Out of the Box Marketing Lessons From Big Brands

marketing campaigns

Unless your name is Beyoncé, odds are you can’t produce a product in secret then just sit back as millions flock to you and buy it. You need to market, which, in this day and age, takes more creativity than ever before. In the past, marketing might have involved mailers and newspaper ads, but today reaching customers is much easier — and much more challenging.

It’s easier because there are so many ways to do it — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, you name it. But it’s harder because those resources are so amorphous that any attempt can feel like a drop of water hitting the ocean. So how do you get your product and brand to stand out, to ripple through the industry and catapult you to the top of your field?

Once your product is ready to market, ask yourself these essential questions, says Cassie Hughes, co-founder and strategy director at Grow Marketing, which specializes in engagement marketing for clients such as Gap, Levi’s and Tazo Tea.

  • What makes your product unique?
  • Why does your company exist?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • Why is your product better than its competition?
  • Why is your corporate philosophy more important?

Using those answers, “You have to figure out what your story and message is,” says Hughes. “Then you have to get that message out to your target group of customers.” How can you best do that? Here are six strategies, plus big brands that have executed them perfectly.

Get Creative

Get Creative

Unless your name is Beyoncé, odds are you can’t produce a product in secret then just sit back as millions flock to you and buy it. You need to market, which, in this day and age, takes more creativity than ever before. In the past, marketing might have involved mailers and newspaper ads, but today reaching customers is much easier — and much more challenging.

It’s easier because there are so many ways to do it — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, you name it. But it’s harder because those resources are so amorphous that any attempt can feel like a drop of water hitting the ocean. So how do you get your product and brand to stand out, to ripple through the industry and catapult you to the top of your field?

Once your product is ready to market, ask yourself these essential questions, says Cassie Hughes, co-founder and strategy director at Grow Marketing, which specializes in engagement marketing for clients such as Gap, Levi’s and Tazo Tea.

  • What makes your product unique?
  • Why does your company exist?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • Why is your product better than its competition?
  • Why is your corporate philosophy more important?

Using those answers, “You have to figure out what your story and message is,” says Hughes. “Then you have to get that message out to your target group of customers.” How can you best do that? Here are six strategies, plus big brands that have executed them perfectly.

Connect Your Brand With a Current Event

Connect Your Brand With a Current Event

In 2013, Oreo put Twitter marketing on the map with its tweet during the Super Bowl blackout: Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.

It was the tweet that will live in perpetuity. Not so much because it was so quick or witty (although the agency behind the tweet, 360i, went on to win or be a finalist in 11 different marketing competitions because of these famous 54 characters), rather because it reached so many people. According to AdWeek, the tweet attracted 32,000 social media likes in just one hour and in the next few days, garnered 525 million impressions.

That’s a pretty quick and easy way to get millions of eyes on your product. And fortunately, it was a positive marketing move. Not all Twitter attempts are equally lauded, however. Consider JCPenney’s 2014 Super Bowl tweet campaign, which many believed were a couple of drunken tweets. (It was actually meant to be a funny attempt at explaining the challenge of texting with mittens, a JCPenney product.) Instead of being famous in their own right, the tweets allowed other brands to piggyback on the confusion.

But in this failure is a lesson for small businesses, says Courtney Scott, senior planner at Huge, a digital agency. “Before inserting your voice into the conversation around a holiday or event, make sure it's relevant and appropriate for your brand,” says Scott. “Many brands have missed the mark by trying to be topical without thinking it through thoroughly. As a small brand, a great way to gain traction is to join the conversation of other influencers and brands. This allows you to enter the frenzy with a leg up.”

Offer Freebies That Tell Your Story

Offer Freebies That Tell Your Story

During this year’s Super Bowl, a commercial by U2 advertised a 24-hour free download of the band’s new song, “Invisible” and introduced their partnership with Bank of America, which was donating $1 for each download to (RED), the AIDS charity co-founded by lead singer Bono.

Even big brands know that free sells. But it’s not just “free” that leaves the impression, says Hughes. “It was very true to Bono, his values, what he believes in,” says Hughes. “Marketing needs to be integrated. The small business needs to think of their story. They need to see how far they can carry their story. And then they need to really leverage amplification through PR and social media to continue to have that story, that event, that opportunity or engagement seen by more people.”

What’s your freebie, and how will it tie into your brand identity and values? Unless you manufacture pens, the commonly distributed freebie writing implement isn’t it. Think broader. If you’re a personal trainer whose passion is getting families to exercise together, offer a free training session to everyone who brings a parent along with them. (And with any luck, a few of those parents will turn into new customers.)

