Marketing is a follow-the-leader game.

When something works, everyone gets on the bandwagon. Is Instagram driving engagement and attracting lots of users? Time to use Instagram! Is content marketing generating leads? Let’s bang out some content ASAP!

This approach offers safety in numbers. No one accuses you of making a mistake if everyone else is doing the same thing.

But it’s also conservative, boring and undifferentiated. It is hard to outflank the competition when you’re acting like the competition.

marketingBrands looking to be different or better need to think out of the box. They have to go against the flow, be unorthodox and do things others are not.

It is risky and scary but success always involves risk.

At The Art of Marketing conference last week, Terry O’Reilly put the spotlight on the importance of thinking and acting differently.

He talked about a real estate developer in Buenos Aires who wanted to attract attention to a new development, Madero Este, in a remote section of the city.

With a $4-million budget, his advertising agency could have taken the easy way out by creating a traditional campaign. But the agency decided not to do the expected because it wouldn’t move the needle.

Instead, the agency made a recommendation to build a beautiful pedestrian bridge. By creating a landmark, the agency believed a bridge would draw people across the river to the development. In the end, it was a brilliant decision.

Another example of out of the box thinking is Dollar Shave Club’s viral video. Michael Dubin spent $4,500 to create a video that generated 12,000 orders on the day it was released.

The video was irreverent and funny and, at the same time, different. Can you imagine what would have happened if Dubin had gone with the flow and made an animated video?

Yet another example is a sign that I saw on a telephone pole near my house. (see photo above). In Toronto’s red-hot, stupid crazy, over-heated real estate market, this “entrepreneur” thinks a hand-drawn sign is effective marketing.

While it is easy to dismiss this crude marketing, they get points for being different! Who knows, maybe someone will bite on getting “fast cash”, rather than paying commissions to a real estate agent.

I’m currently working with a client taking a different approach for a brochure for a major conference. Rather than create a typical sales brochure, the front and back covers are knockoffs of popular magazines. The headlines on the covers are industry-related. I’ll talk more about the why the brochure is creative and hopefully effective after the conference is finished.

Being different is hard. Who goes against the grain when it’s easier to go with the flow? But in an ultra-competitive world in which getting people’s attention is challenging, different is often necessary.

Do you have any good examples of “different” marketing?

I work with startups and entrepreneurs looking to accelerate their growth with marketing powered by storytelling and strategy. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to develop messaging, brand positioning and marketing roadmaps.

If you want marketing that makes an impact, let’s talk.

If you are looking for hand-picked startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter focused on marketing. operations, sales, raising money…and some Canadian startup news.