How to Make Your Small Business Stand Out with These 8 Marketing Twists

Getting attention in this cluttered world of products and marketing messages is a very difficult task. To make matter worse, it’s really hard to compete with the big brands that seem to have endless supplies of cash to throw at advertising.

Does that mean that you, as a small business, should just give up and not compete? Absolutely not! There are dozens of ways you can use to get the attention your product deserves without breaking the bank. Here are my favorite eight:

Marketing Twist #1: Convert brand detractors into brand evangelists

dell marketing

Dell frequently holds what’s called a customer advisory panel. This is different than a focus group in that Dell does not have a product for the panel to test out.

All Dell wants from these customers is their feedback, both good and bad.

Dell is extremely open about these panels and what it learns from them. During a recent panel, for example, Dell learned five things:

  1. Their emotional link with customers was broken.
  2. Their advertising was misleading, but their products and support were reliable.
  3. The customers on the panel were astounded that a company the size of Dell actually listened to customers.
  4. Customers still cared about Dell, and there was a small army of Dell ambassadors defending the company and helping other customers.
  5. They needed to deliver better customer service.

The sweet thing about this experience is that it converted a lot of Dell’s detractors into believers.

This experience also highlights the need for you to continually monitor your brand across the social media landscape.

Marketing Twist #2: Influence brand ambassadors

yoga marketing

From the very start, the $100 yoga pants maker Lululemon decided to go grassroots when it came to growing their revenue. To do this, they gave local fitness experts $1,000 worth of free gear in exchange for wearing their pants when they worked out.

This worked since students of these fitness experts looked to them as authorities. If they saw them wearing a particular pair of pants, then they were likely to buy a pair too.

Lululemon said that the brand ambassadors – the fitness experts, in this case – lead the company and its marketing, and not the other way around. That may sound counterintuitive, but, in the end, this tactic leads to a stronger brand since these local experts are on-the-ground, accessible virtual salespeople.

Lululemon’s sales projections for 2012 are around $1 billion. This strategy of letting customers create and control the marketing is a unique marketing twist, but it works.

Marketing Twist #3: Go guerrilla

Spending less money is the name of the advertising game for small businesses, so no wonder that guerrilla marketing can provide huge promotional benefits without taking a big bite out of your pocketbook.

In addition to that, guerrilla marketing is perfectly suited for small businesses that usually thrive on a local customer base.

The other nice thing about guerrilla marketing is that it usually fits with your offline promotions. This means an idea that goes viral online or offline will transition to the other one without much effort.

For example, this is what happens when you have couponing on Foursquare or QR readers. Sometimes magazine ads will encourage readers to text to watch a short documentary.

This is also another way to measure your marketing efforts with metrics like cost per impression or cost per customer.

One guerrilla marketing tactic is to use wild postings. This is a grassroots effort at advertising that involves plastering dozens of posters with your message across a city. These posters are put upon buildings, construction sites, subway trains or alley ways.

The posters range in sizes from 28″ x 40″ to 45″ x 45″ and are hung either horizontally or vertically side by side and one on top of another to cover a large area.

The cool part about guerrilla marketing is that the image is often hard to ignore as these Shepherd Fairy posters show:

wall marketing

In addition, these posters can be used indoors and are usually of a smaller variety like 11″ x 17″ street posters. Some posters use static-cling or magnets to attach to building material.

Marketing Twist #4: Get ambient

You’ve probably seen taxis or buses turned into rolling advertisements. LivingSocial promoted its business by giving passengers of London taxis the opportunity to take a chance on their destination by rolling a pair of dice.

Amnesty International put a woman in a clear suitcase and then set that suitcase on an airport carousel to promote their efforts to end human trafficking.

News photographers streamed to the airport to capture the ambient ad and spread its message as they took their reports to the air waves.

box marketing

IKEA built a hotel and then furnished it with its furniture as a way to create an ambient experience that promoted the company.

Then, there is Apple’s Genius Bar. This ambient experience allows lovers of the brand to connect with other brand lovers and people who work for Apple, who are brand lovers themselves. To top it off, Apple built these bars in really cool locations that people wanted to go to.

