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When we look for tips and inspiration for our next marketing campaign, we often look to established brands. And why not? They’ve been there, done that, and got the sales figures to prove it. But there are plenty of startups that took marketing to a whole new level. Creative, innovative, and even downright unusual, it’s marketing with a twist. Consequently, they have a lot to teach us. Read on for some unique startup marketing lessons that you can adapt to your business today.
Mint: deliver genuine value in creative ways
The personal finance sector is a profitable niche — and a populous one. So getting personal finance app Mint noticed against an ocean of competitors was an immense undertaking. But Mint achieved it. How? Simply through delivering value.
The idea that a brand should deliver value to its audience is nothing new. The notion is at the core of every successful marketing campaign: deliver value, and they will come. It’s a Field Of Dreams approach that drives engaged customers to your brand.
But while this only forms a single facet of most brand’s campaigns, Mint took it one step further. And then another step. And then 100 more.
Mint’s marketing plan was, in essence: “Whatever we can do, basically, for cheap or for free.” So the Mint team turned to content marketing on overdrive, creating hundreds of high-quality pieces of content that were genuinely useful and actionable.
From useful infographics about financial data protection to engaging features such as Trainwreck Tuesday (which highlighted real personal finance disaster stories), Mint’s blog covered it all. Its content even regularly appeared on public forums like Reddit and Digg. Mint’s blog delivered truly actionable advice to a niche young professional audience who needed personal finance advice but didn’t know where to go. And each blog was accompanied by a sign-up list for its beta product to generate leads.
As a result of this strategy, Mint’s audience soared within just a few months. Finally, the app was sold to financial software giant Intuit for a cool $170 million.
Takeaway Tip
In its most basic form, content marketing is a relatively simple strategy. Yes, it requires time, effort, and financial expenditure to create. But when compared to social or email campaigns, it’s a powerful and relatively inexpensive marketing channel. Indeed, when done right, strong content marketing can net you dividends.
The lesson we can learn from Mint is that sheer quality wins over quantity every time.
Sure, you could pour all your money into content creation and syndication. But if it doesn’t meet the user’s needs with comprehensive, relevant, and actionable information, then it’s all filler and no thriller. As well as creating high-quality content, Mint delivered it in a diverse array of formats too: infographics, videos, podcasts, and so on. This makes for an accessible and engaging content strategy that is always fresh.
The time it takes to create each different type varies, but when it enhances your marketing so significantly in such a short space of time as it did for Mint, it’s well worth the expenditure.
Brandie: There's always a new way of doing something
Influencer marketing is no longer the bold new approach that daring brands adopt to drive sales and expand their reach. Every business, big and small, uses influencers to help them grow and reach a wider customer base.
Now influencer marketing is so ubiquitous, is it possible to genuinely change the way it’s done?
Swedish nano influencer platform Brandie seems to think so.
Launched by engineering graduates Douglas Andersson and Pranav Kosuri, Brandie claims to be the first social loyalty platform that rewards nano influencers — that’s average users like you or me — for sharing positive content about brands online. You simply download the Brandie app and sign up for the brands you want to promote. You then go through a vetting process to ensure you’re 100% behind the brand and, once cleared, you receive discount codes, freebies, and other rewards for sharing brand-positive content — simple.
Influencer marketing is a strong customer acquisition strategy, but it’s not without its flaws. It’s often difficult to track or quantify ROI and reach accurately, not to mention fraught with legal issues (as exemplified by the recent Fyre Festival scandal).
But Brandie’s approach circumvents the tricky issues of poor ROI measurement, dubious campaign reach, and often pricey costs of identifying and partnering with macro (or even micro) influencers. But beyond that, Brandie also turns the influencer marketing status quo on its head — no small feat for a scrappy startup.
Takeaway Tip
There’s always a new way of doing things. Even in the world of business, replete as it is with great minds doing great things on an almost daily basis, there are always new avenues to explore.
Brandie took on the established way of doing influencer marketing and turned it on its head. How? By looking at the inherent flaws in the system and innovating, going through iterations of ideas to find a new way of doing things. Don’t look at the challenges of your current marketing strategy as set in stone. View them as challenges that have a solution. Visiting the Moon was once seen as impossible, but today it’s old hat.
The accepted status quo only remains as such until someone challenges it — be daring and be that someone.
Zendesk: take a plunge with alternative marketing
Many of you reading this have likely heard of Zendesk, a tech brand that provides customer service and ticketing software for thousands of businesses around the world. But you probably haven’t heard of Zendesk Alternative, the Seattle-based indie rock band that never was.
Way back in 2013, Zendesk noticed that a lot of searches online were for alternatives to its product. Not content with letting this traffic slip through its fingers, Zendesk created an entirely fictional band to hijack this valuable traffic.
Zendesk Alternative’s website was optimized for its eponymous search phrase and appeared on the top spot for organic searches. The company’s site traffic even increased significantly as a result of the unusual campaign. Not bad for a band that doesn’t exist.
Takeaway Tip
To be clear: the lesson here is not that you should go out and create a fictional band for your startup. Not only has it been done, but Zendesk also had a significant budget and a crack SEO team behind the campaign, something otherwise out of reach for most startups. But it is a fine demonstration of the power of alternative marketing.
In the saturated world of marketing, customers (and investors) face a constant barrage of ad messages. There’s a lot of competition, and it takes something big to make yourself stand out against the crowd. That’s not to say you should eschew traditional forms of marketing altogether. But adopting a genuinely unique approach to getting your brand seen can pay dividends if you get it right.
I can’t tell you exactly how to achieve this — that’s down to you. But as you ideate, don’t shy away from ideas that might seem outlandish or unfeasible.
On paper, a fictional band named after a search query sounds weak. But in practice, it drove huge success for Zendesk.
Looking at other brands for marketing inspiration is a savvy move, but it’s not just the established heavy-hitters that you can learn from. There are plenty of new kids on the block that can teach you a thing or two.
Get some inspiration from the examples above and create a unique marketing campaign that drives incredible results.

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