No matter how amazing or inventive your products and services are, if you want your startup or personal business to succeed, you’re going to need to grease the wheels a little. The bad news? Old school marketing strategies like mail lists and word-of-mouth are often not enough to break into the competitive online business world. The good news? A little creativity goes a long way. Here are five startups who decided to take the road less travelled.
Shobha Gave Out Pairs of Underwear
Shobha, a hair removal studio in New York City, decided to promote their product by piggybacking on the success of the city’s annual No Pants Subway Ride. Organized by Improv Everywhere, the event has inspired copycats all over the world and gave the owners of Shobha the opportunity to promote their services and to partner with local artists for better community engagement. The salon initially gave out free pairs of branded underwear. The next year, they offered vouchers for free hair removal before the event so customers could show off their smooth skin come no-pants day.
Mailbox Created a Wait List for Their Site
When the now-defunct email management app Mailbox launched, they did so with a creative demo video that garnered more than 100,000 views within four hours. Millions joined a wait list for the service, and the makers of Mailbox did what other companies in their place may have tried to avoid — they let these customers wait. Users could see where they were in the online queue at the push of a button, and this genius mix of transparency and anticipation made the app a success at the time.
Grasshopper Sent People a Sweet Surprise
When Massachusetts-based phone service GotVMail decided it was time to rebrand, they decided to get a little creative. Choosing the new moniker Grasshopper, the startup shipped out 5,000 chocolate-covered grasshoppers to influential people in the business world, as well as an accompanying video on the power of entrepreneurship. The unusual campaign was a big success, and garnered plenty of media attention for the then-tiny company.
Dollar Shave Club Filmed a Viral Video
Viral videos are no picnic to make, but damned if Dollar Shave Club doesn’t make it look easy. On a shoestring budget of only $4,500, this online male grooming site made a hilarious and informative video that instantly became an Internet hit (it currently boasts 22 million views on YouTube, and counting). It doesn’t hurt that founder Michael Dubin, who also stars in the video, has more than enough charisma and good looks to sell anything. The ad translated to immediate business success, and the company now has over 2 million subscribers to their service—20% of which are women.
99designs Asked Users to Design a Gap Logo
99designs is an online marketplace where graphic designers can offer their expertise to companies and entrepreneurs, a little like Upwork does for freelance writers. But what put this tech startup on the map was its focus on community and customer engagement through its series of logo design contests. For example, in 2010, 99designs took advantage of the negative reaction to Gap’s logo redesign by offering cash prizes to design something better. The site received over 4,000 entries.
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Feature image: Dan Carlson