8 Uncommon Ways to Market Your Brand

Use These Unorthodox Approaches To Make Marketing Statement

Uncommon MarketingWant to invigorate your image and really get the attention of prospects? Use these unorthodox approaches from ad agencies and marketing firms to make a marketing statement.

If you want an education in utterly unconventional marketing, then Wexley School for Girls is the place to go. But when you walk in, don’t expect to see chalkboards, trophy cases and plaid skirts – although there are rubber chickens hanging in the front windows. Wexley, you see, isn’t a school at all. Instead, it’s one of the country’s most outlandish, untraditional and obsessively creative ad agencies.

“Wexley is a made up word and the rest of our name is sort of from a double dare,” says Cal McAllister, Wexley’s co-founder and headmaster. “We wanted it to be the beginning of an interesting conversation. We look for every opportunity to make a creative impression.”

Indeed, in every artistic sense, Wexley aims to be different – almost inventing peculiarities that go far beyond an oddball name and a few street-view props. The firm’s Seattle office, for example, is sectioned off into rooms modeled after a butcher shop, a Chinese restaurant and Studio 54, while some work stations resemble miniature golf holes. Wexley’s campaigns, meanwhile, which include wrapping a giant scarf around a city building and bringing an elaborate snow day to Austin, TX, are equally bizarre. It’s just the way McAllister likes it.

“We can make people uncomfortable, but our clients have come to expect that we’re different,” he says. “We do a lot of experiential marketing, event work and stunts. We’re a fan factory and we try to customize each experience.”

Of course, not every advertising firm has the means or the desire to be like Wexley. Still, there are plenty of unusual ways to make your marketing approach more engaging and unique. Read on for eight offbeat ideas that will help any company stand out.

#1 – Develop an Experience
For 250 passengers, it was a Christmas miracle. For WestJet Airlines, it was pure video marketing genius. “Never in our wildest imagination did we think it would become as big as it did,” says Robert Palmer, manager of public relations for WestJet.

Last November, before passengers boarded two Calgary-bound WestJet flights, they were greeted by a video Santa who appeared on the screen of a kiosk. One by one, passengers listed what they wanted from Santa for Christmas, in what seemed like just a fun, tis-the-season gesture. Instead, it was the first step in an elaborate shoot that included 18 hidden cameras.

“We began planning it in August,” Palmer said. “We had 150 WestJetters – our employees – involved, plus we hired some external help and a studio.”

Why so many people? Because WestJet had a lot of shopping to do. As the flights were in the air, WestJet employees raced to Calgary stores to buy every item the passengers asked for from Santa. The gifts were wrapped in blue and white paper, tagged with passenger names and readied in the baggage claim area. After landing, passengers waiting for their luggage instead found the gifts rolling along the carousel conveyer belt.

“It was an opportunity to have fun and celebrate at a magical time of year,” Palmer says.

The raw footage, filled with shocked faces, hugs and high-fives, was edited into a five-and-a-half-minute YouTube video that went viral (now with 35 million views) almost as soon as it was released. “All we hoped is that people would see it and enjoy it,” says Palmer.

WestJet’s gift-giving bonanza is maybe the ultimate illustration of experiential marketing, a fancy term for letting customers participate directly in a product or service. WestJet passengers were unknowingly stars in the best commercial the company has ever done. So what does WestJet have planned for next Christmas? “It’s intimidating thinking ahead,” Palmer says. “It has to be something completely different.”

#2 – Game it Out
Gamification is one of those advertising buzzwords that’s been around since 2002, so maybe you’ve heard of it. But don’t think the strategy just involves holding contests and giving away prizes – at least not anymore.

“What we try to do in our game design is, in key moments, nudge people to perform behaviors,” says Zach Bodnar, a senior architect at technology firm Badgeville. “We’re applying psychology to the user interface.”

An example might help make some sense of things. Web-based Kaplan University was having trouble with dropouts and many of its students were underperforming. So Badgeville, which offers customized gaming programs, designed real-time classroom “missions” to get Kaplan students more engaged. Students were rewarded through an on-screen, real-time point system that instructors could control. “It became a competition among students,” Bodnar says. “More of them asked good questions, helped peers and consumed more content.”

Since the program’s launch, Kaplan students have spent 17% more time in class and 85% of enrollees have chosen harder coursework. Grades, meanwhile, have improved by 9%. “They achieved very specific goals,” Bodnar says.

OK, but how exactly can any of this benefit ad specialty companies? Well, imagine your website becoming a game board, giving customers a chance to earn discounts for sharing your products or making purchases. Think how you could drive traffic to your trade show booth by posting an onsite social media leaderboard, awarding medals for taking photos. Or, consider how you could reel in the best young talent by holding interactive monthly sales tournaments.

“It’s really about interaction,” Bodnar says. “We’re bringing motivation to marketing.”

#3 – Become a Stunt Master
Flash mobs are so passé. Now, pillow fights in the streets of Los Angeles – that’s more like it. “We’re hiring two attractive girls, putting them in pajamas and we’ll get them pillow fighting,” says David Murdico, managing partner at ad firm Supercool Creative. “We’ll move them around to different locations or maybe we’ll even hire a couple of marathon runners.”

