4 Free or Inexpensive Ways to Help Your Business Stand Out

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Making your business stand out is absurdly difficult -- and competitive. Everyone is vying for the top spot, but not everyone has a seven- or ten-figure marketing and PR budget. So, how exactly does a business, especially a startup, break through?

Related: Why Every Business Needs to at Least Consider Google Targeted Ads

The answer is with a bit of clever thought, strategic planning and effort. Because breaking through the identity barrier can be done; your new, small or entrepreneurial business just has to be positioned to stand out. Here are four ways to get it there:

1. Guerrilla marketing

The marketing world is a far cry from what it was decades ago, and its undergoing massive changes have completely altered the way marketers and publicists (and businesses) operate.

One of these changes, so-called guerrilla marketing, entails making a public splash without spending a ton of cash. We used to call these moves “PR stunts.” And, indeed, for small, underfunded endeavors, being creative and unpredictable used to be the only option.

But today, even large companies utilize guerrilla marketing; and big, established public relations firms now specialize in it. Done well, guerrilla marketing can make traditional marketing efforts fall flat, thanks to their stagnant and uninspired nature.

But getting guerilla marketing right can be tricky, and it may be well worth bringing in an expert because, while there are great rewards for getting it right, getting it wrong can be very costly.

2. Not-Coms

For many new companies, notably those primarily online, picking an unusual website or company name helps puncture the attention clutter. This means shunning standard, stodgy ".com" addresses in favor or more creative or descriptive options. The great news is that hundreds of new domain names are now available, with words like ".florist," ".photography," ".coffee," and more.

Great examples of this creative naming include "Fathom.Clothing" and "Driftaway.Coffee," "TheHungerGames.Movie" and Lady Gaga’s "BornThisWay.Foundation."

When compared with traditional, .com options, these examples leave little question as to what those businesses do and where those websites go. That’s a real branding advantage. “New 'not-com' choices let you combine creativity to the left of the dot, with specificity to the right,” Jeff Davidoff told me. Davidoff is chief marketing officer at Donuts Inc., the largest owner/operator of not-com domain names.

“You can now choose incredibly memorable names and let people know what business you’re in at the same time," Davidoff said, adding that "That can be a big win from the start.”

Related: Go Guerrilla! 5 Unorthodox Ways to Market Your Brand

3. Social responsibility

Businesses that focus on more than just investor value are winning marketing and marketplace advantages. Being connected to a cause creates a conversation and brand awareness and, in turn, cements customer loyalty.

Supporting a cause or issue your founders or employees really care about is good not just for the cause and your company, it’s a marketing opportunity. Even if your company doesn’t directly promote the action, engagement or generosity (which some still mistakenly see as unseemly), those who care about the issue are likely to know. So will your employees. With the instant and viral power of social media, that can be more than enough.

4. Office culture

The benefits of a strong company culture are well established. A clear, positive workplace culture can improve management, boost employee morale and help attract customers. Often overlooked, though, is how an office culture can help your business stand out.

Nothing is exciting about a bland office. But what comes to your mind when someone mentions working at Google? That company has successfully made workplace culture a big part of its brand.

Like the other ideas here, creating outstanding and recognizable office culture is an inexpensive marketing play. And like social responsibility, it just may be worth doing for its own sake. The marketing and visibility benefits then come valuable frosting on the cake.

“We’re a company founded and largely powered by millennials,” said Jonathan Lacoste, co-founder of Jebbit, a growing post-click marketing platform. “We pay special attention to our office culture because we realize that it sets us apart -- not just in attracting and keeping talent, but also in how the public sees us and what we do.”

So many of today’s and tomorrow’s brand leaders are doing these things already -- telling creative stories, finding unique names, engaging social and political causes and transforming their work culture -- that these four tactics are on the verge of becoming the new normal.

So, perhaps it’s time to get out ahead of the new normal: Adopt some of these strategies while they can still help distinguish your business from the pack, which hasn't yet figured out their advantages.

Related: 7 Steps to Up Your Corporate Social Responsibility Game