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Marketing Insights for Entrepreneurs

How to Effectively Market Your Unconventional Business (plus 5 inspiring examples!)

Marketing can be a bit of a black box sometimes.

Sure, you can measure digital marketing to your heart’s content, and there are no shortage of tactics you can use to raise awareness about your business. But deciding what to do is tough, and it can take time (and effort) to figure things out.

Adding to the challenge is that your business is unique, so things that work for “traditional” businesses might not work for you.

To help you out, we took a close look at five other unconventional businesses and how their marketing success stories translate into marketing advice that you can actually use.

Read on for some tactics that might be the marketing secret spice that can help your business grow.

Sugru, Self-setting Rubber

When Jane Dhulchaointigh was studying for her masters in product design, she realized that she wanted a better (and easier) way to modify the things she already owned, instead of buying all-new items.

So, she put together an early prototype of sugru, which is “the new self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and making stuff.” People have used sugru to fix shoes, make handles work better and much (much!) more.

What’s their brilliant marketing tactic?

They tell an amazing story.

sugru

One of the three main navigation links on Sugru’s website is “Our Story.” They take you through their entire history, pitfalls and all, in visuals and honest, first-person language. It’s so interesting that I bet you can’t stop reading until the end, and it’s incredibly memorable

How can you emulate it? Tell your story.

Your business’ story has just as many twists, turns and interesting asides as sugru’s, and it’s just waiting to be told. As a small business, you’re already in a better position to connect on a personal level with your customers, and telling your story well – online or off – is one way to connect with more of them. (Plus, our brains are hardwired to remember stories, so it’ll help make sure your business is memorable.)

Brew Donkey, A Craft Beer Delivery Service

Brad Campeau loves all the different craft beer options in Ottawa, Ontario, but with the alcohol distribution laws, the only way to get the beer he wanted was to drive all over the city – sometimes more than an hour one way.

He saw an opportunity to make getting great beer easier, and to help local brewers sell more beer, and Brew Donkey, his craft beer delivery service, was born. They also organize brewery tours that span the entire city.                         

What’s their brilliant marketing tactic?

Doing good.

brewdonkey

When Brad wanted to promote the brewery tours, he could have spent a lot of money on paid advertising, with no way to measure the results accurately. Instead, he decided to run one tour a month for charity. Every dollar spent on that tour goes to a local charity, so the charity helps promote the tours to their own audiences to raise more money. It’s a win-win.

How can you emulate it? Look at your marketing budget differently.

If you have $5000 to spend on marketing, you could buy a radio ad. You could do a lot of other things too. When you’re trying to decide on a marketing strategy, consider…

The Loop Bike Rack, A No Scratch Solution

Have you ever walked into a bike rack? Maybe you’re clumsy, like me, or you walk while texting, also like me. Well, it hurts, but it wouldn’t if it was a Loop bike rack, designed a two-person design consultancy called The Federal.

When Ian Murchinson and Rohan Thakar got their hands on a new kind of rubber, they asked themselves “What can we do with this?” That question led them to create a flexible rubber bike rack that won’t scratch bikes or car doors – plus, it won’t hurt when you run into it.

What’s their brilliant marketing tactic?

Meet the press where they are, and have a good story.

bikerack

After participating in the International Design Showcase in Toronto, Ontario, The Loop bike rack was featured in Gizmodo, Fast Company CoExist, and more. The Federal’s team was in the right place to connect with writers who cover topics like sustainability, design and urban planning, and they had their story pitch-ready.

How can you emulate it? Go to the right conferences

Industry conferences can be expensive, but if you choose the right ones, they can pay off big. To make sure you’re getting the most bang for your conference buck, consider your goals.

How else can you emulate it? Know your pitch – cold.

Whether you’re face-to-face with a reporter or a customer, you should be able to tell them what you do, why it matters and what’s in it for them in about 30 seconds. As you work on your pitch, try it out on friends, family, strangers at the grocery store – anyone who is willing to listen. The more you practice, the better your pitch will be. Once you have it polished, start asking current customers if it really reflects what you do.

Orabrush, The Tongue Cleaner

Orabrush was founded by Dr. Bob Wagstaff, who saw a huge opportunity in the tongue-cleaning business. You see, 90% of bad breath is actually caused by bacteria on your tongue, but Dr. Wagstaff faced a big challenge: no one knew that when Orabrush launched.

After Orabrush launched, he spent $40,000 on traditional marketing efforts, but barely made any sales. Since tongue-cleaning wasn’t something people were used to, a 30-second TV ad wasn’t enough to change their minds or their habits.

What’s their brilliant marketing tactic?

Use video, and share it online.

orabrush

After spending tens of thousands on traditional marketing, a college student convinced Dr. Wagstaff to try advertising online with a Youtube video. They created a funny video explaining the virtues of tongue-cleaning, and 48 million Youtube views later, Orabrush is a huge success distributed in major retailers like Walmart.

How can you emulate it? Create your own content.

There’s a whole wide world of content and distribution options available beyond traditional advertising. The power to tell your story has never been more in your hands, so all you need to do is choose how. You can create blog posts, infographics, pictures, videos, interactive websites and more – but which one is right for you?

To pick the right format to share your message online, consider…

Beardbrand, A Blog About Beards

While growing his beard for a year, Eric Bandholz attended a beard competition that changed his life. He realized that there was an entire community of people who loved beards, but didn’t fall into the traditional hippie / woodsman stereotype. He quickly founded Beardbrand as a blog to unite “urban beardsmen” with style inspiration and beard grooming tips.

Beardbrand got noticed by The New York Times, and they contacted Eric to be included in a trend story about beards. They launched a line of beardcare products in time for the article’s release, and two years later, Beardbrand is a growing business.

What’s their killer marketing tactic?

Be the expert in your field.

urbanbeardsman

Eric’s blog built up a steady following, and since he was always giving great beard style advice, when the New York Times started looking for an expert, he was the natural choice. People in the know about beards would recommend him, and his site backed it up – he really knew his stuff. That made him a credible expert, and perfect for the story.

How can you emulate it? Make sure people know you’re the expert.

No matter how small your business is, you want to be known as the expert. Maybe you’re the go-to person for real estate in a specific area of town, or everyone knows you’re the only person to call to cater a small-but-high-style wedding. Maybe you’re an architectural photographer who’s so good, people fly you halfway around the world to take photos of their new buildings.

There are a lot of ways to steal this tactic, and some are easier than others – but they’re all worth it.

How else can you emulate it? Find your niche.

Beardbrand targets a very specific kind of bearded man, and they’ve had a lot of success with targeting such a small niche market.  To steal this tactic, look at your current customers. Are there any similarities between the ones who l-o-v-e what you do and how you do it? That could be the basis of a niche you should target. Once you’ve got a good idea of who’s in your targeted niche, make sure that your services and promotions are geared directly to them. Eventually, you’ll be the only person people think of when they think of that group.

Unconventional is Cool

So there you have it – five unconventional businesses that have rocked their marketing efforts, and seven ways you can emulate those exact same tactics in ways that work for your brand.

Know of any other small or unique businesses that are killing it with their marketing efforts – including yours? Let us know in the comments!