From penguins and supermarkets tugging on our heartstrings to celebrities and friends alike giving themselves a good soaking to raise awareness and money for charity, 2014 has witnessed plenty of opportunities for businesses and marketers to shine.

So, as we look back on the year, it’s important to give credit to the unsung heroes and dogged stalwarts in the world of small business world and acknowledge efforts that break boundaries and change perspectives.

We’ve asked three media and marketing experts to highlight those start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs, who stood out from the crowd with daring and courageous work.

Bravery in business comes in many forms – from the courageous entrepreneur who takes the plunge with an idea that’s been percolating in many a coffee shop, to the daring social media company disrupting business norms. So who do our experts nominate as producing brave and outstanding work?

Changing perspectives

In the small business sphere, success doesn’t always manifest itself in award-winning campaigns and industry headlines. “Credit is also due to those who have the courage to change perceptions,” says communications expert Dan Slee.

With 20 years experience in the media field and director at comms2point0, Dan’s interest was piqued by creative marketing agency Alive With Ideas when they sent an unusual parcel to his office.

Alex Mead, director of Alive With Ideas, explains: “We sent zombie sweets and a ‘blood’ energy drink alongside our research on internal communications to show that employees are often unengaged in the work environment.”

“The sweets and energy drink really caught my attention, but it wasn’t just a gimmick,” says Dan. “I’ve used their research into internal communications again and again. It really proves that content that has a genuine purpose really works in marketing.”

Alongside his creative partner Alan Oram, Alex formed Alive With Ideas five years ago, but it was only this year that they began to revolutionise their approach to marketing materials.

“Previously we outsourced our lead generation with limited success so we decided to take the bull by the horns and find a new approach,” says Alex. “Our focus shifted towards content creation and the value of sharing via social media platforms.”

Their new emphasis on original content has brought about big changes for Alex and Alan’s business, and they’ve been working steadily to carve out a presence for their agency. “People are more willing to share and discuss your content when the sales element is secondary,” Alex says. “If content adds value, it will always be shared among professionals.”

Breaking the mould

Taking a leap of faith when she left the BBC to pursue her own ambitions in social media strategy, former journalist and communications consultant Sue Llewellyn is no stranger to making bold decisions. “You have to follow your heart and be prepared to fail,” says Sue. “True bravery is grasping your passion with both hands. You’ll learn from every experience, even if you don’t succeed immediately.”

Voted one of the top 50 female innovators in digital journalism in 2013, Sue has worked with some of the biggest names in media and has an eye for those who really deserve to be acknowledged in an age when competition is fierce.

When it comes to celebrating courageousness in business, Sue is quick to nominate #techmums, a project founded by a social enterprise startup headed by Sue Black, known as @Dr_Black to her Twitter fans.

“Technology has always been a notoriously male-dominated sphere,” says Sue Llewellyn. “Dr Black is an inspiration to women of all ages and through #techmums she is empowering them in the same way technology helped her overcome obstacles in her life.”

Dr Black went from being an impoverished single mum to win PepsiCo Women’s Inspiration Award in 2011 and is determined to show that everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from technology:

“#techmums brings that excitement and knowledge to mums first, then, through their families and friends, it reaches across generations,” Sue Black enthuses on her blog, aptly named Adventures of a Cheeky Geek.

Pushing boundaries

According to marketingtechblog.com the average Internet user is likely to watch roughly 206 videos each month, so it’s no surprise that video marketing is becoming more important than ever. Having delivered 4.69 billion views to a global audience of 1.27 billion monthly unique users, social video advertising agency Unruly is very much leading the way in this field.

Co-founder Sarah Wood, named one of 10 London-Based Entrepreneurs to Watch by Forbes, knows the hard work it takes to earn serious acclaim in the media world and, for her, Twitter comedy masters That Lot make the cut.

“Their focus on human authenticity and creative quality makes That Lot one of my media heroes of 2014,” Sarah says. “Of special note are the social media quizzes they run to drive interest in Hackney pub The Dolphin’s Twitter profile. One night it proved so popular the #dolphinquiz trended higher globally than the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Barney Worfolk-Smith, a former colleague of Sarah’s, joined writers and comedians David Schneider and David Levin permanently in August this year and is delighted to be nominated. “I joined That Lot as it was a huge opportunity to build on the fabulous experience I’d acquired at Unruly; talking to brands about valuable virality in their video content.”

Commenting on the rapidly growing list of accolades for That Lot, Barney revels his secret to success: “In social content you have to be short, agile and human – like a jockey.”

Having worked on over 60 projects in the past year, and with household names such as The Apprentice and Never Mind The Buzzcocks in their arsenal, it is easy to see why Sarah doesn’t hesitate to praise this versatile, viral business.

Rewarding courage

Honouring outstanding work isn’t always about praising those in the limelight. Sue Llewellyn strongly believes that next year small businesses will need courage more than ever before. “New challenges will always lie ahead for small businesses and in social media it’s going to be cutting through the increasing noise and finding new ways to be relevant.”

For Barney, every month throws up new challenges for That Lot and each month is a case of seeing what happens next. “Advising John Lewis on tone of voice leading up the #montythepenguin campaign is such a huge accolade for us and I know there is much, much more to come,” he says. “After launching with such a bang, it’s going to be an exciting journey moving forward, but I know we’re up for the adventure.”

From outstanding work to creating ground-breaking campaigns, there is many a small business that deserves to be awarded for their hard work this year. However, as we’ve also seen, there is the courage displayed by others who, behind the scenes, are subtly changing the face of the media world.

Which small business do you think has defied the norm this year? Share with us in the comments or on Twitter @HiscoxUK.