PPC and paid social campaigns are among the best ways to grow your business, but sometimes, you have to go back to basics and rely on more traditional techniques – with a digital twist – to find new customers for your products or services.
Grassroots marketing can be an excellent way of getting the word out about your business. This can be especially powerful for small, locally focused businesses with a brick-and-mortar location.
In today’s post, we’ll take a look at seven ways to use grassroots marketing to help grow your business.
First, let’s take a look at what grassroots marketing actually is, how it differs from guerilla marketing, why you should consider using it, and several real-world tips (with examples) that you can use.
The defining idea behind grassroots marketing is one of audience and intent. Whereas some campaigns aim to reach as many people as possible (think a brand awareness campaign on the Display network, for example), grassroots marketing is the principle of purposefully targeting a highly niche group of people in an attempt to persuade that group to then propagate your message organically.
Grassroots marketing relies heavily on social media and virality to succeed. Since the idea behind this kind of campaign is to encourage people to share a story, it follows that social media is pivotal in making this happen.
Grassroots marketing and guerilla marketing are often confused with one another. This is understandable, given that grassroots marketing often relies upon many of the same techniques as guerilla marketing campaigns.
A guerilla marketing campaign by McDonald’s. This is not grassroots marketing,
as this particular ambient ad does not target a specific group or demographic.
However, the key difference goes back to audience and intent; grassroots campaigns target a very specific audience niche or demographic, whereas guerilla marketing campaigns are often designed to reach as many people as possible through viral social sharing – even though both types of campaign can use the same strategies and techniques.
Admittedly, this isn’t the clearest distinction between the two, but remember that true grassroots campaigns begin – and rely upon – targeting a highly specific group of people.
Although grassroots marketing can be highly effective, many brands fail to see why this type of marketing campaign can be more advantageous than, say, a typical PPC or paid social campaign.
There are several reasons you should consider using grassroots marketing.
Now we know what grassroots marketing is and why you should consider using it, let’s take a look at some ideas you can incorporate into your next campaign.
We know that exploiting your audience’s emotions is one of the best ways to encourage people to share a message, so leveraging emotional triggers is an excellent way to get your message out there.
A great example of this principle in action is a grassroots campaign that Canadian budget airline WestJet used to great effect when it surveyed passengers on social media to see what they’d most like as a Christmas gift. The airline then rushed out while the plane was airborne, bought many of the presents that passengers had mentioned, then gave them away to the passengers when they landed by placing them on the baggage carousel.
The YouTube video of the campaign received more than 33 million views at the time (and a further 11 million views since), highlighting the power of positive emotional messaging and the opportunities offered by timely or seasonal campaigns.
These days, it can be tough to get people talking about your product or service, which is why guerilla-style PR stunts can be so effective.
Online storage provider Mandic Cloud Solutions demonstrated this by holding mock funerals for obsolete and outdated tech in a PR stunt held outside a cathedral in Brazil. Small caskets were laid out, each containing an aging computer server, to symbolize the speed with which technology becomes outdated and “dies,” and the necessity of more modern storage solutions.
This strategy was a little risky, given the religious symbolism of the stunt and where it was held, but it did get people talking – the ultimate goal of any grassroots marketing campaign. Don’t forget, though, that a true grassroots campaign begins with defining and targeting a highly specific audience that can further your message organically.
When the Ebola scare gripped the world and made its way to the United States in 2015, few medical organizations – even large, well-funded medical centers – were prepared to cope with the influx of patients exhibiting symptoms of the deadly disease and the panic that followed. Fortunately, the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) had implemented a social media preparedness response plan shortly before the outbreak spread.
Thanks to this crisis management plan, the ENA disseminated vital health and safety information in real-time as the situation unfolded. It was able to share potentially life-saving tips on how to identify and respond to Ebola-like symptoms, and also helped spread safety information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The campaign also served as a valuable resource to the news media, which further helped spread the message.
In total, the campaign generated more than 125 million impressions across all major social media platforms, positioning the ENA as an important resource during a critical time.
Ambient ads are advertisements that appear in unusual locations, or in an unusual way. These ads can literally stop people in their tracks, making them one of the most effective examples of grassroots marketing.
There are quite literally hundreds of examples of ambient ads in action, and the topic itself probably warrants its own post, but the following examples prove that getting creative with ambient ads can help spread the word about your business.
A well-known ambient ad on a bus in Denmark advertising Copenhagen Zoo
One of the few drawbacks of ambient advertising, however, is that it can be expensive, depending on the medium, the pricing of available advertising inventory, and the complexity of the campaign. Each of these challenges if beyond the scope of this post, but ambient advertising may be worth exploring if you want to really grab people’s attention.
Many advertisers dismiss using tear-off flyers in their grassroots marketing campaigns in the mistaken belief that this method of advertising is best suited to people offering guitar lessons and yard sales. However, many major brands have launched tear-off flyer campaigns to great effect.
Take this example from global weight-loss brand Weight Watchers. It’s a simple idea, yet remains highly effective. Perhaps best of all, tear-off flyers are inexpensive to produce – the primary costs will be the use of colored ink (if applicable) and special perforation. Other than that, it’s a cheap and effective way to spread the word about your business, especially if your business has a predominantly local focus.
As we discussed earlier, grassroots marketing shares many elements typically employed by viral content providers such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy. Since social sharing is a crucial part of a successful grassroots marketing campaign, flirting with controversy can help propel your content to much wider audiences – if it’s handled correctly.
There are dozens of examples of this principle in action. Unfortunately, most of them a tone-deaf, crass, or even openly offensive (think branded cereal tie-ins to “honor” the victims of 9/11 and similarly half-baked ideas). Even well-intentioned campaigns, such as Dove’s “real beauty” initiative that sought to highlight the beauty of everyday women, drew criticism (and prompted a subsequent social media firestorm).
If you choose to try and capitalize on a controversial or sensitive topic, be very careful. Yes, controversial marketing could work spectacularly well and expose your business to a whole new world of prospective customers, but even the biggest, savviest brands in the world have screwed this up countless times. Tread lightly if you opt to try this approach.
Philanthropy and charitable giving can be a powerful motivator for many people. The desire to help – and be seen helping – a noble cause can give grassroots marketing campaigns a major push, so rallying behind a charity or advocacy organization can be an excellent way to spread the word about your business and provide essential support to charities and organizations that rely on donations to help those who need help most.
Again, there are dozens of examples of this in action, but one of the most powerful in recent memory was the amazing generosity observed shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing and the #BostonStrong hashtag. This decentralized campaign (an important distinction, as it began truly organically) benefited the One Fund immensely, raising more than $72 million in donations and allowing the organization to disperse more than $2 million to the families of each of the victims.
Grassroots marketing can be a great way to build your brand and reach new customers. Although not all of these ideas will necessarily apply to your business and campaign objectives, hopefully you’ve thought of some ways you can leverage the power of grassroots marketing to grow your business and reach new audiences in innovative ways.
As always, get at me in the comments with your own grassroots marketing success stories. Now get out there and make a splash!
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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