Running A Business

6 Clever Marketing Ideas for Startups

May 31, 2021 • 6 min read
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      There are 305 million new companies created worldwide each year. That’s 305 million startups vying for new customers, funding, and attention—305 million companies that your target audience could pay attention to instead of yours. 

      Fortunately, you’re a brilliant, creative entrepreneur who knows how to stand out above the rest. 

      The reality is that most small businesses won’t have to compete with 305 million other businesses, but you do need to get noticed within your market or industry.

      You need to differentiate yourself from existing players and woo customers to take a chance on your brand. One of the best ways to do this is with an engaging marketing plan. Here are a few unique ways to connect with customers and let them know your brand has arrived. 

      1. Work With Local Artists 

      If you want to think outside the box with marketing for your startup, consider hiring a local artist.

      Whether you’re opening a brick-and-mortar location or simply creating a headquarters for your digital or service business, an art installation can make a statement to your community. Not only can this bring more people into your business, it can also be a great opportunity for you to convey—creatively—what you offer to your customers.

      Look into hiring a muralist, sculptor, or another type of modern art creator to create something inspired by your business and brand. This allows you to support local professionals in your area while generating buzz about your business. 

      A physical art piece can also improve your digital reach. You can share the art on your social channels and build the piece into your logo, website, and online elements. 

      2. Get on TikTok

      TikTok isn’t just for viral dance challenges, makeovers, and gender-reveal parties gone wrong. It’s a still-growing platform where you can share your expertise and get your name out there. Li Jin studied more than 50 startups on TikTok and reviewed what they do well. Among other findings, she discovered that TikTok is conducive to storytelling and trust-building.

      She shared multiple stories of startups that used TikTok to build buzz and support for their products and services. For example, Monet is a new dating app that shared videos on TikTok showcasing the team and discussing the journey from concept to launch. Their videos garnered hundreds of thousands of views and comments and built a community of people who were interested—and invested—in their success.

      You can increase brand awareness and drive use buy-in even if you have a small social budget. Even if you operate a B2B brand, you can still connect with potential customers on this Gen Z-dominated app and use it to build buzz around your startup.

      3. Partner With Local Nonprofits

      Local nonprofits are just as eager for attention as you are for your business—and they likely have a smaller marketing budget than you do. Consider working with a local nonprofit to send support their way while also growing awareness about your brand. 

      For example, you can set different beta-software signup goals to different donation levels. You can donate a portion of your sales to or host events for the nonprofit you support. 

      Working with a nonprofit organization builds up community goodwill while helping you grow your brand. 

      4. Don’t Underestimate the Publicity Stunt

      Publicity stunts have been part of marketing for centuries, ever since carnival barkers would showcase exotic animals or feats of strength to convince people to visit the circus. Even in 2021, people can’t resist a fun or unique PR stunt. 

      Let your team get creative with how your company attracts attention, from surprising ad campaigns to temporary statues and games downtown. Just make sure your plan is foolproof—otherwise, you could end up like Burger King on International Women’s Day.

      5. Get Creative With Giveaways

      It’s 2021—are you still giving away iPads and Microsoft Surface Pros in your online contests or conference booths? Giveaways, whether you’re ordering small tchotchkes as handouts or major contest prizes, should reflect your brand and offer your customers something unique. 

      Consider the needs of your customers when you order giveaways. For example, a tech startup that specializes in de-bugging code could give away bug spray at a convention and offer a contest with a tropical getaway that includes a rainforest tour with an entomologist (a bug scientist). This is more memorable and effective than handing out pens and iPhones.

      People collect all kinds of giveaways from conferences and fairs. Make sure your branded merch doesn’t get tossed into the junk drawer or recycling bin with the other forgettable items.   

      6. Apply for Awards

      One of the best ways to get your brand out there is with an award. From local nominations to national recognition ceremonies, awards showcase what you do while elevating your business’s name. Long after the awards ceremony, you can boast about your accomplishments and celebrate your unique niche in your field. 

      Here’s the kicker: most companies aren’t just handed awards. They go out and apply for them. Their teams spend hours filling out awards paperwork and submitting their brands for contention. 

      You don’t have to wait around to win an award. Start applying now for everything from the best new startup to the best marketing campaign. Your efforts can grow your customer base while motivating your employees at the same time. 

      Develop a Diverse Marketing Mix

      In many ways, marketing a startup is like investing in a hedge fund—you don’t want to put all of your efforts into a single channel or creative pursuit. A diverse, one-of-a-kind mix of plans and promotions can win customers over and make your brand memorable. Try out some of these options and see if they work for you.

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      About the author
      Derek Miller

      Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy,, and StartupCamp.

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