How some start-ups used innovative methods to promote themselves?


After last week’s article on ‘Why some starts up survive while most fail’, some of you had written to me to elaborate on point number 5, i.e:- Innovative promotional strategies used.

Well it is difficult to capture all this in an article as this topic would require an entire book, but still it got me thinking and I have made a list of three such instances that I feel really stood out.

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Using College girls as demand generators – Karsan Bhai Patel is a tough competitor. Not only did he launch an Indian brand, Nirma to take on the likes of Hindustan Uni Lever (HUL) but he briefly overtook them. So much that HUL started a project called STING (Strategy to inhibit Nirma growth). Now in the early days the demand for Nirma was good but the retailers were wary to stock them which was partly because of the pressure applied by HUL sales mechanism.

Karsan Bhai started this novel scheme of asking college going girls to walk into retailers and ask for Nirma. If Nirma was not there they simplify left the shop without buying anything. If Nirma was present they bought it and then were refunded for their effort. This dramatically changed the situation with retailers as they started stocking Nirma due to the demand. Soon Nirma was a national brand and pushing HUL and Procter & Gamble into a three way fight.

Non Animal testing and the environment- Bodyshop may be a premium brand today, but when it started Anita Roddick the founder was really pushed all the way by mainstream cosmetic chains in the UK. She then decided to come up with a very daring promotional scheme where she openly declared that none of her products were tested on animals. To push it further she also gave a 30 % discount to all those who brought back empty bottles of BodyShop products in order to get a refill. Now this was long before the environment became a very hot topic and Al Gore became the first carbon billionaire. But the strategy worked and soon she had a set of loyal customers who became evangelists. The rest is history. Though BodyShop today is part of L’oreal they still continue to promote non animal testing and environment friendly practices.

You meet the nicest people on a Honda- Honda motors was an established name in Japan but hardly anyone knew them in the US. The Japanese ministry for Manufacturing had advised Honda to look at Indonesia but they had ambitions in the US. Knowing that GM and Ford would shut them down in they entered the US with cars, Honda entered the country with a moped called the ‘Super Cub’. It was supposed to be sports moped, which people could take to a golf course or to tennis club. The launch state was California, which normally has good weather throughout the year. The tag line was that ‘you would meet the nicest people on a Honda’.

The moped was sold through sports shops like SEARS. Honda gifted a Moped to all its employees and they were encouraged to drive to work in their mopeds. This soon created a buzz with many of the younger more sporty Californians wanting to buy one for themselves. The strategy worked and Honda soon became a familiar brand on the Californian roads. This paved the way in the 1980’s for the Honda invasion through their cars. Though Honda was not a start-up they used the start up mentality to get better of bigger rivals like Ford.

But again this is no way an exhaustive list there have been so many other innovative ideas for promotion. I would like to hear your views on the same.

If you have started a company and used very innovative strategies or have heard of someone doing so, please do leave a comment and that would really enhance the discussion.

  1. jolia says

    You gave a good example of bodyshp, it can really be a good example

  2. Shantanu says

    Dear Vikram,

    I am planning to start a company dealing in biofertilizers and other green technologies.
    It will be great it you can write about any companies who have used innovative ideas in this field.

  3. V Kamalika Amit Kumar says

    Think of some brilliant and unique ideas for your company and in no time you will make it big in the market. I recently went through an article that helped me grow in my field. Sharing it:

  4. Pradeep says

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing and look forward to more such stories applied by todays startups.

  5. Dr Vikram says

    Hi Janani

    Thank you. I am glad you liked the article. Is there any particular Industry that you are looking for innovative marketing examples?

  6. Janani Barath says

    I enjoyed this one! Thanks lot… could you maybe write more on innovations like the ones mentioned in this article?

  7. Dr Vikram says

    Hi Pradeep

    yes that is the reality today, we have to rise above the clutter.

  8. Facilities Management Services says

    This is interesting one.In today’s competitive age we need more innovative ideas to promote ourselves.

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