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Grow your business

Small businesses with big marketing ideas that are worth borrowing

Three tactics that can boost your creativity – and your profits.


 Elizabeth Millard

| Mar 07, 2016

Mar 07, 2016



Updated: 08/14/19

For small businesses, marketing can sometimes feel like a mysterious force that seems to work by serendipity, if at all.

A major social media campaign may fall flat, for instance, while a single tweet is shared around the world. Being able to get more predictability and reliability into a marketing push often becomes a matter of creativity — especially the kind that sets you apart from competitors.

Getting a glimpse of what's working for others can help enormously. Here are three examples of business owners creatively marketing their products and services, along with some strategies worth borrowing.

Get Customers Laughing

When Brian Strom and his wife decided to turn their homemade granola into a commercial product in 2007, the first name that leapt to mind was a joke. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be funny to call it Crapola?'" Strom recalls. When his wife laughed, a marketing tactic was born.

"We were inspired by local foods and farming enough to make a healthy breakfast item," he says. "But the more we played around with names, the more we realized that humor and laughter are also part of a healthy life. So we capitalized on that."

The tagline for that first product is, "Makes even weird people regular." The pair followed with three other flavors: Number Two, Colon-ial Times, and Kissypoo. On each package is a playful illustration of the couple, dressed in garb that echoes the theme. For example, Kissypoo has them in a romance-novel type of embrace. Demand for all flavors is now so strong that they're opening a larger production facility this year.

“The common marketing wisdom is that you have to rely on repetition for people to remember your brand. But when you use humor, especially the irreverent kind, it's memorable immediately.”

- Brian Strom, owner of Crapola Granola


"The common marketing wisdom is that you have to rely on repetition for people to remember your brand," Strom says. "But when you use humor, especially the irreverent kind, it's memorable immediately. And then customers begin sharing the humor, giving even more reach to your marketing."

Plan Events & Become a Connector

Even with a background in marketing, Libby Wyrum knew she'd have to get creative to gain traction for her new food consulting business, Frank & Ernest Foods. So, she decided to connect as many of her potential clients as possible, while still highlighting her marketing effectiveness.

The result is an ongoing event series that brings educational content to chefs, farmers, specialty retailers and food-focused corporations. For example, she presented a workshop on food laws and persuaded a local law firm to provide content, then hosted the workshop at a farmers market. She also put the workshop on her website as a live webinar.

"I'm in an industry where people love to talk to each other and get referrals for different services," she says. "By putting together these small classes, it gives them an opportunity to connect, and also to see the reach that my company has."

Showcase Philanthropy

When an industry is particularly competitive, marketing creativity becomes even more crucial. Brooke Wilson, who owns and operates seven franchises of the moving company Two Men and a Truck, decided that the way to stand out would be to show the hearts behind the moving muscle.

Last year, she undertook the Movers for Mutts initiative, a month-long charitable campaign that directed funds to a local animal shelter. Most of the company's social media and public relations efforts for the month went into the donation drive, including contests that rewarded donors with sports tickets. "A targeted and consistent social media effort was a driving factor that extended the reach and impact of our efforts," Wilson says.

The company received significant media attention, saw a surge in new business and established valuable partnerships with corporate donors. "The key is to choose a cause that resonates with you personally," Wilson says. "If you truly care about what you're doing, your efforts will resonate with others and they'll join in."

Even if a small business doesn't decide to take a chance on humorous product names, develop new events or pursue cause marketing, these examples can be helpful because they illustrate an important truth in business: creativity pays off. Just thinking beyond the traditional media strategies can benefit a small business in every industry, because with big ideas can come bigger profits.