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?.