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As CEO of a creative marketing and public relations firm, I’ve seen how unique marketing strategies can elevate a company’s brand awareness and drive ROI more than the traditional approaches. Executing a successful marketing campaign doesn’t require millions of dollars in funding: Small businesses and startups can market themselves on a small budget by thinking outside the box. Here are some tips to maximize your campaign efforts:

  • Craft a pitch, not an advertisement. Regardless of your industry, if you conceptualize a product, it is likely that you have plenty of competitors. A market research firm recently conducted a study that found the average amount of advertisements seen by a consumer is upwards of 5,000 per dayMost of these ads go unnoticed, deeming creative, fresh ideas in marketing a must if you want to distinguish yourself from other brands. If you can successfully create content that is entertaining, inspirational or memorable for the consumer, you’ll see greater success in impacting the consumer.
  • Position your campaign as an icebreaker. A great way to push your campaign further is to make it newsworthy enough to warrant discussions around the water cooler. You probably heard about Crayola retiring one of its crayons — not traditional “news” (nor important to our society), but it was the talk of the town, making its rounds on social media, NPR, TIME, The Huffington Post, and USA Today. The New York Times even issued a eulogy for the departing crayon! There is a reason Crayola didn’t discretely lay off this color. It was not so much a means of freshening its color palette, but a genius marketing campaign to get people talking. To give your campaign that viral quality that starts conversations, tap into the cultural milieu and the elements of pop culture (i.e. social media) that resonate with people today. 
  • Know your niche. What facets of your business are unique and fascinating? What does the demographic of your target publication like to read about? An angle for a Huffington Post article might be vastly different than one for Forbes, so figure out your five target publications and tailor your campaign to them. In 2004, Mattel got the public interested in the details of Barbie and Ken’s love life when it announced the couple had called it quits, and news outlets ate it up. Mattel then launched Cali Girl, a beach-themed line of clothes and dolls, with a new “friend” for Barbie. Children discarded their Ken dolls, and parents rushed out to buy the new Aussie beau. But it wasn’t over for Ken, who launched a campaign to win her back. On Valentine’s Day in 2011, Barbie and Ken finally reconciled, the nation breathed a sigh of relief, and the brand new Sweet Talkin’ Ken flew off the shelves. Mattel’s sales spiked over these years, and every advancement in Barbie’s love life was covered by major news outlets. Go back to your company values and mission statement to remain authentic to your core audience, and tailor your campaign to them.
  • Partner with relevant influencers. At our company, we have found much success in working with micro-influencers to help reach our target audience. One of our clients, BloomsyBox, partnered with floral design guru Carly Cylinder. Their social media strategist, Samantha Gill, started a blog series a la Julie & Julia, in which the main character tackled Julia Child’s cookbook page by page. Samantha, a beginner in flower arranging, humbly describes her thoughts and difficulties as she followed Cylinder’s instructions, encouraging her readers to try the bouquets out themselves. Samantha’s arranging tips provide sage advice about attention to detail, admiring one’s own work, and not overthinking it. It’s not easy to follow the footsteps of Cylinder, but Samantha’s delightful play-by-play has garnered admiration from Ms. Cylinder herself. Often when working with influencers, there is some sort of compensation, be it monetary or paid in product. In this instance, Cylinder was so excited about this project and thankful that it could help promote her book that the partnership was 100% organic and unpaid. While our client is a small business in a pond of big fish, their creative marketing strategies have resulted in a significant increase in sales, inclusion in dozens of top-tier press outlets and strong SEO that outperforms their biggest competitors.

When it comes to embarking on a marketing campaign, many business professionals can feel the dollars emptying out of their pockets. But achieving brand recognition goes beyond spending thousands on advertising. If you are a budding startup or small business, you don’t need to be a multi-billion dollar company like Mattel or Crayola to make a splash. You just need to think outside the box.