Twice last week, fashion startup founders asked me for ideas about how to tell the story of what they're building without relying on paid digital marketing or having influential friends.
- I've said it before, but I love physical retail as a marketing vehicle, especially when it's possible to snag an inexpensive short-term lease or a multi-vendor market spot. Even a table/booth/tent at the right event (or sponsorship if it’s affordable) can make an impact; tossing a promo card into said event's gift bag probably won't.
- If you can swing a store or even space for a day... events, events, events. Events tell the story to anyone who shows up, as well as anyone who sees the event listing you're posting in all the right places.
- Dig into your sales or user data and social mentions to figure out who's particularly into what you're offering. Give those people a carrot (cheap or bartered-for swag they'll show off, a discount, gratis product, etc.) to help you evangelize. Call them ambassadors if you want. Or just send stickers to everyone and tell them to co-create. And don’t forget to tell your actual best customers about your events.
- Partner with likeminded brands to paint a more interesting story and so you benefit from the reach of other companies, too. This can be in the form of a joint store, a co-hosted event, a shared online marketing effort (yes, even a contest), or an exchange of box-stuffers.
- If you're a physical product, strike select partnerships wherein you wholesale to select retailers -- even if the margins are thin.
- If you want to do something quicker than the time it takes to negotiate retail/wholesale arrangements, do trunk shows in select retailers. Offer the store upside (but no downside of inventory risk), a crowd, and something to talk about.
- Do something PR-worthy and pitch it well. Collaborations still get attention, as do business model and category extensions. And stunts or flash mobs, anyone? Guess what else garners press? Yes, store openings.
- Don’t forget about that old strategy called direct mail. It doesn’t need to be a catalog shot on-location; a mini-mag, postcard, or re-targeting hit via PebblePost can work, too.
- If you're a digital product, target ProductHunt but also focus on less tech-obsessed - but still free to access - communities with virality where you need it. College campuses? Professional organizations? A particular Facebook group?
- Blog and write. On your own site (where you can also solicit guest writers) and elsewhere. Write about your product and related issues. Co-author where it makes sense, maybe on something longer-form like a white paper or webinar. Cross-post or syndicate where appropriate.
The above assumes you're paying attention to basic storytelling hygiene on your own site and social. For marketers or present brand-builders thinking about this full-time, please share your suggestions and success stories and I'll tweet them out with attribution.