Marketing Twist #5: Get personal

Self-interest is one of the strongest motivators behind customer purchases. People want to see themselves in your products, not you.

Intel managed to create a campaign where people didn’t care what Intel actually did – which was creating second-generation core processors; they just saw the results. And the results were all about them.

The campaign was called “Visually Smart” and involved a Facebook app called “The Museum of Me.” That app tapped into your account, and, in a matter of seconds, created a gallery using your photos and other content that was all about you.

As you can probably imagine, it became a viral success. In just 5 days, the app received 1 million hits. Keep in mind that there was not any paid promotion at all…just the cost of creating the app.

The beauty of this campaign is that Intel educated customers about a complex product like a processor, and they did it in a measurable way, namely web hits and likes.

Marketing Twist #6: Raise the stakes

aboutme marketing

When you give your customers a reason to care, they will do anything for you. That was the basis behind an AOL-owned billboard advertising campaign. allows people to create a simple site that is all about themselves. The contest to raise awareness of this product was designed to increase the stakes so that customers could not resist getting involved. offered customers a chance to win a trip to New York City and appear on a billboard in Times Square. The winner was determined by the number of votes his or her page received.

The steps to enter were fairly simple:

win marketing

Those who wanted to win started Facebooking and tweeting to get people to vote for their landing page. Obviously, this brought even more exposure to In fact, one of the most common questions surrounding the campaign was “What is”

I would say that is a win!

This is the type of word of mouth marketing that works very effectively on the web. And when you give your customers a huge incentive to participate, it’s really easy for them to talk to their family and friends about your product.

Now, by no means do you have to spend the kind of money did to raise the stakes, but I hope their example spurs some creativity when you think of your campaigns.

Marketing Twist #7: Use the velvet rope

There are a lot of examples of companies using the invitation-only marketing approach, but probably the most effective campaign involved Spotify when it arrived in the U.S.

First, it got heavy online influencers to talk about the product, and then it started to roll out very limited invites to its beta version.

That limited invitation created an instant demand for the product. When it was time to release the product to the public in September 2011, Spotify made one of its boldest moves: to hook up with Facebook.

Spotify proved to be a great product, and that only added to the endless buzz about it.

Marketing Twist #8: Show people how you seamlessly fit into their life

You can never go wrong with creating a product that solves a meaningful problem for your customers. This way you don’t end up bragging about the wonderful features of your product. Instead, you demonstrate that your product addresses a long-standing problem that your customers desperately needed to address and show them how your product can fit seamlessly into their work and life patterns.

Apple is easily the most popular example of this.

The brilliant Siri commercials showed people how the new iPhone 4S would guide them through their day, helping them with basic tasks like scheduling appointments, sending emails, searching email and finding local coffee shops.

Google’s recent Project Glass concept video is another great example of demonstrating how a product can solve problems in your life without being inconvenient.


As you can see from the ideas above, creativity is really the name of the game when it comes to small business marketing. You don’t need a big bank account for an idea to go viral or for creating an outstanding promotion. You just need a unique idea.

I do want to point out that another part of success when coming up with ideas like these is that you need to test and experiment a lot. You will have failures, but hopefully those failures will lead to even better ideas!

What other little-known marketing ideas can a small business use to advertise?

P.S. If you want help growing your business click here.


  1. A lot of these examples are very expensive to execute for small companies…

    • Sky,

      I have to disagree with you on that. Many of these are very cost effective: customer focus groups, putting a woman in a suitcase, giving away a free gift to get people to tweet and like it. You can outsource the qr code to fiverr.

      I’m not sure “a lot” is the best term to use.

      Great post Neil!

    • I am sorry you feel that way, I try and offer tips that would require very little to no cost. Could you be more specific as to which tips are to costly?

  2. Tito Philips, Jnr. :

    This is a wonderful post as usual Neil, thanks!

