It’s easy for an established brand to sell the latest iPhone or Air Jordan sneakers. Those products are trendy and in high demand.
It’s more challenging to sell unsexy products or services, especially if you just started your business or are not an established brand.
Most products don’t sell themselves.
If you run a cleaning service, run a neighborhood cafe, or sell t-shirts, it can be intimidating to stand out in a noisy marketplace.
Yet millions of small businesses and startups sell unsexy products and services. And many of them are successful.
What’s their secret?
Successful small businesses and startups that sell unsexy products or services often spice up their marketing to help the products and services stand out.
Here are 6 ways your small business or startup can spice up marketing for unsexy products and services.
1. Split test content formats
Traditional media and ads are expensive, inflexible, have limited reach, and intimidate small business owners.
Social media marketing offers a compelling alternative, especially for small businesses and startups.
Social platforms have disrupted how people consume content, and the types of content people love. As a business owner or marketer, you can experiment with short-form videos, graphic design and illustration, kinetic typography, podcasts, and text-to-speech audio/video content.
Don’t assume that one type of content is better than another for your business. Although you’ll read many success and failure stories, each business is unique, and what works for one company may not work for your business.
Begin with some split testing of content formats and observe the results over a set time. And pick the content formats that resonate best with your target audience.
Pick content that best engages your audience. Some people respond better to short written text (like on Twitter). Others prefer visual content (Instagram, for example). Others love short-form videos (TikTok, for example).
Whatever formats and platforms you choose, you must be able to create content quickly and inexpensively. Otherwise, you won’t be able to develop sustainable marketing campaigns.
Fortunately, many content tools offer templates for different types of visual content. These templates can be a good foundation for your brand’s visual style and identity. And if you truly want your brand to stand out, find an expert graphic designer at crowdspring to create customized designs perfect for your business brand.
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2. Tell a story
But not all stories are memorable. Personal and emotional stories resonate better with consumers. Paul J. Zak explains:
stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.
According to Zak, a compelling story has two components:
The first is the “hook” – the part of the story that captures and holds the audience’s attention. Hooks vary. It could be a direct question addressed to the audience or a pause in a video.
But stories aren’t solely powerful because they have a hook. The best stories also inspire empathy and help you build brand equity.
Savvy marketers and business owners can leverage human psychology to improve storytelling. When we hear or see emotional stories, our brains release oxytocin, a neurochemical responsible for feelings of empathy and attachment. That’s why some marketing messages and ads resonate better than others.
Marketing psychology can turn typical marketing strategies into winners. When creating your content, don’t just sell a product; tell a compelling story. Storytelling should be an essential part of your brand strategy. What problem does your product or service solve, who needs it, and how does it improve their life?
3. Don’t be afraid to be funny
Emotional marketing can also work through comedy. Humor, after all, is relatable across most cultures and languages.
That doesn’t mean that you have to crack jokes left and right. Humor shows that you’re willing to laugh with your audience and not take things too seriously.
A personable voice invites natural engagement from your audience and gives you the freedom to “unwind” once in a while.
Content invoking positivity, amusement, and laughter gets shared 46% more than posts that don’t use humor. Funny or witty posts can become viral because that’s what humans do: we share our experiences with our social circles.
You can leverage this strategy even if you’re not naturally funny. Look for opportunities to create humor based on what you observe.
Look at trends in your industry or general trends reflecting what’s popular in the world now. And create short-form content that leverages those trends.
For example, people are talking about two hot Netflix shows: “Inventing Anna” and “The Tinder Swindler.” The shows are about ways that people create sophisticated scams and grifts.
People and brands have been creating funny content that connects with these trends. Check out this popular meme posted by TrungTPhan on Twitter. It is inconspicuously captioned: “how much would [this] startup raise?” and asks whether four notorious scam artists could raise a lot of money from investors for a new startup. This post has spawned more memes related to the same topic.
