National Small Business Week kicked off Sunday to recognize the nation’s top small businesses, entrepreneurs and business advocates.

President Barack Obama celebrated the 53rd anniversary and this year’s theme of “Dream Big, Start Small” to proclaim that America’s small businesses are “responsible for creating nearly two-thirds of net new jobs in the United States each year and employing more than half of all Americans, small businesses have always been a vital part of our country’s economy.”

The challenge for every small business is to one day drop the title of “small” and morph from the “little engine that could” into the powerhouse it envisions becoming. But that’s easier said than done.

According to Capital One’s latest Spark Business Barometer, an ongoing national study of small businesses tracking financial conditions, small business sentiment saw a continued decline in the first half of 2016, with concerns about the economy, regulation and other factors related to the pending presidential election likely causing some business owners to reconsider plans for investment and growth. From the survey’s slew of material, one note was evident: younger business owners continue to be most optimistic amid economic and regulatory uncertainties. Capital One is helping small businesses shake the suspicions and to one day realize their larger goals through Spark Business. 

One of the things that we have really focused on over the last year or two is around helping small business get more customers and marketing their business,” Kristi Hebner, senior director of small business brand strategy at Capital One, told [a]listdaily. “We’re really focused on telling that story, and we learn along in the process, too. It’s a two-way street.”

Knowing very well that 64 percent of America’s small businesses name marketing as their top challenge, the financial services company launched an integrated campaign last year—Spark Plug—and selected 125 small businesses to produced 150 custom advertising assets. It was designed to help its customers build awareness, compete and grow their enterprises in today’s complex and competitive marketplace

Hebner, who’s been with Capital One since 1998, joined [a]listdaily to talk about how they’re empowering small business owners.


What is Capital One Spark Small Business designed to accomplish?

We’re known as a consumer card company, but over the last two years, we’ve really made a big investment into our small business segment. We use the sub-brand Spark to signal the products we put on the market designed specifically for business. It’s really all part of the Capital One family, it’s just our shorthand for the small business segment, and the marketing products that we have.

How is the program designed to enable small business owners?

So much of what we hear from our customers is just that a lot of the small business products are really consumer products marketed to a small business owner, so we spend a lot of time designing features and experiences to work uniquely for a small business owner. Everything from how they log in, to the way the app might work is designed for small business. And that’s probably the biggest difference—to start from the inside of the small business owner, to put it to market, and we’re constantly getting feedback from our customers on how to make it better.

What is that feedback generally consisted of after you share your message?

Small business owners will tell you what they think. Everything we put in market, we test it with them, refine it. We get feedback on ways we should shorten processes, and make it easier for them to get up and running. Those tend to be the places that we focus most on in terms of marketing. It’s ‘how do we save them time,’ and add value.

What kind of campaigns have been successful in relaying that message?

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we could elevate the voice of small business owners, and creating those forums for small business owners who love to network and share their stories. It’s finding those moments where they can share what made them successful. Speakers share insights, but they’re learning as well. It’s natural for how they work. Our role is creating the forum. In every industry, not just ours, it’s becoming more and more important for customers to tell the story, so we use content that way, positioning it from an authentic way. Business owners want to hear other customers tell why a company like Capital One is helping them succeed. We really use content for that purpose. We also have a content marketing and resource center for small business owners—Spark Business IQ—we use that as a platform to tell stories, like at tax time, to discuss challenges they’re facing. The resource center and content hub we launched a few years ago to help small business owners learn from each other on key trends impacting the industry is a win-win. It gives us an opportunity to engage, and gives them an opportunity to promote themselves through our channels.


The financial industry is a competitive one. How are you separating yourselves from others? What’s the brand message you convey?

We think there is an opportunity to do things better, and disrupt and get rid of things that are slowing businesses down. Capital One is really investing into digital technology, and insights around the customer in the small business space.

How are you measuring success?

At an overall brand level, there’s a lot of things we look at. From their experiences, and as well tell their story and ours, we hope that the pick up is ‘Capital One is really a company that gets and understands small businesses, and is helping them succeed.’ If you do that in an authentic way, that will sort of pay back to the brand.

The goal for every small business is to grow. How does Capital One plan on growing in the space, too? 

We want to invest in the digital and mobile products that help them succeed, and then using the power of our brand and message to amplify their brand. The unique thing about us, and our segment, is that when they do well, we do well. Telling our stories together is where the magic happens, and that’s been a big part of our marketing campaigns, especially when it’s shared through social. Our brand gets lifted with that. But first and foremost, it’s their brand. The response has been positive.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan