Grassroots marketing can be an excellent way of getting the word out about your business. It is an especially powerful tool for brick-and-mortar type small and locally focused businesses.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the different 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 that you can implement in your marketing campaign.

What Is Grassroots Marketing?

The ideas that define grassroots marketing are 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. It’s done in order to persuade that group of people to organically propagate your message forward.

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 vs. Guerilla Marketing

People often confuse grassroots marketing and guerilla marketing with each other. This is understandable, given that grassroots marketing often relies upon many of the same techniques as guerilla marketing campaigns.

The key differences between guerilla marketing and grassroots marketing are the audience and the intent. Grassroots marketing campaigns are focused on a specific audience/niche/demographic. Guerilla marketing campaigns on the other hand, are designed in order to reach as many people as possible. Viral social sharing is a crucial aspect of the success of a guerilla marketing campaign. Despite such key differences, both guerilla marketing and grassroots marketing use similar strategies and techniques.

Why Use Grassroots Marketing?

Grassroots marketing campaign have proven to be very effective over time. However, many brands still prefer to use a PPC or paid social campaign over it.  However, there are many reasons why marketers should try using grassroots marketing. Here are some of them:

Grassroots marketing is very cost effective

A smaller and more focused target audience reduces the total expenditure on the marketing campaign. This makes grassroots marketing very useful for companies that have budget restrictions.

Grassroots marketing enhances the viability of small, targeted campaigns 

Audiences of grassroots marketing campaigns are usually small and highly segmented. A grassroots marketing campaign can open up opportunities which might not be cost-effective otherwise.

Grassroots marketing gives audiences what they want

Grassroots marketing gives audiences a direct interaction with the brand in question. Socially responsible brands usually have a higher appeal in the eyes of the customers. A proactive and direct approach to a brand’s social media fans is a wonderful way to directly engage with the target audience and have a fruitful and interactive social experience.

Ideas for your next grassroots marketing campaign

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.

Use emotional triggers for spreading the word

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.

Use a PR stunt to create some buzz

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.

The religious symbolism of the stunt made the strategy quite risky. However, it attained the ultimate goal of every grassroots marketing campaign, which is to get people talking. Afterall, a true grassroots marketing campaign always starts with targeting a specific audience which can potentially spread your brand’s message in an organic manner.

Always stay ready to capitalize on trending topics

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. This grassroots marketing also helped spread the message by serving as a resource for the news media. The campaign ended up generating over 125 million impressions across different social media platforms. It made ENA an important resource during that time.

Use your creativity for ambient ads

Advertisements that appear in unusual locations and unusual ways are referred as ambient ads. These ads are some of the most effective types of grassroots marketing as they have the power to stop people in their tracks.

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.

Don’t shy away from tear-off flyers

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, a lot of major brands have successfully used tear-off flyers for some of their grassroots marketing campaigns.

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.

Flirt with Controversy on Social Media

As we discussed earlier, grassroots marketing shares many elements typically employed by viral content providers such as BuzzFeed and Upworthy. Social media interaction is a very important aspect of successful grassroots marketing campaigns, flirting with some controversy online can help your content reach a wider audience. However, you must be very careful while tiptoeing the fine line between being controversial and being offensive.

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 apparently well intentioned campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign drew a lot of ire from people on social media. Check out these controversial ads to see how flirting with controversy can go wrong.

If you choose to try and capitalize on a controversial or sensitive topic, be very careful. Controversial marketing can work wonders and expose your brand to a wider customer base. However, even the biggest, savviest brands in the world have screwed this up countless times. Exercise extreme caution with this approach.

Stand for a good cause and do something philanthropic 

There are quite a few 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.

Philanthropy and charitable giving can be a powerful motivator for many people. The desire to extend help, or even better, actually helping people is an excellent way to spread the word about your business. If customers know that your brand provides essential support to charities and organizations that rely on donations to help those who need help most, they will become more interested in your brand.