The internet is saturated with articles about why you should be “creative” when it comes to marketing. You’re told over and over again to think “outside the box.” However, very few of these articles actually give you concrete ideas with practical instructions to work from. This is like telling someone to go fishing to feed their family but not teaching them how to fish!
That’s NOT how we do things here!
By the time you are done reading this article, you will have several unconventional marketing tactics that will enable you to quickly create a plan of action and start implementing this plan within one week! Best yet, these unconventional marketing tactics will not cost you any money! Yes, they are free!! That’s the beauty of creative gorilla marketing! On the other hand, these free unconventional marketing tactics have been tested in the real world and they can definitely increase your sales and help you garner new loyal clients.
Just Telling People To “Think Outside the Box” Does NOT Work
Have you ever wondered where the expression, “think outside the box,” comes from? The history is very interesting and serves as another good example of a very useful tip we gave you in our “Reinvent Your Marketing With Innovative Subtlety” article.
Here was the tip in a nutshell:
For marketing ideas and inspiration, scan the titles and abstracts of psychology journals! You can check out the new ones as they come out and spend time perusing the archives that go back for decades.
Okay, let’s continue…
The popular expression, “think outside the box,” originates from a classic psychology experiment performed in the early 1970s that was based on an old puzzle originating in the 1800s. The experiment proved how hard most people find it to break away from established thinking to find solutions that should seem obvious. It also shows how the mind can have mental fences as strong as any physical fences.
The participants were presented with a puzzle called the nine dots puzzle. It was simply three rows of three dots arranged like the squares inside a tick tack toe puzzle. The participants were then told to connect all nine dots using only four straight lines and without lifting their pencils from the paper. These were the only instructions given.
All of the participants began trying to solve the puzzle by drawing four lines within the imaginary square box containing the dots. Only after a long time did twenty percent of the participants realise that they would have to draw OUTSIDE THE BOX in order to solve the puzzle. Most of the participants, the other eighty percent, never solved the puzzle. This is how the expression was coined, you have to “think outside the box” to solve the puzzle. The term was popularised by Mike Vance, a well known motivational speaker.
Of course, after the participants were shown the solution, it seemed obvious to them. In fact, they thought that they SHOULD have thought of it and wondered how they could have missed something so obvious. This type of thinking is what led to follow up experiments in the 1980s that revealed something even more interesting.
In the new experiments, two groups of participants were shown the same nine dot puzzle. One group was given the same instructions as the original experiment. The participants in the second group, however, were also told that the solution to the puzzle would require them to “think outside the box.” Still, however, only twenty-five percent of the second group was able to figure out they needed to draw the lines outside the box to solve the puzzle. This was only a five percent increase from the original experiment!
What have psychologists drawn from this?
Just telling people to “think outside the box” doesn’t mean that most of them can break away from established thinking and actually do so. It doesn’t mean they can come up with unconventional solutions just because they are asked to do so, even when those solutions may seem obvious in retrospect!
That’s why just telling people to “think outside the box” and be creative when devising their marketing strategies doesn’t work for most people.
Most people need more direction than that. They need practical examples and detailed instructions to help them follow through.
And this is exactly what we are going to give you…
Below you will find THREE unconventional marketing tactics that anyone can do… and do for free! Furthermore, these unconventional marketing tactics are almost guaranteed to either increase your sales or steer you to new clients.
Please note, even though you are not being asked to come up with your own “out of the box” ideas, you CAN and SHOULD put your own spin on the three ideas below so you make them your own and tailor fit them to work for your specific business.
1. Create a Newsworthy Story, Write It Up, and Submit It With a Compelling Picture
We’re going to tell you a “secret” that people who organise community events get let in on as they work in the trenches and attempt to spread the word about the work they are doing.
Are you ready?
Most newspapers, and many other print publications, are grossly understaffed and simply do not have enough staff time to write enough articles to fill their papers and publications with engaging material for their readers!
When someone submits a story to them, already written and ready to go, they will very often publish it word for word or with only slight editing!
Did you get that?
Do you see where we are going with this?
Yes, it is possible for you to write a story, submit it to newspapers and other print publications, and have a reasonable expectation that it will indeed get printed just as you write it or very close to it!!! In fact, you often end up with a very grateful editor who will be more than happy to accept and print more stories from you in the future!
WOW… sit back, take a deep breath, and let that sink in for a moment!
Think about how this could potentially be used to market your business.
Are your wheels turning now?
