What does it take to build your own successful business? Over the years, Square learned from their customers that it requires a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice. In fact, there were so many inspiring use cases from the people using their tools that Sean Conroy, Square’s creative director, decided to make it the foundation of their new campaign.
The results are incredible. Square outsourced the filmmaking duties to Even/Odd films, and together they released a series of short, unforgettable documentaries. Each centers on a different family and expertly captures the ethos of Square’s brand — without so much as mentioning their product.
It’s not just amazing marketing content, it’s filmmaking at its best. So much so that every single video in the series earned a Staff Pick.
And how did they do it? Glad you asked …
Vimeo: Why did Square decide to go with this campaign? Why did a series of very different stories appeal to you?
Sean: In my five-plus years at Square, I’ve come to realize that small business is a big part of what makes America great. Small businesses make up 99% of American businesses. They feed us, they clothe us, they shelter us, they make up our neighborhoods. But creating, maintaining and growing one can be a crushing amount of work.
Yet these small business owners still get up and do exactly that every single day. Their work is worth reflecting on and celebrating.
The stories we’re sharing are different only because small business in America is so wonderfully diverse. No two small businesses are the same. But the theme across our films is shared: our series is meant to be a tapestry of all kinds of different businesses chasing their own version of the American Dream — whatever that means to them.
How does the message in this series speak to Square’s mission?
Square’s purpose is economic empowerment. We builds tools to help more people participate and thrive in the economy. We’re not a non-profit. And I’m not saying we’re saving the world, but we are building things that meaningfully shorten the distance between having an idea and making a living from it.
This series is about what’s possible when people with small business dreams are really empowered to reach for them. Square plays only a small part in these people’s success — which is why we hardly show our product, and never mention Square by name — but to play any part at all is pretty special.
How do these long-form brand videos help you to connect with your customers?
We’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback from our customers, and that’s been great. Small business owners are a tight-knit bunch. They really support and root for each other. I suspect that comes from their shared experience, and that support has really come out as we’ve released each of these films.
But the best response, I think, has been between viewers of our films and the subjects of our films. Yassin Terou, for example, depicted in our first film, saw business triple at his falafel shop within days of the film’s launch. There were lines down his block. That kind of response has been the best part of our work.
Why did you decide to outsource this campaign? How did you go about hiring Even/Odd to do this series?
So the idea for the series was mine, and I wrote the treatment with Justin Lomax, our head of production. We were thinking of keeping production mostly in-house, but right as we were kicking it off, Mo and Malcolm from Even/Odd swung by our office for a coffee and showed their work to us. That was it.
How did you offer feedback for this series? Did you come together at every step in the process (say, storyboard to rough cuts), or did you hand over a brief and give feedback at post-production?
We created a hybrid creative shop between the two teams. We worked together every step of the way — from our producers working out of the Even/Odd offices on story research to Even/Odd working with our editors out of the Square office for post.
Has video always been an important aspect of Square’s marketing?
From the very beginning! Our head of production, Justin Lomax, was a part of a small video production company that Square acquired in 2011. Videos have been an important part of our marketing ever since.
What did you learn through this collaboration?
When you have documentary subjects as compelling as the ones we’ve had the privilege of shooting for this series, it can be tempting to share their entire life story. They’ve just been truly compelling individuals. Over the course of the series, I think we’ve gotten better at simplifying our focus and telling tighter stories.
I also learned that there’s not enough stories being shared of small business owners, of their incredible self-reliance and resilience. And I learned a lot about my own privilege.
How do you feel this campaign has helped Square as a brand?
One time a Square seller said, “I’d like to know more about what Square believes, period. I gotta know why they get up every day and go to work.” That’s stuck with me, and this campaign is our answer to that question.
We shared our purpose of economic empowerment with the world, and that seems to have resonated with people. We tried to to show (not tell) what we believe. Why we get up and go to work. But, most importantly, that our sellers, these amazing small business owners, are who we really work for.
How does it feel to have three Vimeo Staff Picks in the bag?
Our whole video team has been Vimeo fanbois for years, so to see that stamp on our own work is a pretty incredible feeling.
We’re hard at work on our fourth film now, and the pressure keeps increasing with each Pick we get. I think this one is going to be our best, so if we don’t get a Staff Pick, I’m demanding a recount.
What advice would you give to other brands on working with filmmakers?
Make it specific. Work hard to figure out the one thing your brand or product does that no other brand can do or say, and work together with your film team to uncover and share that.
If you don’t have something special to share, then maybe don’t try to make a film or a campaign. Because the viewer always, always knows.
Anything else you want to add?
I’d just like to shout out and thank every single person at Square and Even/Odd that helped create this series. You all know who you are.
Thanks for all your insight, Sean.