Good marketing get’s whatever you’re selling in front of customers. Great marketing engages them. The best marketing will land you leads.

What does the current internet marketing landscape look like in 2015? Click-through rates from banner ads have been in decline for years. When they first appeared on the web a 5 percent click-through rate wasn’t uncommon. In 2002 the average dropped to 0.4 percent. Today you can expect 0.2 percent.

Consumers know that their time and attention is valuable and that whatever you’re selling isn’t. As a result most of the population has been conditioned to ignore ads. A few people block them entirely (at least on the internet) using tools like Adblock Plus.

The alternative has been to blend the roles of advertising and content. In the past these were called advertorials. Today this is largely referred to as native advertising. Many consumers dislike these for the exact same reason marketers love them—it is difficult to tell what’s an ad.

Another route is for a company to work on side projects. These are small projects that provide value to your customer base—often at no cost. If pitched to relevant news outlets, distribution for your project and company can spread quickly. That is amplified with the rise of sites like Product Hunt, which have audiences of people that love to try new products.

Examples of Project-Focused Marketing

Who is doing this?

Perhaps a good place to start is with Crew Founder Mikael Cho. When I interviewed him about the successes Crew (then  Ooomf) had from their projects I took note. Recently he gave an in-depth account of how side projects saved the company. It’s worth a read for any entrepreneur. In that post he talks about how Unsplash, a weekly curated list of photos, has provided over 5 million unique visits to Crew’s website. The main cost? A $19 tumblr theme. Not a bad return on investment.

If you search for how much to make an app, you’ll find another one of Crew’s side projects at the top of search results. It also happens to be one of the key questions people ask when they want to build an app—the perfect customer for Crew.

Invision, one of my favorite tools, has also worked on a side project. Tethr, is a UI kit that designers can use to prototype apps. What does Tethr cost? Just your email. I’ve reached out to Clark Valberg for a comment on the number of downloads the kit has had—not sure if he’ll give me an answer.

Taking a Risk

Should your business do a side project?

With more than 200,000 designers visiting Designer News each month, it’s certainly been a win for LayerVault. They’ve even started offering sponsored stories for $9,995 per week. Not bad for a side project.

However, not all of LayerVault’s projects have turned out so well. When I interviewed LayerVault CEO Kelly Sutton, he talked about Delivery, a tool to showcase work. It took a ton of hours and gained minimal traction.

“Sometimes they can split your focus and take you in directions that might not be the best. Instead of having one great product, you end up with two OK products—we’re trying to get away from that.”

Closing Thoughts

Compare the net-positive value of project-based advertising versus the negative value of

People want advertising that provides value, advertising that is useful—and that is exactly what project-based marketing does.

Posted by:Sam Solomon

I'm a designer, writer and tinkerer. I currently lead workflow and design systems at Salesloft.

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