We hope so 🙂
Before you get crazy excited and start thinking you can submit press releases containing blatantly hype about your business and expect to get these printed, this is NOT what we are talking about here! You will need to be much more finessed in your approach for this unconventional marketing tactic to work… and work well. However, once you fully understand how to do this, and you try it once or twice, this can be a source of very effective free marketing you can go back to over and over again!
This well never runs dry!
And… it does not cost a cent!
Okay, let’s look at the details on how to make this work.
First, before you do anything else, you need to put yourself in the mindset of the editor. What is he or she looking for in terms of a news story? To answer this, what types of articles are you drawn to in newspapers and other publications? What articles are other people you know drawn to? What type of articles are really memorable? What type of articles make you smile and give you that “feel good” kind of feeling? What titles grab your attention?
The articles you submit need to be of high perceived value to the editor and to the readers of the newspaper. They need to have a good headline, a good hook, a good story, and some interesting details without including so many details they make the reader’s eyes glaze over. Keep in mind that newspaper articles are often read before people finish that first cup of coffee!
Now, pay very close attention to what we’re about to say and repeat it to yourself at least ten times… print it out and hang it on the refrigerator if you have to…
The write-up you submit CANNOT be an advertorial masquerading as a story!!
In other words, it cannot be something that a reader would view as thinly disguised advertising. It cannot hype your business in an obvious way.
You might want to hang the next statement on the refrigerator too…
The article you submit MUST be written in THIRD person, not first person. This is very important so let’s look at an example so you know for certain what we mean.
Let’s suppose that you and some of your staff have volunteered to serve as chaperones for the high school debate team as they compete in an out of town regional debate contest. Suppose the team would not have been able to go without a certain number of chaperones accompanying them due to a school policy and they were having trouble finding enough chaperones. You could write up a short story about trip and how the students did in the debate contest. You could also perhaps add a bit about an extracurricular activity they participated in or other interesting details. You could also include a small bit about how at the last minute, staff from your company, the XYZ Company, filled in as chaperones so the students wouldn’t have to cancel their trip. If you run a business that includes business mentoring, inspirational speaking, or some other related field, you can write a brief blurb about this as well but take care not to make it a blatant ad for your business.
Okay, now that we have a specific example to work with, let’s talk about the difference between first person and third person… and why you should NEVER use first person and ALWAYS use third person in the articles you submit to editors.
You would NOT want to say something like, “We decided to fill in as chaperones when we found out last minute through Facebook the students were going to have to cancel their trip if they couldn’t find three more chaperones. We also felt it was a good match for us because we coach business owners on how to improve their public presentations.” The sample above is written in first person and it would never be accepted by an editor. Words like “we” and “I” are first person and it shows the reader that someone from XYZ Company is writing the article. This makes it SOUND LIKE an advertorial masquerading as a story and no self-respecting editor is going to accept this as written because their readers would not appreciate reading a story that sounds like an ad. Moreover, the vast majority of newspapers simply don’t have enough staff time to devote to revamping your article written in first person into an article written in third person.
Remember… the fact that newspapers don’t have enough staff time is your KEY advantage and the reason this unconventional marketing method works… newspapers and other print publications are notoriously understaffed, and with the limited staff they have, there just isn’t enough hours in the day to fill their newspapers with really good material for their readers. If you serve pre-written engaging material on a silver platter to the editor (and it doesn’t sound like an ad for you business), they can very quickly scan it, approve it, and run with it… and they’ll be grateful for it!
And… you’ll get FREE advertising from it!
So, let’s convert what was written above in first person into third person. It could go something like, “The ABC High School Debate Team almost lost the opportunity to compete in the regional debate contest they recently won because they were having trouble finding the last three chaperones required by school policy. However, when XYZ Company heard about their plight on a Facebook post, they quickly reshuffled their schedule and volunteered. This saved the day and gave the debate students valuable one-on-one time with local professionals who teach business owners how to improve their public presentations.”
Do you see the difference? Do you see how we snuck in a nice plug for your business?
The second version sounds like a third party person wrote the article, not someone trying to hype their own business, but you STILL get free advertising out of it. This is how you should always write articles submitted to newspapers and other publications. Never use the words “we” or “I” unless they are inside a direct quote from someone who is not affiliated with your business.
Remember, if an editor sees immediate value in what you submit, they will often print it verbatim or close to it IF AND ONLY IF IT REQUIRES LITTLE TO NO EDITING.
Why don’t they want to edit it themselves… aren’t they the “editor?”
