I know for a fact that when I am old and gray (well, old anyway, gray is no longer an option), and I look back on my life, one of the things I will have enjoyed the most is Tuesday nights at my local dive bar.
every week, for many years running, three, four, sometimes seven or
eight of us, gather for beer and a couple of hours of idiotic
conversation and laughs.
began as a post-basketball ritual, but at this point, half the
attendees don’t even play anymore. It’s just a fun time and, somehow, it
never gets old.
On a recent night, the bartender handed me a pint glass that I had never seen before – it was covered in ads from about a dozen local town businesses.
I’m a local town business and so I thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have my company logo on some glasses too?”
The very next day I called the number on the side of the glass and got the scoop.
Not great news.
That’s when I had a better idea…
I found a company online that would produce a small quantity of glasses embossed with “Blue Penguin Brewing” (don’t google it, it doesn’t exist) and ship them directly to me.
of weeks later, custom glasses in hand, I arrived at the bar. I handed
them out to my friends and we each poured in our respective beers.
At the end of the night, we left them behind, effectively releasing them into the bar’s “glassware ecosystem.”
solved. Not only did I manage to surreptitiously donate glasses to my
favorite bar, I did it in a way that is less expensive and more
effective than the standard approach.
What’s Obvious is Not Necessarily Best
I don’t share this story because I think putting your logo on a beer glass is a particularly shrewd marketing move.
all, it seems to me that the kind of person who drunk-dials you off the
phone number on the side of his beer is probably not what we solo
professionals refer to as “an ideal client.”
I mention it, however, because it does represent the value of thinking outside the box in the way you tackle your marketing.
easy, obvious approach would have been to just do what was put in front
of me: Pay my money, wait my turn, sit on the side of a glass next to a
lot of other companies.
Instead, I found a different, cheaper way of accomplishing something better.
Best Practices Can Be a Trap, Too
The concept of “Best Practices” – applying a technique that has been demonstrated as superior – makes sense in many cases.
don’t want your fire department, airline pilot or mohel experimenting
on the fly to see if he or she can find a creative solution to a
even in the squishy world of professional services marketing, there are
certain truths that are almost always worth following (e.g., having
a web site that works well on a phone, using a custom domain for your
email address [not @gmail.com], hiring professionals to design your
But when it comes to standing out from the crowd, doing things the conventional way only serves to make you blend in.
Do you send cards/gifts at the holidays? Sounds groundbreaking. What if, instead, you sat out December and sent something to the same list now, in the dead of summer?
Do you rely exclusively on email to stay in touch with colleagues? What if you picked up the phone and called one person a day, just to say hello? (Hat tip: Reuben Swartz)
Do you wear khaki pants, a blue button down shirt and a navy blazer whenever you attend a networking meeting? (Stop laughing ladies. I’ve seen more scarfs at these meetings than at a kids’ magic show.)
What if you showed up in Hawaiian shirt? Or wearing a bow tie?
Here’s the bottom line.
have nothing against learning from other people. There’s a lot of
experience out there and the more you read, listen and tweak the better.
But when it involves marketing – the art of memorable differentiation –
as soon as the conversation turns into, “This is how you do a podcast,”
or “This is how long a newsletter is supposed to be,” or “This is how
you advertise on the side of a beer glass,” I can hear opportunity
leaving the room.
Best practice or not, if everything you do is the same as everyone else, don’t be surprised if you look like, well, everyone else.
- What unconventional things have you done in your marketing to stand out?
- Did it involve drinking beer?
- I couldn’t think of a third question. Please ask and answer one of your own.