Get Big Marketing Results With Little Cash

Don't dry up your funds with expensive marketing methods. Instead, make a name for your company with creative (and outlandish) grassroots methods.

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By Kim T. Gordon

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Q: We have a very limited marketing budget. What can you suggest to make our company stand out and bring in new customers?

A: Marketing doesn't have to cost a lot to have a big impact. Thinking outside the box--from outlandish stunts to quirky grassroots marketing--can make your company stand out. The challenge lies in making your promotion memorable, consistent with your company image, closely linked to your product or service message, and, above all, motivational.

Get Customers Involved
The best way to motivate customers for very little money is to get them involved on an emotional or experiential level. Here's a great example featuring a familiar product. The LifeSavers five-flavor pack has been around for years, and the company has consistently studied consumer response to each individual flavor. But it wasn't until LifeSavers considered phasing out its pineapple flavor that it turned research into a highly effective promotion.

LifeSavers set up a special Web site and toll-free number asking customers to vote to keep pineapple or replace it with strawberry or watermelon. When more than 1 million passionate responses were tallied overall, the pineapple flavor was saved from extinction. LifeSavers got tremendous publicity from media reports on the company's responsiveness to the overwhelming public demand. And LifeSavers energized its customer base with an extremely low-cost promotion, when compared with what it would have paid to gain the equivalent number of gross impressions through advertising or any other marketing means.

Entrepreneurs often use low-cost grassroots marketing tactics to introduce products. Bill Flaherty, the 45-year-old president of Toy Craze, makers of Crazy Bones plastic toys, used scout meetings, club groups, fairs and shows for toy demos to get his product in front of the target audience and create a buzz. His company eventually landed Crazy Bones in a McDonald's Happy Meal, plus chain stores Zany Brainy and Learning Express, and remains committed to grassroots marketing.

Make It Memorable
You don't have to host a bungee jumping contest to stand out. Consider the San Francisco mission-district restaurant, Casa Sanchez, which offered free lunch for life to anyone who got a tattoo of their Jimmy the Corn Man logo. When the contest was announced with a simple flier in the restaurant window, two local nightclub employees got the tattoos and spread the buzz. If you think this is too outlandish a proposition to be effective, note that through the course of the promotion, 39 people were willing to be tattooed with the sombrero-wearing mariachi boy riding a blazing corn cob, according to an Associated Press story. That's right, the Associated Press, LA Weekly, USA Today and local TV stations were among the media that picked up the story, affording the restaurant extensive coverage for what was essentially a free promotion.

If you can't induce customers to tattoo themselves with your company logo, try the next best thing. Use giveaways with your logo in conjunction with a promotion. During the Thanksgiving 2000 holiday weekend, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce gave away 3,000 pairs of sunglasses in New York's Times Square with the Web address printed on the earpiece, all designed to build awareness of high-tech career possibilities in the Atlanta area.

Link to Your Company Message
Whether you use outrageous stunts or basic grassroots marketing, you still have to rely on strategic thinking to develop a core message and strategy. While stunts may be platforms for your product, they must be relevant and communicate something memorable that reflects well on your company. The bottom line is to have a theme you can support with other tactics, not just a single event. Then get creative by combining fun with customer involvement, and you'll grab attention and make your message stand out.

Kim T. Gordon
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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