20 Uncommon Marketing Strategies That’ll Kickstart Your Startup
Starting a new company is no easy task. Unless you have really deep pockets, you need to quickly attract new users, new customers, new subscribers, or new sign ups, else your company won’t survive long enough to see its first birthday. Question is, how do you do it?
Of course, there are some pretty obvious and pretty effective ways of getting people to know about your new company. For instance, you could just pay for your ad to air during the Super Bowl.
The 2019 Super Bowl attracted a televised audience of over 98 million people, with many more watching the ads online.
This is a great way to catch people’s attention, that is, if you have a $5 million marketing budget to spend on a 30 second Super Bowl ad.
What if you don’t have the money to spend on such advertisements?
Does this mean that there’s no hope for your new business?
The good news is, you don’t have to outspend everyone else in order to get people to know about your new business and attract new customers.
All you need to do is to get a little creative and take an unconventional approach to marketing, and you can achieve the same huge results while spending way less than the advertising giants.
Below, let’s take a look at 20 unconventional marketing strategies that can lead to massive success for your startup while saving you tons of money.
1. START WITH AN EXCLUSIVE BETA
There’s one funny thing about human nature.
We want things that others can’t have. It makes us feel special and important, you know, like VIPs.
You can take advantage of this characteristic of human nature to kick-start your startup by launching a beta version of your product that is only available or accessible to a select number of people.
Doing this creates a sense of exclusivity around your product.
A lot of people are interested in being the very first ones to use a new, awesome product.
What’s more, this group with access to the beta version will get talking about the product, because doing so positions them as a special group that gets special access to products before they get to everyone else.
Therefore, this group of beta testers will be providing free marketing for your product.
In addition, the rest of the people will be eager to be the first ones to sign up once you open up the product to the masses. This can lead to explosive growth within a very short time.
Several startups used this strategy to attract their first users.
For instance, during their early days, startups like PayPal, Pinterest, and Slack were invitation-only products, some with huge wait-lists of users who were eagerly waiting for a chance to try the products.
This is a great strategy that any startup can use to promote its products, and the best part is that you don’t need money to apply this strategy.
2. HOLD A CONTEST OR GIVEAWAY
Contests are another effective way of bringing exclusive growth to your startup.
With contests, you are basically giving people a chance to win something in exchange for some action that is valuable to your startup.
This action could be something like signing up to your platform, using one of your product’s features, inviting someone to sign up, or even sharing a piece of marketing content – such as a promotional graphic or video – on social media.
Some people view contests as an artificial way of attracting users. After all, someone may sign up to your product simply because they could possibly win something, not because they are actually interested in your product.
However, if you have a great product, a great deal of those who signed up because they wanted to win could end up falling in love with your product and become long-term users.
Many successful startups used this strategy to grow their user base during their early days.
A great example is YouTube, which held a contest where they gave users who uploaded videos and invited their friends to the platform a chance to win an iPod Nano every day.
This contest played a huge part in helping attract users to the video sharing platform.
Below is a graphic showing the most popular social platforms for holding contests and giveaways:
To get you started, here are some awesome tools you can use to run contests on social media.
3. SET UP A REFERRAL PROGRAM
Referral marketing has two major advantages.
First, it is a great way of quickly developing a huge following or user base for your product or service. Second, it helps build trust and credibility for your product or service, because it involves current users promoting your product to their friends and family.
This is very important, because over 90% of people trust recommendations from their friends and family compared to any other form of advertising.
In spite of this, it is surprising that a great deal of startups do not use referral programs as part of their marketing strategies.
As the above graphic shows, a lot of customers are willing to give referrals, but most of them do not actually do it. So, how do you bridge this gap?
The key to successful referral marketing is to give your customers an incentive to refer your company to their friends and family.
You can do this by giving your customers something like a discount or a free gift for every referral.
Several companies have used referral marketing with great results.
A good example is Uber, which used its referral program to expand to more than 50 countries.
