'm using this platform to show that marketing can be good and be purposeful," Brinkman said of the show.
Michael Porter, a professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said it is important that Deluxe is curating the reputation of the company at the same time as the content of the episodes.
"This is not action-orientated kind of selling; they are investing in relationships," said Porter, who leads the college's master's of business communications program. "None of this can happen without building some relationships and engagement and validation of Deluxe as a resource for small business."
All eight episodes will eventually be released at smallbusinessrevolution.org, as part of CNBC.com's "Cleveland Hustles" project and on the video on demand service Hulu.
"We were blown away by the number of nominations," Brinkman said of the response to the inaugural season.
Deluxe has deemed its effort successful enough that it has launched a new contest that will result in a new season of the show. Nominations can be submitted at smallbusinessrevolution.org.