Murdico’s plan is part of a publicity stunt Supercool is organizing for one of its clients, PJs Sleep Company – a retailer that specializes in luxurious beddings, stylish linens, and yes, really soft pillows. “People will be driving down the street and hopefully stopping to capture the action on their cell phones,” Murdico says. “It can become known as the longest pillow fight ever.”

Supercool’s street scheme is certainly trendy, especially in city centers. Live stunts, mostly orchestrated to market movies and TV shows, have recently featured a frightening mechanical baby, a giant rabbit and a telekinetic coffee shop surprise, complete with an actor getting flung several feet up a fake brick wall.

But not all live stunts have to be expensive and some can even pay for themselves. Murdico, for example, is thinking about taking his idea to local bars. “We’ll have sponsored pillow fight nights,” he says.

#4 – Hire an Outsider
Are you the kind of person who would rather sell than spend time marketing? Or do you have a big marketing idea that you just can’t get off the ground? Then management firm Chief Outsiders may be able to help. “It doesn’t always make sense to hire a full-time chief marketing officer,” says Art Saxby, the Houston-based company’s CEO. “We have part-time CMOs that can come in, work one or two days a week and oversee an implementation.”

Chief Outsiders’ executives are paid by the project and don’t require traditional employee benefits, like health insurance. Yet, once hired, they become part of a firm’s leadership team, strategizing, organizing and executing marketing plans. Plus, they can constantly tap into Chief Outsiders’ peer CMO network for advice.

“This is not a loose confederation of smart people,” Saxby says. “These are executives that have worked for companies like Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and AT&T.”

#5 – Employ Walking Billboards
It started as a joke, but it’s become one of the most successful campaigns ad firm Cornett IMS has ever run. “We basically put tiny billboards in beards,” says Whit Hiler, the exec from Cornett who came up with the novel idea. “It was at first a self-promotion piece, but then we got clients on board as partners.”

Hiler’s plan was simple: find men with bushy beards and a large number of social media followers. Then place little plastic boards into the best beards using a hair barrette. Finally, pay the men $5 a day. Among Cornett’s clients that have joined in the promotional fun are A&W Restaurants and Dollar Shave Club. “It’s so absurd,” Hiler says, “but we’ve earned a ton of free media from it.”

Of course, beardvertising, as it’s called, is just one way to push native advertising. Any firm, ad specialty companies included, can pay people to wear temporary body art, shave logos into their hair, or just carry around catchy signs – all in the name of marketing.

#6 – Go Three Dimensional
It’s possible the hottest tech trend of 2014 will be 3-D printing, an idea marketers are just beginning to explore. “There’s 100 different ways this could go,” says Doug Williams, co-founder of Captured Dimensions. “A lot of the 3-D printing patents are falling off, so there’s more competition. It’s new, so we’re doing a lot of educating.”

What might take a modeler hundreds of hours to design, Captured Dimensions can acquire in an instant in its 80-camera Texas studio. “This is photo-real technology,” says Williams. “We can scan people or pets – living things – and create content.”

Williams concedes that basic 3-D printers are still inefficient, although prices are falling – you can now pay less than $1,000 for a serviceable machine. More elaborate 360-degree setups can produce high-quality replicas much faster, though. For example, Coca-Cola recently launched its new mini bottle in Israel by printing tiny 3-D figurines of contest winners. The scanning, computer work and printing were all done on the spot in a design lab inside a Coke factory.

#7 – Follow Buying Signals
Software firm Vocus has engineered a way to put social monitoring on steroids. “We’re able to look out across Twitter and identify people expressing a need or a desire for a service,” says Natalia Dykyj, director of product management at the Maryland-based company.

What’s so enticing for marketers is that Vocus can actually track and anticipate buying signals. Let’s say someone has their bike stolen in Brooklyn and tweets about it. Vocus flags the tweet and then passes on the information to one of its clients, a bike shop in Vinegar Hill. The shop can tweet at the victim of the theft and offer a special deal on a new bike.

“This is behind-the-scenes technology that allows you to compel action,” says Dykyj.

Certainly, promotional products companies could benefit from this targeted marketing as well, getting notice of community events, product launches or even complaints about the competition.

#8 – Project a Hologram
A crowd of 3,000 Burger King franchise owners couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Up on stage was the fast-food chain’s late founder, Jim McLamore, giving a three-and-a-half minute speech and even interacting with the company’s current CEO. How was it possible? “It was probably the coolest hologram we’ve ever done,” says Nick Vilardell, founder of 360BrandVision. Even before the famous Tupac hologram debuted in 2012, brands from Lexus to Google have wowed audiences with illusions. Storefronts, as Diesel has proven in Denmark, make particularly alluring spots for holograms – especially when models change their clothes in windows.

“We’ve definitely had a lot more interest in holograms lately,” says Vilardell. “People are becoming numb to LCD displays. We’re now doing holoposters, where an image is reflected off of glass.”

Holograms have been appearing for years at trade shows in Europe and they’re being used at airports in the U.S. “Mobile phone manufacturers are also showing major interest,” Vilardell says.

Speaking of mobile, portable holograms – that ad specialty companies could deploy during key sales presentations – are coming next.

– Email: dvagnoni@asicentral.com; Twitter: @VagnoniASI

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