Driving a Car on The English Channel?

Driving a Car on The English Channel?


How to lead your industry through unconventional marketing

story tim Piccirillo

There’s a lot of talk about leadership in the media at any given time. It’s always a hot topic in politics, especially in the U.S. during an election year when the focus is on who will be elected the next leader of the free world. But in business, leadership is a different animal, so to speak. There’s not usually a “flavor of the month” with leadership traits or with methods or techniques, per se, in leading a company or business. It’s more a matter of leadership style that gets the majority of attention and press.

Being interested in the marketing end of business since I started, I’ve always been fascinated by business leaders who lead their company to more customers, greater market share, and, ultimately, more revenue through brilliant and unique marketing. In my informal study of successful businesses over the past two decades—both large and small—I’ve found the most successful leaders look outside their industries to get their message out to customers and prospects. In many industries, “business as usual” means everyone does everything the same way, including marketing. This marketing becomes incestuous with all the players basically using the same methods for customer acquisition. Leaders of organizations that are truly in tune with “coloring outside the lines” see this “same old, same old” mentality as an opportunity to break from the norm and try something different—many times radically different.

Take Richard Branson who has a well-known disdain for traditional business methods. He has a rather flamboyant style of getting media attention, which is done by design not by default. Here are a few of his outrageous publicity stunts:

1. He attempted an around-the-world flight in a hot air balloon—twice.

2. He bungee-jumped off the Palms Hotel and Casino in 2007 to celebrate the first Virgin America flight.

3. He drove across the English Channel in an amphibious car.

4. He posed as Elvis with showgirls in Las Vegas.

These marketing stunts were very effective in keeping his name and brand in the press as major news outlets carried each story. His nontraditional approach to business and publicity helped him amass a net worth of $5.1 billion, as of the end of 2015.

It’s business leaders like Branson who keep other people striving to do something different to promote their businesses, get more customers, and achieve top-of-mind consciousness of buyers. You don’t necessarily have to do spectacular feats like Branson, but what you can do are little things to differentiate your business from the rest of your competition. I love Jay Conrad Levinsen’s concept and book “Guerrilla Marketing.” His definition of guerrilla marketing is “The achievement of conventional goals (e.g. profit) using unconventional methods such as investing energy and ideas instead of money.” Savvy business leaders would do well to heed this. Here are three ideas to get your creative juices flowing in a different direction:


This continually evolving trend in business is getting bigger and bigger as many products and services have become commodities since The Great Recession. Today, it’s harder than ever to compete on price alone in the marketplace. Creating a great customer experience is a great marketing differentiator. Leaders should encourage a culture of great customer service in their organizations to get all employees on board with it.

If you do most of your business online, how about trying a direct-mail campaign with a special offer. Contrary to popular belief, direct mail still out-pulls email by a wide margin. If your primary way of communicating with your customers and prospects is offline with ads, direct mail, etc., consider increasing your web presence with a blog that offers information relevant to your business. You can then post it to social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and don’t forget Pinterest if you’re market is mostly women), as well as other content to engage your prospects and customers. Or maybe even try a local Google Adwords campaign.


Aligning your product or service with a celebrity is a great way to gain credibility in your industry. Infomercial production companies discovered a long time ago the power of having a celebrity endorse their products. You can do the same thing—and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at some of the low fees certain celebrities charge. Many “second-tier” celebrities who haven’t been on a hit show or movie in a while are willing to make extra money for either a personal appearance or a commercial and at reasonable fees, depending on the circumstances.

The leaders who are making a mark in business and their industries are marketing and doing business in creative and unconventional ways. All it takes is some outside-the-box thinking to get ideas flowing and then following them up with action. And great leaders don’t try to do it solo. They’re smart enough to leverage other people’s talents and ideas.

Tim Piccirillo is a partner in Anticipate Training, LLC, a training company dedicated to teaching organizations how to design and implement a customer-focused culture. Their website is AnticipateTraining.com and you can reach Tim directly at tim@anticipatetraining.com.