10 Ways to Tell Your Story on a Budget

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. 

Some ideas:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If you're a physical product, strike select partnerships wherein you wholesale to select retailers -- even if the margins are thin. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.