TIME! There are only so many hours in the day. If they are understaffed, as most newspapers are, they simply don’t have the staff hours to do much more than scan your write-up, approve it (if they see it as valuable to their readers), and print it.
On the other hand, if you save them time by providing something well written, in third person, that only subtly mentions your business in a positive way, you’ll probably make a friend who will print more write-ups for you in the future.
Now, what about other publications?
We’re not talking about national publications. They are a totally different animal with a completely different set of rules. We’re talking about the “freebie papers” and “freebie publications” that you see in the communities your business serves. If you look in the front or back of these, you’ll find the editor’s name and usually an email. If you don’t see an email, call the papers and get one.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about how to finesse this tactic to make it more successful. The approach you take with the editor is key.
- You should approach the editors very casually. Do not be formal.
- You do NOT want to say you are submitting a story you hope they will publish. This is too formal and sets the wrong tone.
- You do NOT want to say you are a writer submitting a story for their consideration. This is also too formal and sounds like you are asking them for something rather than giving them something.
- You do NOT want to say you represent XYZ company and you are submitting a story about blah blah. Again, this way too formal and they may even suggest you pay them for an advertorial!!!
Instead, try something casual like this:
I think your readers may find this interesting. Below is a little write-up and I’ve attached a great photo.
Then paste in your write-up in PLAIN TEXT (no bolding, underlining, fancy fonts, no html, etc). It’s important to use plain text so they can simply forward it to the right person who can do a simple copy/paste into their program.
Don’t send the write-up as an attachment because that would take extra steps and time on the editor’s part. You want to get them reading it as soon as they open the email.
If you use a word processor like Word to write your article, save it as PLAIN TEXT before you paste it into the email. This will ensure it doesn’t show up with strange formatting or funny characters in whatever email program the editor is using.
Notice that we didn’t try to “sell” the story in the introduction. You do not need to do this, and in fact, may be a turn off to the editor if you try. Let the write-up speak for itself. Even if it is sensational news, you do not need to say so in your short introduction. The editor will figure this out when he or she scans the write-up…. and it’s very important that THEY reach this conclusion rather than you tell them so.
Be sure to include a captivating but straightforward headline at the top of your write-up.
Do not put the name of the writer or ask for a byline. It will likely be printed with no name or simply “staff.” If you ask for a byline or put a name, your chances of having them actually print it will go way down. Getting published is not the goal here.
Note too that you should keep the introduction very brief, as we did above, so you ensure they can read it in only a few seconds. You don’t need to give them any details in the introduction because the write-up will do that.
If you don’t have a great photo, that’s okay. You can submit a story without one. Don’t just submit a photo for the sake of submitting a photo. In the example given above, a picture of the kids smiling after winning their debate contest or one taken during their debate contest would be great. Local papers LOVE to publish pictures of local kids succeeding because there’s always good sentiment in the community for this and it draws readers in and generates some buzz for the paper too. Pictures of animals and seniors are also very popular.
As tempting as it may be sometimes, you should NOT submit multiple photos. Keep it simple for the editor and submit only one. Remember, you are trying to make this easy peazy for the editor!
If you are not a great writer, get someone else to help you. A poorly written story is not going to get printed. However, that being said, you don’t have to be the world’s best writer to write a newspaper article. Also, even if you are a very good writer, try to get someone else to read your article before you submit it and ask for their honest feedback. A subordinate worker may not be the best choice for this because they may hesitate to tell you the full truth about what they think. Pick someone who has no qualms about being brutally honest. If you have never approached a particular editor before, you may want to get multiple opinions before you submit to them the first time. First impressions really matter here.
Now, here’s the real beauty of this innovative marketing tactic…
You can purposefully go out and create stories to submit to the papers and other publications!! Here are just a few ideas to spark your imagination:
- Do you sell homemade dog sweaters, raincoats, etc? Why not put together a doggie fashion show with a menagerie of pooches and invite some of your favorite customers, friends, and family. You could also do this in a public space like a park where you’d draw random people in as they pass by. Then you could submit a write-up about doggie fashion show written in first person and simply mention that all the sweaters and raincoats were made by XYZ company! You should be able to get quite a photo out of this one! You might also want to put something in the background with your URL on it so it will show in the photo but be subtle about it or it will look like an ad.
- Do you run a vintage clothing shop? You could do a small fashion show featuring different time periods and have the attendees vote on the best costume.