    Guerrilla Marketing is a personal favourite of mine as it stirs up your creativity as an entrepreneur. One of the ways to add creativity to your marketing as a small business is the use of Gift Cards create word of mouth by giving something away to first time customers. The traditional way is to give out your gift cards to customers who bought from you as a thank you gift they can give to their family or friends. This is a little bit limiting as it might not encourage a quick spread of the brand …but think about going to other complementary businesses who your target audience buy from and collaborate with them using your gift cards as a “thank you for buying” giveaway?

    This is exciting as their customers naturally become your customers and then you can top it up by giving those same people the gift cards to now give away to their family and friends. This way you tap into bought your own customers and the customers of others. All the while saving on marketing cost besides the cost of printing the gift cards and the service/product enjoyed for free.

    • Thank you Tito,

      Awesome idea, I love the creative thinking. Thanks for sharing your ideas with everyone.

  3. David Lynch :

    Hi Neil,

    I also love the Guerilla marketing too. You just need to be omni-present these days and there’s no other way about it. I think controversy is particularly good too and the woman in the suitcase is a perfect example. Great post once again.

    • I agree, I think controversy is a great way to get people to think and act on what they are seeing or experiencing.

  4. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for this awesome post – very illuminating! I don’t think #2’s tactic is counterintuitive at all. In fact, I think it highlights a key to effective marketing: give your client base what they need and in language they understand. People know and trust other people in their life, so why wouldn’t you use instructors? Lululemon’s tactic is brilliant.

    Something I’ve found extremely helpful – and which is easily replicated by small businesses – is storytelling. We seen more response when people get to see who they’re exchanging money with and why we do the work we do. Tell a story when you offer your service/product, too. Why do they need what you have? Remember, you’re not selling a service/product, you’re selling a solution to a specific problem that someone’s struggling with. Show them what you offer does to improve their life.

    I think something that shouldn’t be underestimated is the power of referrals. If someone’s already paid for your service or product and loves what you do, they are far more likely to not only be repeat customers but tell all their friends about you. Leverage that. Offer discounts for successful referrals, and don’t forget the power of a thank you. We send our customers thank you cards and gift cards to thank them for their business and when they send people our way. It’s important to appreciate people. It’s not just good business sense, it’s the nice thing to do. You never know when an act of kindness will change a life.


    • Thanks Carolynn,

      I couldn’t agree more, people listen to other people. Especially friends and authority figures. I also believe strongly that appreciation goes a long way. Customers will always be more likely to share a service or product with others when given incentives or shown gratitude. Great tips, thanks for sharing your thoughts with everyone.

  5. Guerrilla is misspelled.

  6. great examples. one needs to just steal the idea and apply it to small businesses.

  7. Guerilla link on GeekWire is 404ing…

  8. These are all good examples, but I would say in theory not in practice when small businesses in the UK are concerned. For example, to place a banner on a taxi costs around £4000 (excluding VAT) and this is outside London.

    Examples that you mentioned in this post were done by big companies e.g. Amnesty International, Intel,, AOL…
    No small companies here. 🙁 This is my point.

    • I tend to agree with Sky in many ways. However, as a Creative Director, my goal is to come up with creative marketing ideas that will not break the bank and be effective, especially due to economic slant. Many marketing methods and some campaigns you have mentioned in this post can be created, produced and executed on very low budgets and in some cases, costs are time based.

      Put on your creative caps and see just how far your brain storming will take you. Don’t take brain storming sessions lightly!

      Good post Neil. Sky, a Londoner myself, I feel your sentiments.

  9. I believe that small business have one huge advantage over big businesses.
    And it’s that they can easily, simply and quickly try new crazy ideas. That’s something that’s really hard and complicated when it comes to bigger businesses, as they have to take many steps before launching a marketing campaign, and that just kills both creativity and productivity.

    Another idea for a creative way of marketing a small business, I’d say Viral Marketing, mainly videos.

    By investing just like 20$ on initial traffic (like 100 UV), I was able to generate over 300,000 UV in 3 days (then I got suspended from my hosting company).

    To get something viral, here are some ideas:

    1) Touch the Feelings: Make them happy, excited, afraid, etc. It’s an enough reason to share it with their friends.
    2) Make them Laugh: Another great reason to share it with their friends.
    3) Make them Wonder: Make something weird, something hard to understand. It’s another reason to share it.

