by Lauren Drell | Mashable

When starting your business, we know there’s a lot to handle and think about. There’s your (growing) team, your intellectual property, product management and a pinched budget, all while you’re trying to navigate the waters of entrepreneurship. But even without millions your brand can make an impression. All the free social media tools are a great start — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest are key, but there’s more you can do to make an impression. We’ve rounded up eight ways to build your brand on the cheap — because there are more important things to spend money and time on, like your product and talent.

1. Killer Customer Service

Yes, it’s annoying when things go awry with a purchase or brand experience — maybe something got lost in the mail or a credit card was accidentally charged twice. But missteps like these are actually blessings in disguise — you can use the opportunity to show off your customer service skills and turn the customer’s experience around, thus winning them over. A bad-experience-turned-awesome can actually be more valuable than a good or expected experience from the get-go, because the customer will have interacted with the brand in a more intimate way and gotten to see your true colors.

People don’t often tell their friends, “I bought something on Fab, and it was delivered right on time” — that’s expected (and, from personal experience, it’s typically what happens). But if something went wrong with the order, and the Fab team went out of their way to make it right and be sure you come back, then that’s something to brag about to your friends. You could also take a proactive approach to customer service — if your team spends a few minutes on the phone to help a customer find exactly what they’re looking for, that’s something to brag about. Everyone’s in a rush these days, so if you’re willing to spend a few extra minutes cultivating relationships with customers — like Jetsetter and Rent the Runway do, to name a few — they’ll tweet about your customer service and Instagram that lamp they bought from you; these positive experiences can be amplified like crazy on the social web (see also: Peter Shankman and Morton’s).

Jumping through hoops makes a customer feel special, and it also impresses them and develops brand affinity. Brand affinities create word-of-mouth buzz, because people love telling their friends about new startups and businesses they have to try.

“We operate on a very lean marketing budget as a young startup,” says Jamie Viggiano, director of marketing at TaskRabbit, adding that word of mouth is a major driver of the startup’s new customer base. “We focus on how we inspire positive WoM — how do we get customers talking about the amazing experience they recently had on TaskRabbit? We work hand-in-hand with our member services team to ensure that every customer experience is a positive one — one that they will proactively and passionately share with their friends. You can surprise and delight customers — at minimal cost — which will inevitably generate positive WoM.”

Find out where your customers are and engage with them there. “We all have access to amazing social tools, and communication is key,” says Erica Domesek, founder of DIY blog P.S. I Made This.

2. Think Outside the Box

No one ever said you had to spend a ton of money to get your name out there. A big CPG brand might have a budget in the millions, but you can make a splash on a much smaller budget. Look at Dollar Shave Club, which made a splash in March with its low-budget, yet entertaining viral video featuring the company’s CEO, Michael Dubin. As a result of the video — which had a budget of $4,500 — the subscription razor service nabbed five million views on YouTube, 12,000 subscriptions in two days and $1 million from VCs before launch. Not bad for a $4,500 investment. And don’t think it’s the last we’ll see on YouTube of Dubin and Dollar Shave Club.

“Content is a big part of our strategy, and there will be more coming,” Dubin told Mashable. “I wanted people to laugh, and people tend to remember something it if it gives them a visceral response.”

Dollar Shave Club proves you can circumvent the traditional ways of marketing with a little bit of creativity and a sense of humor.

3. Collaborate

We’ve always heard that two heads are better than one. Well, two brands can be better than one, too. Brands are always looking to expand their audience, so it’s wise to seek out brand partners who share an audience and work out some sort of collaboration. You see it in the fashion world all the time — Matthew Williamson teamed up with H&M, Missoni has a line at Target. These partnerships help both brands build awareness and their audience, which can boost sales. Both sides can bring something fresh to the table, and both brands walk away having learned something about themselves, the audience and what consumers want. For an early startup, you might even be able to get a bigger brand to foot the bill — approach the company with an exciting and new partnership opportunity, and see what they’re willing to give you in return.

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