Sponsor a Contest

Sponsor a Contest

A contest is only as successful as the audience it reaches. If you target people who will never buy your product, even a huge number of entries can result in a failed campaign. For this reason, when Intuit was searching for a marketing campaign that would result in downloads of a new accounting program tailored toward small businesses, the first issue Hughes’ firm, Grow Marketing, tackled was figuring out exactly who their target customer was. 

The obvious answer — small businesses — didn’t dig deep enough. “We did some research and found a stat we fell in love with, which was over 70 percent of working Americans daydream about starting their own business,” says Hughes. “And we said, "That is your sweet spot right there. Let's help encourage them to move from dream to reality.’"

The result was an award-winning program called “Just Start.” Intuit provided resources on how to start a small business and ran a contest to give startup cash to companies that received the most votes from users. The campaign netted more than 300,000 software downloads and nabbed Grow Marketing a Warrilow Award for Best Small Business Marketing Campaign.

Surprise Your Customer With Real Experiences

Surprise Your Customer With Real Experiences

In December 2013, WestJet, a Canadian airline, surprised passengers on two flights by first asking them what they wanted for Christmas and then having Santa deliver those gifts via the baggage carousel when they arrived at their destination. Check out the video here.

The campaign worked by using two of Grow Marketing’s core philosophies: real world experiences that can then be amplified to the public. As a result, 250 travelers had their Christmas wishes fulfilled (everything from free airline tickets to toy trains to big-screen TVs). But the real winner was WestJet: The YouTube video received more than 35 million views.

“I don't know their brand and I don't know their unique selling propositions, but I can tell you they're all about family,” says Hughes. “They're all about warmth. They're all about taking care of you. If they can coordinate that, then they can certainly take good care of you while you're on their plane. So this is a great way for them to take their brand values and package them into an experience for people.”

Leverage Social Media in Real Time

Leverage Social Media in Real Time

When Huge, the agency where Scott works, was trying to increase visibility of its client, Cap’n Crunch, it headed to SXSW, the annual film, music and interactivity conference, loaded with the Cap’n himself and lots of Cap’n swag.

The catch? You only got the swag if you could show you tweeted using the custom hashtag #SXSCrunch and followed the Cap’n on Twitter. “From this, we saw huge and immediate organic buzz from major influencers,” says Scott.

Huge also got significant capital from “Crunchgate,” a social media campaign that resulted from the revelation that Cap’n Crunch only had three stripes on his uniform (a real Navy captain has four). What resulted was a humorous social media campaign that got picked up by The Colbert Report and Good Morning America.

If you’re thinking about doing a campaign similar to the Cap’n, Scott says remember one word of advice: Be purposeful. “Find out where your audience is, meet them there and give them a reason to care,” she says. 

“Depending on your business, this could mean demonstrating what makes your product unique through high-quality content that’s inherently entertaining, or using social to implement real-time follow up on customer inquiries or conversations happening in social. It could also be constantly observing and optimizing. The best thing about social is the ability to optimize your strategy in real-time, implementing what you've learned swiftly and intelligently.”

Reach Out to Influencers

Reach Out to Influencers

One vital way to reach your market is to connect with the people who already have their attention, like bloggers and celebrities. But don’t just blindly send out products to everyone and anyone. Again, you have to be targeted in order to have the best results. “Ask yourself: ‘Who are the influencers in my industry?’” says Hughes. If you roast your own coffee beans, the answer might be the restaurants and chefs in your town. If you sell baby products, mom-bloggers who speak to your target age group would be your source.

Grow Marketing ran a successful influencer campaign for Sephora by targeting “influencers known for their viral prowess” who, once introduced to the brand, shared their opinions via social media and their blogs. Grow hosted nearly 150 customized events for these influencers (who doesn’t love trying new makeup?) and as a result, reached a target market that had been largely unaware of Sephora’s new product prior to the launch. 

Don’t underestimate the average Joe’s (or Jane’s) ability to be an influencer. Getting a friend with a huge Facebook following to post about the boost your coffee gives to her day can be enough to give sales a boost, too.

The key to get influencers to respond to your product is to treat them as individuals, says Scott. “Keep your ear to the ground for conversations happening online that directly involve your brand, your product or your industry, and then listen to the needs of each specific influencer,” she says. “Would you send the same cover letter to 20 different jobs? Or the same birthday card to 20 different friends? So you shouldn't start the same conversation or propose the same partnership with 20 different influencers. Show them that you've listened to who they are, what they like and what's relevant to them.”

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