- Do you own a plumbing business? Volunteer to give a demonstration on how to fix a running toilet to one of the local civic clubs. Bring a (clean) toilet in and have someone take a great photo from the back showing the crowd and you in the front with the toilet. Now there’s an image people will remember! You could also use a bit of humor in your write-up too for added interest but don’t go overboard.
- Do you sell solar panels? Arrange a free solar tour for one of the local PTA groups (parent teacher associations) of some of the homes and or businesses you’ve set up. Get parents and kids alike on the tour. Ask for quotes as people see the solar panels and talk with your customers and then include a couple of the best ones when you do your write-up. Make the write-up more about the advantages of solar and about the tour and just mention your company name as the organiser of the tour and the supplier of the solar panels. You could potentially quote yourself to demonstrate your expertise but don’t make it sound like an ad.
The possibilities are literally endless when it comes to creating your own stories that you can then write-up yourself, get a great photo, and then submit these to the editors of newspapers and other print publications.
This is an unconventional marketing tactic that never stops giving.
Let Your Favorite Non-Profit(s) Find Clients For You
This unconventional marketing technique will work great for many service oriented businesses such as accountants, website designers, graphic artists, photographers, musicians for special events, landscapers, seamstresses, or people who provides transportation or runs errands.
Here’s the basic idea. You offer your services for free to one or more of your favorite non-profits with the stipulation that they have to find a certain number of PAID clients for you. The number can vary of course, depending on how much time and work you give them.
Most non-profits heavily depend on volunteers to keep them going. In fact, many non-profits wouldn’t survive without the help of DOZENS of volunteers. Examples of these include food banks, meals on wheels, animal shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, museums, interpretive centers, non-profits supporting after school programs, non-profits supporting seniors, free literacy programs, local chapters of national groups like the American Cancer Foundation and Habitat For Humanity, and “friends” groups like “Friends of ABC Park.”
The volunteers who serve non-profits tend to be tight knit group. They all know each other, each other’s spouses, each other’s kids, and each other’s friends. They also tend to be well networked into the community and passionate about helping their non-profit succeed. If you can offer one or more non-profits a free service that will help them succeed and fulfill their valuable mission, their volunteers will automatically become a loyal supporter of you, especially if they sense you truly care about their mission. They will also be willing to tap into their EXTENSIVE network to help you if the request is reasonable.
If is perfectly acceptable for you to approach the director or another key person at a non-profit and propose a barter arrangement where you provide a valuable service for them at no charge in exchange for them finding you a certain number of paying clients. So, for example, if you are a musician and they host public fundraising events, you could offer to provide free music at three of their events if they would help you find six paying gigs. If you are a website designer, and they need a new website, or an old website redesigned, you could offer to do this for them at no charge in exchange for them helping you to find three new website clients plus a small “designed and maintained by” link to your homepage at the bottom of their pages.
This is a completely underutilised method of unconventional marketing in part because people are simply afraid to ask for such an arrangement. However, once you do it for the first time, even if you are rejected (they might not need the services you offer), you’ll subsequently find it much easier to do. Further, most non-profits are grateful to get free services because they usually operate on such a tight budget and it means they can put what limited money they have into other much needed places.
This unconventional marketing method is also underutilised because people simply don’t think about doing it. We have gotten so far removed from the interdependent barter based society we once enjoyed in the 1800s. It was a time when people really knew how to help each other out. If a farmer broke his arm, neighboring farmers might plow his field for him and chop wood for his family. People might not have money to pay the doctor but they could make him a nice home cooked meal or fix his wagon wheel for him. There was something really genuine and personal in how a barter society worked and we have definitely lost something special in the largely capitalistic world we now live in. Bartering with non-profits is one way to get some of this back so you may actually get much more than marketing for your business out of the arrangement.
It is important that you pick the non-profit(s) you approach based on an admiration and respect for what they do. Don’t just approach a non-profit with this idea because you think they have the largest network or it’s the closest one to your office or home! You need to be PASSIONATE about their cause. You need to care about the people, animals, or places they serve and genuinely like the approach they take. Bartering is not like exchanging money for services. It happens on a very personal human level. It happens at the level of your heart and soul and their heart and soul you really need to approach it this way.
Let’s look at another specific example on how this could work. Suppose you love animals and there is a “no kill” shelter in your community where you and your family adopted a dog. Your kids always beg to stop by and see the animals when you pass this place. You help out when you can. Your spouse is pestering you about adopting another dog, or maybe a cat. Maybe you have several friends who have also adopted animals from this shelter and you are really impressed with how well they treat the animals with the limited resources they have. They take the dogs on walks. They play with the cats. You’re all in heart and soul! You like them and they like you.
