The way that we marked has changed a lot even in the last year, let alone over the last few years, and in 2015 we're seeing a lot of "different" (both good and bad) thinking as far as how we market things. I don't miss only doing online advertising or horrible billboards, personally, but many don't know what to do next. There's more competition, more options and it's utterly confusing.

One of the best ways to do so is to surprise your audience with something interesting and new, as obvious as that sounds. Here are a few of the least conventional methods I've seen in marketing recently:

Building on Your Current Community

In 2011, a customer of Starbucks took a phone shot of his card and shared it online inviting anyone to use it. Starbucks capitalized on this potential by leveraging that user's popularity and the altruism of the deed he'd done (give a coffee, get a coffee) to build on their own message. Don't overlook your own customers as means of spreading your message. It's one thing to get new customers through classical means - it's another to find your customers through your current ones. Word of mouth is an old trick, but finding a new wy to spread it is even better.

Know Where Your Customers Are. Even If It's A Little Different.

One photographer managed to get a lot more customers for her business by placing her a public bathroom. After realizing most of her clientele drank at a particular bar, she put an ad up in the washroom there and the leads came in. Knowing where your clientele frequents can help you figure out how to best position your marketing. Even Eat247 found new customers through some 'different' thinking - on a giant pornography website.

Develop Personal Connections

This one is pretty obvious, and Coke has capitalized on it with their "share a Coke" campaign. Consider personalizing the products that you market or arranging to have them personalized for your customers. This simple gesture goes a long way toward being more personal with your consumers. It may have seemed trite at the time to me, but I've seen way, way too many selfies and Instagram pictures of people with their name (or a title like "Showstopper") on a Diet Coke can. It's working.

Say Thanks In A Special Way

TD Canada Trust utilized this in their "TD Thanks You" campaign, which saw them sharing over 300,000 twenty-dollar gift certificates for their clients. You don't have to go that big, but thanking someone by giving something back to them resonates in a special way with consumers. It can be as simple as a gift-code, which you'll see small niche sites like dog treat site BestBullySticks do, or Opentable's VIP program that gives points per reservation that eventually convert into gift certificates.

Don't Underestimate the Power of the Internet

Have you ever seen a flash mob? It's easily arranged and gets a lot of social media attention. Banco Sabadell is producer of one of the more famous flash mobs using Beethoven's Ode to Joy with a complete orchestra and a background of onlookers. Internet shares have made their name pretty recognizable to many people who otherwise would not have known who they were. I personally don't love them (I mean, come on, leave me alone, I'm walking here), but can't deny that they seem to get results when they're done correctly.

Try Some Infographic Marketing

Though everyone is trying infographics, it's important to use them correctly. When you do, you can help deal with the attention span of consumers that's rapidly over the past few years, thanks to the advent of social media and technology. That means words aren't nearly as effective as they used to be, and multimedia communication is on the rise. Infographics are an excellent way to explain a topic, or provide information in a fun and interesting way. They also have the potential to spread like wildfire on the web via social media shares, media outlet exposure, and infographic directories. Just remember to make sure they use great data, are good-looking and (let's be honest) aren't just a junk survey you threw together at the last minute. The right vendor is also crucial, so make sure you see their work before you agree to work with them.

Launch an Affiliate or Referral Program

Affiliate marketing is an excellent way to drive sales to your business, without any out of pocket expense. Instead of paying for client acquisition up front, you'll only pay for leads or sales that others send to your business. Even local businesses can benefit from referrals. Try offering a referral fee to people in your locality for qualified leads. Entire companies, like Referral SaaSquatch have built huge businesses out of creating referral programs for online companies. Don't just say "thanks" - actually give them something.

People Hate Ads - Unless They're Creative

This doesn't mean putting more creativity into your ad's artwork. McDonalds did an ad series in 2010 that utilized crosswalks, designing them to look like fries. Innovative marketing like this takes an eye for parallels, but if you can pull it off it's wonderful publicity for your business. People remember when something is different, even if it's clearly there for a product. You can own that product and sell it to them, duh.

Thinking Creatively. No, Really.

Sometimes you'll get lucky and the same ideas you had last year will keep working, though oftentimes they won't. New advertising doesn't keep its novelty for very long, and you're required these days to constantly consider alternatives to existing methods of engaging current and potential customers. Business owners should be very aware of common marketing mistakes (which are funny to watch at times, I admit), while also looking ahead for new and potentially lucrative ideas that may not have worked in previous years (smartwatches, anyone?). In 2015, think outside the box for your marketing needs because it allows you to keep one step ahead of the competition and pleasantly surprise your customers.