The best part of referral programs is that you don’t have to build yours from scratch. With tools like Ambassador, you can easily set up a referral program without having to do any of the heavy lifting.
4. PUBLISH A VIRAL EXPLAINER VIDEO
Viral marketing is all the rage nowadays, and this is because it is one of the most effective ways of quickly driving tons of traffic to your product.
One of the best ways to take advantage of viral marketing is to create a viral explainer video of your product.
To achieve viral status, there needs to be something humorous about your video.
You want people to share the video because it is entertaining, but at the same time it should help people learn about your product.
Below is a great example of such a video, created by Poo-Pourri. Without spending huge amounts on advertising, Poo-Pourri’s video was able to attract over 40 million views on YouTube, greatly helping the brand gain awareness and market share.
5. CREATE A CHALLENGE AROUND YOUR PRODUCT
We have already seen that viral marketing is a great way to get people to know about your company. Unfortunately, there is one problem.
Sometimes, in a bid to create a viral piece of marketing content, your company’s message might get lost.
If you put too much focus on your product, then people might not love the content.
What if there was a way to get your products to go viral, and at the same time make sure the focus remains on your products?
Well, there is, and the solution is creating a challenge around your product.
A good example is what Codecademy did with their 2012 learn to code challenge. Codecademy challenged people to learn how to code.
Well, here’s the genius part – aside from challenging people to learn how to code, they also had the greatest platform for learning to code by yourself. They supplemented this with free weekly coding lessons for the entire year.
The result is that in three hours of launching the challenge, they had over 16,000 new users. By the third day, they had over 100,000 new users. By the ninth week, the company had over 408,000 new users.
You can replicated Codecademy’s success by identifying the exact problem that your product solves and creating a challenge around it. As people take up the challenge, they will definitely turn to your product to help them beat the challenge.
6. APPEAR IN A MAJOR PUBLICATION
Getting featured in a major publication can do wonders for your startup.
It helps drive tons of traffic to your business, a significant portion of which you can then convert into paying customers.
Of course, in order to convert this traffic, you need to have a really awesome product.
An example of a company that used this strategy to grow into a large brand is I Done This, a project management software. The company was featured in Lifehacker, leading to a spike in traffic, which they quickly converted into new users.
The key to using this strategy is to build relationships with the large publications.
Engage with the publication’s editors, share their content, and generally interact with them.
Once the relationship has been established, you can reach out to them to help you feature your product on their publication.
7. ATTEND TRADE SHOWS
Many business owners and marketers do not know it, but focusing on offline promotion can also help kick-start your startup.
One way of promoting your new business offline is by attending trade shows and industry related conferences where you get the chance to connect with influential people within your industry.
A good example of a company that used this strategy to grow is Sidekiq.
The Ruby community often holds live events and conferences to bring developers together and discuss the latest developments in programming.
By attending such conferences and building relationships with other developers, Sidekiq founder Mike Perham was able to leverage these relationships to use the conferences to promote his company.
What’s more, the developers who attend these conferences were his ideal customers.
Taking advantage of this strategy helped Sidekiq grow to become a huge company.
8. GIVE AWAY STICKERS
This is another offline strategy that is amazingly simple. With this strategy, you basically create stickers advertising your new company and distribute them to people or place them strategically in places they can be seen by a lot of people.
A great example of a startup that used this strategy to grow their user base is Reddit.
After launching the community site, founder Alexis Ohanian printed stickers worth $500. Funny enough, this was the only money he spent on marketing his site.
With his stickers ready, Alexis carried them along with him wherever he traveled and put the stickers on poles, signs, and other visible places, as well as handing out the stickers to random people on the street.
This simple strategy helped build Reddit into the site it is today.
9. GIVE OUT FREE TEE SHIRTS
Another amazingly simple but effective way of getting people to know about your new business is by printing branded tee shirts and giving them out to your customers.
You can even use the tee shirts as gifts to customers, thereby killing two birds with one stone – promoting your business while at the same time giving customers an incentive to use your product.