So, that funny meme you saw on Twitter? Share it for the laughs, but remember to circle back to promoting your brand. How can the meme help you tell your brand story? This is why hashtags such as #relate or #thestruggleisreal remain popular.
Study how popular brands like Wendy’s, Netflix, and Taco Bell use humor to engage their audience.
Keep your online marketing tactics at a healthy mix of informative, funny, and sales-related. You are more likely to grow your audience by mixing up the content instead of talking about your product 100% of the time.
4. Edu-tain your followers
Most brands focus on selling products and services. Few educate their customers and prospects in ways that create value. This is one way your business can stand out.
Teaching or educating does not mean sharing information solely about your products or services. You can also help people learn how better to use your products (or similar products).
For example, if you have a construction business, consider creating how-to videos that teach people how to repair drywall holes or install an electric outlet. Don’t worry that this content will cannibalize your business. Most people don’t have the time, skills, or energy to do those things themselves. But they will appreciate that you took the time to help them learn.
While edu-taining, add some “spice” to how you present your content. Music, a GIF animation, or emojis can make your content look more “fun,” inviting, and dynamic. Modern tools make it easy to add these elements to your content.
Even dull information can be fun when presented uniquely and creatively.
5. Ask your audience to participate
Don’t underestimate the power of an excellent online challenge. Gamification can be a powerful marketing tool.
Interactive content like challenges, polls, quizzes, contests, and trivia are excellent social media tactics that lead to engagement.
Interactive content is successful because it asks your audience to react and participate.
Use interactive content to ask fun trivia questions. People are often happy to be the “first” to answer because they enjoy competition and love winning. You don’t have to always offer a prize.
Or, if you want to make a contest or challenge more official and compelling, consider what could push people to participate. What’s in it for them? A small prize or recognition will often suffice.
Make your audience work a little bit to get that prize. Ask them to tag friends, share your posts, or follow you on social platforms.
But, ensure that competitions or promotions serve the growth of your business. They can be fun, but they are merely a distraction unless they help you grow your business.
6. Flirt with absurdity
Sometimes, your product is so unsexy that you have to create an unconventional strategy.
Absurdity in social media can be genius when it works, but risky and even reputation-killing if unsuccessful.
So how can you tread this tactic more strategically?
You can use absurdity to capture your audience but do it sparingly and in a manner that is also authentic to your brand.
Ogilvy UK’s Valentine’s Day campaign for Relate, a UK-based relationship charity organization, offers a good example.
The campaign visuals borrowed heavily from 1970s aesthetics from adult magazines that inspire an “OMG, did they really go there?” reaction. A typical campaign visual showed an extreme close-up of a woman’s partially opened lips with the message “This Valentine’s, use your tongue.”
That approach can get raunchy and crude quickly.
However, the creative genius was a strategic use of captions. For this campaign, the caption read: “Gifts don’t make relationships. Conversations do.”
As you can imagine, people paid attention and widely shared the visuals.
This strategy can work even for brands that sell unremarkable products. The Twitter account for Steak-umm (frozen beef sheets) is notorious for how it approaches social media. The content posted by that account focuses on complex and controversial social issues and is far removed from the product. Sometimes, they play with words to connect the social problems to their product. The brand’s unconventional approach has made the brand famous, increased engagement, and has helped them grow their business.
So when trying to be interesting, flirt with the provocative, the crazy, or the absurd, but don’t go overboard and let your message become offensive. You don’t want to lose your target audience by trying too hard to engage them.
And if you’re not too sure yet about how to play around absurdity, you can take the light version – trending memes and the latest viral videos. Those who get high shares and likes are reasonable indications that they’re well-received by a mass audience. Be creative in using the trend to promote your products or services.
And most of all, be patient. Crafting a content strategy, especially for unsexy products and services, takes time and experience. Look at other unsexy brands and learn from their successes and failures.
And remember, regardless of your approach, be sure that your social content strategy helps you grow your business.