    Sorry for the long reply 🙂

    Btw great post as usual Neil!

    • No worries, I enjoy having my readers share their ideas and experiences. Thank you for sharing your tips with everyone. 🙂

  10. Thanks Niel for this post.
    As per the woman in the glass case..
    I call that creativity

  11. I’ve gone more basic grassroots for my service industry. Developing raving patients, referrals and getting found locally on the net has been my most successful marketing strategy

  12. Neil you damn killing, i like the guerrilla MARKETING. From my own experince we should do a crazy marketing stunts that will submerge our competitors. Thanks MAN!

  13. Eastern Eye :

    enjoyed your article on small business marketing, i hope your 8 marketing twists will good for me. thanks for share.

  14. Hi Neil,

    How about applying the customer focus group for B2B marketing and national focus for the UK rather than locally?

    Great post – keep them coming!



  15. Marketing itself is an expensive approach so no doubt these techniques are costly. These tips may be true for the established small business but the one who has just stepped in they must concentrate more on the excellence of their service rather than marketing.

    • That is a good point. It is important to focus on service not only when starting out, but for as long as you are in business. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing technique that cost nothing.

  16. Thanks, great article as always, however I do agree with many of the comments that many marketing techniques like the ones shown here are most of the times out of reach for small business or business owners.

  17. Web Design Resource :

    Creativity and good ideas play most important role in the small business marketing because mostly in the small business, the investment of the money is at some limitation but with the help of unique ideas, we can earn good return on the investment in the comparison of the large business.

  18. Diablo III cheats :

    These are great tips. I believe the smaller businesses have to get creative but never give up.

  19. Not all of them can be used by small business, because some also involve high budgets, but these are the best and cheapest bang for the buck tricks.

    • Thanks Faisal, some of these tips may cost you but if you get creative you could find a way to use these tips to inspire things that you can do for less.

  20. The link called ” guerrilla marketing can provide huge promotional benefits” is broken.
    But knowing what it is now gives me a few ideas. 🙂 Thanks for this post!

  21. John Abrena :

    This is a very cool “guide” Neil! I specially like that “What is” part. Word of mouth is still a big part of marketing. Every living person out there shares good content on their sites, as well as promotions that actually have a lot of value proposition in them. Going viral isn’t that hard, just getting the right ideas on the right time is the key. Just like your posts!

  22. Great article; but I, would LOVE examples to include smaller businesses. Guess I am sick of the big guys, big staffs, big budgets, little taxes!

  23. To be honest, Neil, it’s not very often that I see how your topics fit into my business. I’m in a non-digital services business (an entertainer/magician for kid-centric family functions). I’m in a small town in a financially depressed area. I have no staff and zero budget. But this article scores a bullseye!

    #1: I can contact clients that have not re-booked and find out why. (From what I understand, many are afraid of this because they don’t want to open up the negative feedback can of worms.)

    #2: I’m sure I can find a couple of places to give away a free show during my slow times in exchange for permission to advertise. Yeah, giving away $10,000 worth of gear is out of my price range. But can I give away _something_? *anything*??

    #3 and #4: is as simple as finding some place to set up and perform. Is there any place at all that I can put my product to surprise people and grab their interest? And draw them into the experience?

    #5: would spin off #3/#4 easily enough if I gave interested people enough knowledge to put them in the spotlight. Now I am not using them to stand on – I am lifting them up. Plus I have found someone who is interested and reinforced that.

    #6: I don’t own a Times Square billboard. I could probably paint a bedsheet and drape it over my house, but the neighbors wouldn’t like it. So it seems out of reach – until you realize that self-promotion is just _one_ thing people care about. Can you can find some way to touch one of their core needs and desires – family, health, kids, schools?

    #7: This one is tough. I might need some help brainstorming this one.

    #8: This is what I strive to do. Nobody things my service is a need – until *they* ride herd on a bunch of 6-year-olds at a birthday party!