The good thing with giving out free tee shirts is that they turn whoever is wearing the tee shirt into walking billboards.
Everywhere they go wearing your tee shirts, more people will learn about your new company.
10.REACH OUT TO POSTERS ON FORUMS
Since your product is still new in the market, one of the most effective ways of getting new users is to reach out to people who would be interested in your product.
You can easily find such people on forums related to your product or service.
Such people are highly likely to try out your product and recommend the product to others.
This is exactly the approach Zapier used in its early days.
The Zapier team started combing through relevant forums, checking for users who had made requests that went unanswered.
They then reached out to these users and let them know that they created a product with the kind of features these users were looking for.
Once these users tried out Zapier’s product, they loved it and started promoting Zapier on the forums, leading to massive growth.
You can apply the same strategy by going through forums related to your product, identifying the unresolved pains people have, creating a great solution to these pains, and then promoting your solution to these people.
11. REACH OUT TO SPECIFIC COMMUNITIES
Another great way of kick-starting your startup is to determine who your ideal customers are and then create content that is targeted at this group.
For instance, this is what Dropbox did to grow its user base from 5000 to 75000 people.
Dropbox simply created an awesome explainer videos targeted at the Digg community, complete with references to things only Digg users would understand.
Predictably, the video went viral on Digg, leading to an explosion of new users for Dropbox.
12. BECOME YOUR PRODUCT’S TOP USER
When creating a product that relies heavily on user-generated content, there is one major problem. To attract a large user base, you need lots of content on your platform.
However, to get lots of content on the platform, you need a large user base.
So, how do you get enough content to attract more users, when you don’t have enough users to create this content?
The solution to this problem is to become your product’s top user.
This is what Quora founder Adam D’Angelo did to attract users to Quora. D’Angelo realized that for more people to come to Quora to find answers, there was need to show that the site already provided great answers to people’s questions.
Therefore, in Quora’s early days, D’Angelo spent lots of time answering questions on Quora.
This positioned Quora as a great platform for people to ask questions and get answers to their questions, thereby helping the platform attract more users.
If you find yourself facing the same content versus users problem, you can use D’Angelo’s approach to create content for your platform, which will then help attract more users.
13. OFFER GIFTS TO CUSTOMERS
It is common knowledge that offering gifts when a customer makes a purchase can help attract more customers. However, most businesses only do this during offers.
What if you did this, not only during occasional offers, but all the time?
Turns out, this can a great tactic for attracting lots of new customers to your new business, and this is exactly what Diamond Candles did.
Diamond Candles offers a free $10 ring with every candle purchased from them.
What’s more, there is a $100 ring among every 100 candles, a $1000 ring among every 1000 candles, and a $5000 ring among every 5000 rings.
On the face of it, this seems like the perfect way to make a company go bankrupt. In actual sense, however, the company spends roughly $13 per ring per candle.
At the same time, the candles are priced at almost double this amount or more.
Taking into consideration the fact that they probably get the rings on a discount, they still make lots of money, while at the same time selling more products because of the gift ring included with each purchase.
Similarly, if you are having a hard time attracting people to purchase your product, you can think of offering a free gift with every purchase.
14. DISTRIBUTE BUMPER STICKERS
Printing and giving out bumper stickers is another amazingly simple way of promoting your business offline.
This is exactly what The Penny Hoarder did to promote one of the most popular articles on the site – an article on how to get paid to buy beer.
Instead of simply printing the article URL on bumper stickers, they paid for the domain iGetFreeBeer.com and printed it on bumper stickers.
As you can probably tell, this is an interesting domain, and many people visited the site in an attempt to learn more about free beer.
Here’s the twist – the domain redirected to the article on Penny Hoarder, resulting in tons of traffic on the article.
You can use a similar tactic to drive people to your product.
The key to success is to use a creative sticker that will catch people’s attention and drive them to want to know more about your product.
15. OFFER CASH TO NEW CUSTOMERS
I know this sounds outrageous, but take a minute to think about it.
