Break Tradition: 5 Unconventional Marketing Tips To Grow Your Business

Solopreneur Harley Rivét doesn’t always play by the rules.

As the president of Deep Dish Digital, a Saskatoon-based marketing company, he’s dedicated to finding unique ways for organizations to engage with their online audiences. We caught up with Rivét to dish out five of his favorite marketing tips—the ones that turn conventional wisdom on its head. Which ones will you apply to your business?

1. Don’t Keep Up with the Competition

It’s important to keep an eye on the competition, but it’s equally critical to avoid getting caught up in it. “You need to quit worrying so much about your competition’s marketing and focus more on what works for your customers,” says Rivét.

Just like Facebook can create a fear-of-missing-out-phobia in your personal life, your competitors’ social media efforts can leave you feeling like you need to up your own online marketing game. But Rivét cautions against cluttering your website and your professional life with a pile of social media accounts.

One of Rivét’s strategies is to focus on digging deep into one practice and not spreading yourself too thin. “I suggest hand picking one-to-three marketing channels that are proven to work for your audience, and work to excel in both those areas.” For example, if you’re in the construction industry, you likely don’t need to be on social apps like SnapChat and Twitter. “Twitter’s been around 10 years now but it remains a niche social network. Between 16 and 19 per cent of Canadians use it, and even then it’s sparingly, but it’s hyped up in the media which makes it seem more important than it is. For most small businesses, your time is better spent picking up the phone to engage with customers than tweeting.”

If social media doesn’t align with your customer base, find other ways to reach your community. Get involved in an industry association, join a board or speak at community events instead. “Focus on the places where your audience is hanging out. That should always lead what you’re doing, rather than being influenced by the hype.”

2. Drop the Dead Weight

When it comes to marketing, are you operating on auto pilot? According to Rivét, many small businesses do what comes easily instead of thinking strategically—and digitally.

“Let go of the marketing that you’re doing simply out of tradition. What works will depend on your audience. If you’ve been going to trade shows for years just because it’s what you do, take a good hard look at whether or not that’s yielding enough sales to be worthwhile.”

For print advertising and other conventional marketing channels, it works the same way. Updating your advertising practices and dropping the old ones is a wise investment. “People have so many different sources of media and they’re increasingly getting it online. As a small business, you have to let go of some of the old media and, if you haven’t already, start exploring and meeting your audience online.”

Fortunately for the non-tech savvy, it’s never been easier or cheaper to engage in online advertising. “Facebook ads can be set up with anyone with a Grade 10 education. As a marketing specialist, I’ve never met a Facebook advertising budget I couldn’t spend wisely. It’s the market leader,” said Rivét.

3. Sell Excitement with Your Services

It’s not enough to provide stellar service and remarkable products. If you want an edge on your competition, offer an emotional experience as well.

“That new dress you bought will probably sit in your closet 350 days of the year and the shiny new car will be in your driveway 20 hours of the day,” says Rivét. “Ultimately, what makes us happy is the excitement leading up to buying something, and the thrill of ‘the new’ when you bring it home.”

Give your clients that giddy feeling by generating desire and emotion with your marketing and your service.

Whether you’re in the business of home improvements or public relations, consider the emotional response from your customers. It can be as simple as providing cheerful, timely customer service, small gestures that make them feel special and check-ins to ensure they’re completely satisfied.

“You really need to focus on the customer journey in marketing. Make your customers feel happy that they’re making a good decision. Acknowledge people, be timely and be communicative. You’d be surprised at how those two things will put you above the majority of your competitors.”

If they’re satisfied, that’s what will win you referrals and new business.

4. Give Away Your Trade Secrets

Traditionally, businesses with a “secret” ingredient keep it to themselves for fear of competitors taking their magic and running with it. But a new approach to marketing is exactly the opposite: Deliver valuable information to your audience without any expectation of return.

Marcus Sheridan, owner of River Pools, abides by this model and has become a web marketing juggernaut in the process. In 2009, the heart of the recession, his Virginia-based pool installation business was in the gutter. Forced to slash their $250,000 a year marketing budget by 90 per cent, Sheridan was challenged to find a new way to engage with customers. He took a common sense approach and began sharing informational blog posts and videos.

A business sharing information—the kind of information that would usually only be disclosed in a sales consultation—was revolutionary. Today, the River Pools website is now practically an encyclopedia of information about pool installation, including references to their competition.

Rivét takes a similar approach to his small business. “I don’t do any paid advertising. Instead, I focus on adding value to my audience through presentations, blogging and training seminars—I give a lot of information away. The old school way of giving only a bit of information to encourage consumers to call a business is done. You build trust and a relationship with a customer by offering as much as possible so they only need to call you when they’re ready to do business.”

Be candid about your services through your marketing. You’ll immediately build a rapport with clients even before you’ve had a conversation. 

5. Say Less, Do More

If you have to choose between being an exceptional marketer or a great salesperson, go with the latter, says Rivét.

“The best marketing experience I ever got was being in sales. It’s one-to-one, while marketing is one-to-many. Learn how to negotiate, find solutions, build relationships and understand the sales process. Pick your best clients and bring them to you. The 80/20 rule of marketing applies: spend 80 per cent of your attention to the top 20 per cent of your clients. Simple, true and wildly effective.”

about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at