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Thinking Out of the Marketing Box

out of the boxOne of the realities about marketing is it’s difficult to rise above the crowd. When everyone is talking about their brands and products, it makes for a noisy landscape.

This can be daunting for startups looking to establish brand awareness, particularly when most of them have small or no marketing budgets.

So how do cash or resource-strapped startups thrive at marketing when there are bigger, better financed rivals?

One of the keys is thinking out of the box, and I’m not talking about Facebook contests, link-bait blog headlines or buying Twitter followers.

Instead, I’m talking about startups with the willingness and ability to do things differently, even if means taking  risks. These are startups that go against the grain. When everyone is embracing Pinterest, they do something completely different.

This can be difficult because not only does it require an appetite for risk but, in many cases, a lot of creativity and agility. It’s about having a corporate culture and a marketing approach that makes it easy to be opportunistic.

A great example is Fongo, which recently offered to buy Wind Mobile for $1 and a 49% stake in the Waterloo, Ont.-based startup. The “offer” was creative and oozed with cheekiness but it got Fongo and its free mobile service a lot of attention.

It was the kind of marketing that can go either way. While Fongo basked in glory of its “offer”, the marketing gambit could have backfired because there is likely no way the company could afford to buy Wind, which has more than 600,000 wireless subscribers.

But it also demonstrated how living on the edge can reap huge benefits for  startups able to seize the moment. I would estimate Fongo spent less than $1,000 to have a press release put on the wire. Based on the coverage, the campaign had awesome ROI.

During a meeting with a startup client recently, one of their executives threw out a made-up name to describe the service. At first, it seemed like nothing more than humorous but the more I thought it, the more I realized the word could be used as part of a contest r campaign that would ask people to provide a definition.

I’m not suggesting the contest would have been an slam-dunk success but it reflects how different kinds of marketing activities can be effective.

For startups willing to think out of the box, there’s a fine balance between success and failure.

The difference lies in timing, creativity, delivery and luck. And falling flat on your face can happen even if the right creative buttons are pushed.

A good example is Pawngo, which dumped 1,000 Butterfinger candy bars in Boston’s Copley Square after the New England Patriots’ Wes Welker dropped a ball against the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLVI.

The stunt not only irked Patriots’ fans but Pawngo was hit with a commercial dumping violation. At the end of the day, Pawngo wasn’t seen as cheeky and creative as much as a nuisance and garbage dumper.

Nevertheless, Pawngo should get points for trying. It’s easy to take the safe route but more difficult to live on the edge where you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. But as they say, no pain, no gain

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