    The other aspect is that this doesn’t have to be done alone. Can we find other local small businesses that target a customer base close to the same demographic and join forces? In my case, I can attract traffic to another business, and we might be able to get people who wouldn’t stop for them or for me, but will stop for both of us together.

    Thanks for getting the juices flowing, Neil!

    • Thank you ED,

      I enjoyed reading your feedback and thought process. It is a great example for other readers as to how they can get creative with these tips.

  24. Though not every example can be duplicated for certain businesses (because of industry or product type), the ideas given are about being creative.

    Reminds me of a Mad Men episode where Peggy got creative and paid a couple of women to fight over a ham (ham company was a client) at the grocery store.

    The fight drew FREE media attention and consequently had people thinking the hams were so tasty, they were “worth fighting for”. 😉

    Nice post Neil, thanks for reminding us to think outside the box!

  25. Stocks on Wall Street :

    Great advice like always Neil, much appreciated thanks!

  26. Dan - Blogger Templates :

    I really appreciate your view on guerrilla marketing, it can be a very good value to small businesses. Thanks for posting!

  27. Been reading a LOT about guerrilla marketing these days and it seems to be the trending strategy… Brainstorming one for my business now..

  28. This is really interesting Neil, the guerrilla marketing part spurred me. Have to think to make is unique and interesting.

  29. Ankit Bansal :

    Hi Neil
    I love your writing style. A great informative article once again explaining the perfect solution to problems of small publishers . And so true that your social media presence is so effective in order to secure your online business and reputation.
    Keep up the good work man. Cheers !

    • Thank you Ankit,

      Social media plays a huge roll in today’s market, every business should be utilizing the various sites.

  30. David - Boundless Opportunities :

    Absolutely fantastic article,

    Neil, all these points can literally be used by small businesses to grow very rapidly.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  31. Thanks neil for such a usefull info..
    thanks alot.. 🙂

  32. EntrepreneursKorner :

    The two which caught my eye instantly were the suitcase creative method, and the normal ‘win a prize’ which seems to entice people to register/ more than I had first thought. Thanks for setting these out so well.

  33. The article begins with promise of providing tips for taking on major advertisers without spending much, but goes on listing experiences of mega brands. That’s cheating.

    • I am sorry you feel the title was misleading. I listed the experiences of the larger brands to show the effectiveness of these tips. A lot of these ideas can be used on a smaller scale and wouldn’t be very costly. It is all about being creative.

  34. manilatravelvisa :

    Fantastic website. Lots of helpful information here. I’m sending it to some buddies ans additionally sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you in your effort!

  35. I wish there had been examples of small businesses using these techniques, instead of Dell, Apple, etc. It would have made it more relate-able.

  36. Reagan McClellan :

    Great Ideas man Ive found this site to be extremely valuable. My favortie tactic is gurilla marketing.

  37. Awesome!! Will definitely work on applying them to my small business to stand out from the crowd.

  38. Andrew Youderian | :

    Marketing Twist #9: Over Deliver!

    We’re an eCommerce company, and try to do something a little extra. In every kit we sent out, we include a hand signed thank you card and an installation kit to help with product setup. It only costs us a dollar or two, but it’s something I think customers really appreciate.

    Adding a little something extra – to show you care and appreciate their business – turns customers in to raving fans. And ecstatic customers are the best marketing you can find.

    • That is a great example, thanks for sharing with everyone.

      I agree, anything little extra thing you can do is always beneficial.

    • Tapha at MyAppTemplates :

      Very true. Probably should be number one in this post if it was in it!

  39. Tapha at MyAppTemplates :

    Number 8 is probably the biggest and most powerful. If you help people visualize your product in their lives. They’ll be all for it!

  40. property dealers noida :

    Guerrilla marketing is a a creative way to achieve more with less investment. Also i think if you can provide solutions to people’s problems on a consistent basis you will succeed.

  41. Web design company :


    Excellent post. I love the way you have explained that how small business can become brand !
    Thank you

  42. hey neil,
    Hey neil,
    great article once again.
    Go guerrilla is the most interesting part of this post. i will definitely follow these pieces of advices in my future life. and i am sure it will help out me.



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