Grassroots marketing is the best way for your startup business to create awareness among potential customers and to establish a brand in whatever markets you’re targeting – local, regional or even national.
There’s nothing fancy about grassroots marketing techniques. All “grassroots” really means in this context is something unconventional that allows your brand to meet your customers where they live and work -- as contrasted with advertising, which depends on mass media to reach them.
“If you’re a startup, you don’t have a ton of money, so grassroots is what you have to do,” says Laura Betterly, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who now is president of In Touch Media Group, a Clearwater, Fla., marketing concern that she founded.
Creativity and energy are what count in making grassroots marketing effective. Here are vignettes about a half-dozen grassroots techniques that different entrepreneurs have proven to work for them.
Grassroots marketing technique #1:
Attach your signs to telephone poles
When he started up his 1-800-GOTJUNK franchise in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ben Hopper was having trouble with a tried-and-true grassroots-marketing technique: signs that he plunked into lawns and street corners. In his neck of the woods, homeowners and city work crews looked at them as clutter. So Hopper innovated and began tacking his signs to telephone poles. As long as he keeps them about nine or 10 feet off the ground, no one bothers them – and everyone driving by notices them. “As soon as we started this, there was a dramatic increase in call volumes,” says Hopper, who spends about $1,200 a year – or about $1.50 a piece – on the signs. “They stick in people’s minds because they’re staring at them while they sit in traffic.”
Grassroots marketing technique #2:
Show off your product everywhere
The best thing for your product might be to actually demonstrate how it works. Joni Hilton and her husband Bob Hilton, for example, take every opportunity they can to demonstrate the amazing effectiveness of their non-toxic Holy Cow cleaning products. In the aisles of Ace Hardware stores nationwide, plus plenty of supermarkets and drugstores and other retailers, they hired demonstrators to clean the bejabbers out of tile, carpet, whiteboard – you name it. Holy Cow repeatedly shows up competing products in these demos. “It really is a breakthrough product, and it really does beat all the others right in front of consumers’ eyes,” says Joni Hilton, whose company is based in Rocklin, Calif.
Grassroots marketing technique #3:
Pass out logo merchandise
Put your company’s name, and a logo if you have one, on every trinket and piece of cloth you can think of and hand them out like mad. Liz Ryan gives out duffel bags with a big WorldWIT logo (her company’s name) on them. “They carry them around to the gym, on their errands, and people stop them and say, ‘What is WorldWIT?’” says Ryan, whose Boulder, Colo.-based startup is an online network for women. “My friends and colleagues get something handy to use, and I get free branding.” Ryan also has slapped her logo on vinyl portfolios, desk mugs, compass-flashlight combinations, little boxes of mints and even “onesie” baby clothes.
Grassroots marketing technique #4:
Launch an online “magazine”
Publishing online delivers all the advantages of broad communication minus the cost of materials and distribution that plague paper publications. Jonah Ansell has taken advantage of that by launching a “daily sports humor magazine,” The Rival Room, on his Rivalfish.com site. It “allows us to keep our fellow fans coming back each day and allows them to connect with our brand in a meaningful way, beyond our products,” says Ansell, of Oak Park, Ill. Since he launched The Rival Room in January, Rivalfish.com traffic has increased by 800% and sales are up 40%.
Grassroots marketing technique #5:
Put out “lead bags”
Curves International fitness clubs for women are one of the hottest franchise companies around – one key reason? You guessed it, grassroots marketing. One of the most effective tactics Curves hit on was to place “lead bags” in other local businesses. They look like gift bags and bear a prominent Curves logo, and accompanying the bag is a pad of forms that people can fill out to request more information about Curves and to register for a prize drawing of a free week of exercise. Franchisees ask the other business owners for permission to place the lead bags – and they’re willing to reciprocate as well. “The leads we get are highly qualified, because people have taken the trouble to fill out the form,” says Greg Hamilton, a Curves franchisee in Bakersfield, Calif.
Grassroots marketing technique #6:
Start a blog
Donna Miller, founder of GourmetStation.com in Atlanta, launched a blog on her website to educate and entice online shoppers to give her cuisine a try. Her company delivers gourmet “occasions” such as three-course Tuscan meals, so Miller blogs about topics that will interest her visitors and get them to order something. “At Easter, for example, I blogged about crown roast lamb and the tradition of Easter meals,” she says.
Our Bottom Line
As you can see from these six examples of successful grassroots marketing, all it takes is a little initiative and creativity to squeeze great results out of tiny expenditures. And it may be that the best grassroots marketing tactic is the one that you’re about to invent!