When you've got a business like Uber, you've got something innovative and sexy that's "easy" to market. But what do you do when you've got a great tangible business concept that isn't sexy?

You can try marketing that's a little different and a little offbeat.

I spoke recently with Ryan Farley, cofounder of LawnStarter.com, who scored $7 million in funding for his Austin-based startup that allows users to book lawn care services online.

Despite the fact that lawn care is not the sexiest business, Ryan and his team have grown LawnStarter into a widely-trusted brand in cities across the U.S by deploying some pretty unusual marketing tactics. The company is experiencing double-digit growth, month-over-month.

Ryan shared some of the tactics the team used, and provided terrific insights into how offbeat marketing propelled his company to success early on. Here's his advice.

1. Get creative with content marketing

When traditional content marketing wasn't working, Ryan and his team had to find a new approach so they could benefit from the organic reach content brings.

LawnStarter was getting plenty of organic traffic from its content early on, but it wasn't converting people. Its readers were DIYers. Ryan and his team were challenged to figure out how to develop content related to what they did that would convert. Through social media, they found who their desired audience was following and what types of content they were reading.

"We found that local stuff--like activities and city expansions--was popular," Ryan said. "Stuff that was ingrained in people's lives... a lot of city pride. We did a lot of audience research and found topics that tied closely to their interests, like community events and ball fields, and how well they're landscaped. It was local, relevant, and super top-of-the-funnel."

One of the team's greatest successes came after they began to segment content by regions. In their home town of Austin, they connected with the city demographer and learned that the city had just crossed the two million mark for population, but no one was reporting on it.

"My editor did this interview with them and posted it to our blog," Ryan explained. "Normally you have to do all kinds of content promotion but that one just took off. It was picked up by BizJournal, and Patch.com wrote about it, as well as some Austin papers. And, it was featured on the nightly news."

The ability to pull television and news coverage from a blog post is the epitome of scrappy marketing. By segmenting content that was relevant to their audience, and leveraging city pride in residents, Ryan's team extended the reach of that content to more than a million people.

2. Invest in a content marketing expert

There's no shortage of people who can produce content. If you want to stand out with your content marketing, you want to look beyond hiring someone who just writes well.

"Our editor-in-chief is a former journalist who has done agency PR in the past," Ryan said as he explained their approach to content marketing. "He started doing brand journalism for BankRate and somehow managed to make insurance sexy. We produce maybe three or four posts a week and we're not playing the volume game. We're not putting out crap."

A good writer can find topics relevant to your audience, but an experienced content marketer looks beyond that.

One example of great content that LawnStarter produced is a post that listed the cities in Texas with the highest water bills. The post was picked up by news sources across the company's target markets, putting LawnStarter in front of thousands of people who had never heard of it.

That effort cost the team little more than time. They incorporated big data relevant to their audience--data that is public and available upon request. They used information that any brand could find. It takes an expert content marketer to think outside the box and figure out how to leverage that information to snag great exposure.

3. Find adjacent topics

It's not uncommon for content marketers to go for low-hanging fruit--topics that are easy to find and cover without conducting a lot of research. That's one of the reasons 60% of marketers still struggle with producing engaging content.

If you want to stand out, you've got to be more creative.

For example, targeting low-hanging fruit for payroll or accounting services, which aren't very sexy, probably won't produce a lot of newsworthy stuff. But, if you look at adjacent topics, you can start planning content around best practices for recruiting, for example. This could lead to ideas about Millennials in the workplace and the industry. That kind of creative thinking will expand your reach and even capture some great PR opportunities.

4. Test new ideas, but leverage what works

Sometimes you need to incorporate traditional marketing in order to stand out in a crowded market.

"When we started we were literally printing flyers on our laserjet printer," Ryan recalled. "We worked during the day, got a little sleep, and then went out at night passing out flyers. Once we had money, we started direct mail. It was a low-cost way to get started while we learned about our audience."

Ryan and his team also partnered with parent-teacher organizations that emailed to groups of 50-100 parents who shared information about LawnStarter for referral kickbacks.

It's old-school stuff that works. When you're working with a limited budget, you can't afford to invest thousands of dollars in PPC or Facebook advertising. You do what you can with what you have.

Get creative and a little scrappy to boost your growth

For growing businesses, startup marketing should focus on efforts that cost more time than money. You can work toward more sustainable and scalable marketing as revenue grows.

This is the approach I've taken with my Snapchat, where my engagement is lower than on other marketing channels, but people love it. They think the content is golden, and it's five seconds of work that costs virtually nothing. Do whatever it takes to get those first few customers, and don't worry about scalability or what everyone else is doing.

What kind of offbeat marketing do you use to build the visibility of your brand? Share your tips with me in the comments below:

Published on: Jun 20, 2016