Let’s face it: When it comes to workplace benefits, it’s pretty tough to compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world. Enter Espresa, a Palo Alto-based startup that wants to level the playing field by helping companies of any size deliver and manage workplace perks, such as on-demand repairs, dry cleaning and beauty services. As workplace culture continues to drive decisions among professionals choosing between job offers, the extras really do count toward hiring and retaining the best talent.Recently described by TechCrunch as a platform that “helps companies pamper their employees,” Espresa is building brand awareness to be a go-to resource to for companies to support their hiring and retention initiatives. The company, which launched earlier this year in Silicon Valley, currently has about 25 customers across more than 15,000 employees. Espresa plans to continue a national roll-out throughout 2017 and recently announced a $2 million seed funding from Crosslink Capital, Clear Ventures, TEC Ventures and angel investors. What were some of the marketing successes that fueled the company’s growth to date? First, Espresa quickly figured out that in order to carve out a meaningful and recognizable brand, it would have to focus beyond popular and traditional offerings such as car washes and yoga classes. Customers understood these established services too well, and didn’t feel a need to be marketed to (resulting in low open rates, high opt-out rates). Engaging its busy clientele required creative, out-of-the-box, off-the-wall offerings such as bicycle repair to leg sugaring to TRX fitness. While not the kinds of benefits most people buy regularly, the back catalog continues to keep customers interested, excited and engaged long enough to place their orders for the more popular activities. “We found that consumers are so bombarded by marketing these days that the old adages about repeating your message aren’t working,” said Alex Shubat, CEO at Espresa. “By focusing on unexpected products and messages, we compel the audience to look again, and thereby cut through the noise.” That means they’ve lead marketing efforts with the unique and unexpected, and followed on with the more traditional, though lucrative, offerings. Espresa also uniquely challenges potential customers to think about work-life balance as central to the workplace instead of as an after-thought or an extra. Listening to the various HR teams from among their users helps Espresa keep its finger on the pulse when it comes to cherry-picking services that appeal to different employees (e.g., Millennials have very different values and needs than Baby Boomers). The value of time over money has been one of the biggest learnings from users. Espresa particularly sees that when it comes to Millennials, quality of life is of utmost importance. Thus, services that save people the intangible of time tend to be the most highly sought after. Another key learning has been that word-of-mouth is the biggest brand ambassador, especially in securing multiple clients in a single vertical, like technology. Despite the explosion of marketing channels, word-of-mouth remains incredibly effective in building awareness and brand loyalty for growing ventures, provided a company is clear and deliberate about how they are communicating with customers. Finally, the company educates potential customers on larger problem it solves, which helps the company become an expert voice on industry topics — and that goes very far in building credibility among potential clients and customers. For example, in a recent whitepaper, Espresa points out that companies with an engaged workforce have a 44 percent higher retention rate and 29 percent more revenue. Also, Espresa found that Work-Life Balance is more important than salary in the Bay Area tech industry. Will Espresa accomplish the goal of leveling the playing field in talent? Time will tell. In the meantime, other startups can learn about the value of keeping consumers on their toes and avoiding “Me Too” efforts in marketing.