You see they’re having a really hard time adopting out their older dogs and cats and you want to help them improve their adoption rate. You are a photographer, a web designer, and you know a good writer who can write fun and interesting bios for each animal. You offer to design special webpages for their older pets to help them get adopted faster and then maintain these pages. In exchange, you propose that they ask their volunteers to help you find some paying clients. Explain that you’d love to help because you truly support what they do but you also need to support your family with paying clients.
Use Humor For Crazy Good Results
One of the best April Fool’s Day jokes of all time was a 1998 PR stunt by Burger King. The King of Burgers took out a full page ad in the USA Today newspaper distributed across the entire United States. It announced with much fanfare that they were adding a new item to their menu. The headline was:
Burger King introduces the left-handed Whopper:
Finally, after years of neglect, left-handed eaters will no longer need to conform to a right-handed eating method when enjoying America’s favorite burger.
The ad then showed a huge graphic of a left-handed Whopper with arrows pointing out all the purported changes they were making to accommodate the left-handed eater. The lower bun was being modified to redistribute the weight so it would balance better in left hand. The sesame seeds were being redistributed in such a way as to reduce how many fell off during eating it left-handed. And… everything was rotated 180 degrees to give a better grip to a left-handed person.
This gave new meaning to their famous slogan, “Have it your way!”
The response was overwhelming! Burger King was stampeded by thousands of left-handed individuals who wanted to try the new burger made just for them and even more right-handed people who wanted to see for themselves what the difference was! Many of them specifically clarified that they wanted a right-handed burger.
Of course it was humorous ad but many people were totally convinced until the next day when burger King announced it had all been a big hoax to celebrate April Fool’s Day. As people laughed about it, Burger King made millions off this unconventional humerous marketing ploy and people are still joking about it today.
You can sell almost anything if you use the right blend of humor.
Don’t believe us?
Do you remember Pet Rocks from the 1970s? People went ape crazy over them for about a year and they were one of the most popular holiday gifs ever.
In case you missed that eye-blinding psychedelic decade, or you were too stoned to remember, we’ll give you the 4-1-1 on Pet Rocks.
“Pet Rocks” were just smooth pebbles from a beach in Mexico with cute little eyes pasted on them — that’s all — they didn’t even have a mouth, nose, or ears! It was the humorous packaging that came with them that made them so popular. They came in a cardboard box that read, “This box contains one genuine pedigreed Pet Rock” and it had obvious breathing holes just like you’d expect for a live animal. When you opened the box, the little Pet Rock was resting on straw in the shape of a nest, and the instruction manual entitled, “The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock,” that came with each pet rock was hilarious. You were instructed on how to best entertain your Pet Rock and you could teach your pet rock to do various tricks like sit,” “stay,” “roll over,” and “attack.” We’ll let your imagination fill in the details 🙂
Pet rocks were the genius of a Gary Dahl who was the creative director of an advertising agency. He got the idea after hearing people in a bar complaining about their pets. He began to muse that pet rocks don’t need food or water. You don’t have to walk them or pick up their poop! And.. they never die on you! They can be your friend for life.
Pet Rocks sold like hotcakes. In fact, about 1.5 million were sold at around $4.00 a piece, making Gary Dahl a millionaire in less than a year. The rocks only cost him a penny a piece and the packaging and straw was dirt cheap as well so most of the $4.00 was pure profit.
Humor sells — case closed!!
Look for unconventional ways to use humor to market your products and or services. If you are not the type of person that is a natural born humorist, that’s okay. You can be the note taker. Put together a brainstorming group of your friends and family. Tell them they are your “humor consultants” and give them full authority to razz on your products and or services and give you the zaniest ideas they can think of. Bring in samples of your products or lists of your services for inspiration. If you have brochures or other literature, bring those along too. Show your humor consultants your website too.
Just like Gary Dahl had his inspiration while sitting in a bar hanging out with a bunch of people joking about their pets and feeding off each other, the social dynamics of your brainstorming group will generate plenty of humorous ideas for you. We are after all the funniest of the primates with the ability to crack each other up once the group gets going. The key to success is to keep your group happy with plenty of fun delicious food (make your pizza with traditional and weird toppings?), and maybe even make them a bit giddy with some special cocktails. Then let the ideas run wild!
We’d love to get some feedback and hear success stories on how these ideas work out for you!