Breaking through the clutter of the thousands of marketing messages people receive everyday can seem impossible. Especially since your message is likely going to look and sound just like everyone else’s. “Live a better life”, “Be more successful”, “Have the newest technology.” After a while it all just becomes noise.

So, what can you do to separate yourself from the crowd? You need to create a message that gets noticed, shared, and inspires action. But there are some conditions to this, which we’ll get to. For now, let me share with you four proven strategies. These have been used by me, my clients, and by multinational companies. They are easy to implement, can be applied to any industry, and cost as much or as little as you’re willing to spend.

Humour. Some of the most successful campaigns have been built around making people laugh. From Wendy’s “Where’s the beef” and Budweiser’s “Wassup?” to Apple’s “I’m a PC” and almost every Old Spice commercial, these campaigns got people laughing, sharing, and then buying. The challenge? Humour can be subjective. What’s funny to one group can be offensive to another. Make sure you get lots of feedback before going public.

Emotion. Pulling heartstrings or making people angry can reap big rewards. Charities like UNICEF have successfully leveraged empathy by showing the struggles children and adults face in the form famine and disease. Whereas Greenpeace has helped to raise awareness and change behaviour by making people angry about companies that harm the environment. The challenge? People must care. Trying to invoke strong feelings towards accounting software or teeth whitening may be a hopeless task.

Stories. Everyone loves a good story. Especially ones they can imagine themselves in. A good story demonstrates overcoming challenges, reaching goals, and learning valuable lessons. Of course, all with the help of your product. Airbnb, Nike, and Apple have built their reputations on the ability to tell stories. Each one with focus on the characters, while having the product in a supporting role. The challenge? Coming up with a great story. My advice is to look outside your office. I believe the best stories are happening in the real world.

Information. Teach others something that makes their lives better and they will come back for more. Offering practical, relevant, and unbiased information builds trust. And when your customers trust you, they will be hard pressed to leave. Sharing information has been the foundation for those selling online programs for years. The challenge? Make the information relevant and easy to apply. And don’t worry so much about using it as a platform for your product. You can mention that later.

Now before you take off to create your winning campaign, let me share with you some guidelines to keep you out of trouble.

Sports, politics, religion, these are sensitive subjects, tread lightly. For sports, you can usually get away with making fun of the “other team” but keep it light. Politics and religion – just don’t go there.

Identifiable groups. We live in a hypersensitive world. No group is game for being the butt of a joke or called out – even in a good way. Regardless, if that group doesn’t care or even welcomes it, others may be quick to decide otherwise. Don’t get caught up in that mess.

Current events. Relevant, timely marketing is often more effective. And while some current events can be a great marketing source (national holidays), others can be in poor taste and severely backfire (the OceanGate submersible disaster).

Memes. Internet memes can be relevant today, then out tomorrow. They can be memes for any reason including at the expense of someone else, usually a celebrity. While most are funny, many can be mean and nasty. Are you really ready to build a campaign on a trending yet potentially polarizing idea?