By paying for ads and other marketing strategies, you are already using money to acquire new customers.
Well, what if this money went directly to the new customers, instead of paying it out to third parties? Would that work?
Yes, it would work, and some companies such as PayPal have already used this strategy to grow their user base. During its early days, PayPal offered $10 to every new customer.
In addition, existing customers were given $10 for every referral.
This translates to a customer acquisition cost of $20. Sure, this might have been a very expensive way of acquiring new customers, but it certainly worked for PayPal.
If you are thinking of spending money to attract customers, why not spend this money directly on the customers?
You don’t have to spend $20 per customer like PayPal, you just have to find a figure that you are comfortable with and one that will provide enough incentive for new customers or users.
16. POACH USERS FROM A COMPETITOR
You have probably never thought about this strategy, but you can actually kick-start your startups growth by poaching users or customers from your competitors.
For this to work, you need to have a product that is significantly better or offers an advantage over whatever your competitors are offering.
Airbnb is a great example of a startup that effectively used this strategy.
Before Airbnb was launched, people used to post their places on Craigslist.
Airbnb reached out to people posting their places on Craigslist and let them know that there was a new, better platform for advertising their places.
This played a significant role in helping Airbnb get its first users.
17. PARTNER WITH ANOTHER BRAND
Partnering with another brand can also help bring attention to your startup.
A great example is the Partnership between GoPro and Red Bull. While Red Bull sponsors extreme action events, GoPro provides the athletes and adventurers with tools to capture these events from the athlete’s perspective.
Partnering with such a huge brand as Red Bull allowed GoPro to become the best known brand for capturing extreme action videos.
It’s good to note, however, that the two brands are greatly aligned.
Both are lifestyle brands that promote an extreme, adventurous, and action packed lifestyle.
Therefore, before partnering with another brand, take time to choose a brand that is aligned with your brand so you don’t end up diluting your brand.
18. USE YOUR PRODUCT TO PUSH A SOCIAL CAUSE
Using your product to push a social cause is a very creative and novel way of driving attention to your brand.
This basically means that by simply using your product, users should be able to contribute to a greater purpose.
A great example of this approach is what beer brand Antarctica did in Brazil. Revelers were allowed to exchange their beer cans for a free train ride.
By so doing, Antarctica reduced littering within the city, while at the same time encouraging people to use public transport, instead of driving while drunk.
Of course, this campaign brought huge press to the beer brand.
19. GRAB NATIONAL HEADLINES
If you have the guts to do something crazy that will land you on national headlines, this can be the perfect way to get massive publicity without paying a dime.
However, don’t go for the bad kind of crazy, since this will only lead to negative publicity, which you want to avoid at all costs, especially when your company is in its early stages.
A good example of a company that used this strategy is Half.com, which convinced the city of Halfway in Oregon to rename itself and take the company’s name.
In exchange, the city got free internet access, computers, and some of the company’s stock.
You can bet this deal generated a lot of free publicity for Half.com.
20. BOOK A FLASH MOB
I left the most outrageous for last.
A flash mob is basically a group of people, who are seemingly part of the crowd, but then suddenly come together to showcase a choreographed performance in public.
These kinds of performances can create an enthralling spectacle that can quickly go viral online and help your company gain lots of attention and traffic.
A good example of the effective use of flash mobs is what Sears did while promoting their jeans giveaway.
If you are wondering how to go about the process of setting up a flash mob to promote your startup, you can easily book a flash mob on sites like Book AFlashMob.com.
Of course, for this strategy to be highly effective, the flash mob should have branding that is centered on your startup company or the product you are trying to sell.
Just because you are a small startup without the advertising budget to compete with industry behemoths doesn’t mean that you cannot create marketing campaigns that to help your new company to quickly attract users, customers, or subscribers.
The secret is to ditch conventional marketing strategies and go for uncommon but highly creative approaches.
With the 20 strategies we have covered in this article, you will be able to attract tons of attention to your startup and your products and services without having to break the bank.
Give them a try and let us know how it goes.
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