The number of effective grassroots marketing techniques is limited only by the creativity and innovation of startups who use them. Here are some more tactics that have worked for entrepreneurs like you.
Grassroots marketers network like crazy
Whether your business depends on a local market or a national one, now is the time for you to become an extrovert! It’s often true that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and so you can really help your business by putting extreme energy into networking. Chicago-based Reynald Adolphe, for example, has joined a number of professional organizations where he can rub shoulders with the meeting planners who are the key clientele for his service of providing standup comedians and other talent for corporate events. One group, Meeting Planners International, which welcomes planners and their suppliers, cost him more than $200 to join. And now that he’s in, he also likes to serve on internal committees. “It’s one of the best ways to network, because then you’re truly working with planners side by side,” Adolphe says.
Launch an “ambassador program”
Provide existing customers with the tools and incentives they need to promote your products or services among their own networks of family members, friends, colleagues, classmates and other like-minded individuals, advises Kevin McLaughlin, principal of Resound Marketing, based in Princeton, N.J. The tools can be as simple as a letter, a customer-referral card, or an e-mail newsletter; the incentives can range from your simple request to help, to awarding discounts or prizes to your customer with the most referrals. Matthew Kreiger, a chiropractor with his own practice, Advantage Health, in Shrewsbury, N.J., started his “ambassador program” with a small base of about 20 patients. He crafted a personal letter to each one, explaining that his practice grew upon referral only, and asked for their help in spreading the word to people they knew about how they experienced “wellness” through his care. Within a month, Dr. Kreiger’s grassroots marketing had heled double the size of his practice!
Enhance your cold calling for effective grassroots marketing
Cold calling often gets a bad rap because it can be so tedious. But there are things you can do to maximize the efforts you put into cold calling and get a better response rate. For example, Sandy Hagen, a franchisee of Express Personnel Services in Mt. Vernon, Washington, targets a handful of prospective clients each week as part of a “breakfast campaign.” Every Wednesday, she drops in on a potential customer for her temporary-staffing services and leaves behind a bagel, coffee cake or some other goodie. The next week, she does it again. Maybe by the third week, her presence in the lobby – always bearing gifts – finally will prompt the owner of the business to take a peek out there. “Eventually,” Hagen says, “they feel guilty enough to come out because I’ve been grabbing their attention by delivering this stuff, and they have to thank me. It’s just a foot in the door, but that’s all I need.”
Create a moving merchandising zone
If you’ve got a vehicle and it’s decent-looking, turn it into a roving billboard for your business! This can be as simple as having your business name and logo painted in the traditional places on your car, SUV or truck, such as the doors and back. “Soon, people in the neighborhood will notice your truck and call you,” promises Ruth King, author of the new book, The Ugly Truth About Small Business. She especially recommends this practice for service businesses. Or if you’re a little more daring, you can contract one of the growing number of services that can digitally transform your entire vehicle into a great moving advertisement for the ultimate in grassroots marketing, swathing it in a professionally designed graphic scheme complete with high-resolution photos of yourself or your products.
Distribute samples to key influencers
It’s one thing to be handing out samples of your product somewhere and expect customers to come to you. But an even better way to get results may be to proactively distribute samples to individuals – or types of consumers – that you covet. Clif Bar, for example, was a startup several years ago, but this now well-known brand of nutrition bar has built itself from the start by using grassroots marketing techniques including this one. In early 2005, Clif representatives distributed “tool boxes” to “influencers” such as trainers and managers at health clubs in six key markets across the United States. Each kit resembled a carpenter’s tool box and included product samples, literature and sales information. In a second wave of action, Clif representatives then visited gyms and hand-delivered samples and information to health-club members and, in a prize drawing, awarded a one-month supply of Clif Bars to a winning member at each club.
Become your own flack
Energetic, enthusiastic, communicative small business owners can create much of their own news-media coverage all by themselves if they put a little time into it. In fact, many journalists prefer not to deal with professional public-relations practitioners if they can help it, and a visit or phone call from an actual entrepreneur pitching their business can be a refreshing hook. Or target local reporters and radio producers and send an introductory letter on your stationery describing what you’re trying to accomplish with your company. Don’t forget to call on someone at the local weekly business newspaper; there are dozens of them in major cities across the country, and their reporters and editors especially tend to be on the lookout for entrepreneurial success stories.
Our Bottom Line
Taking a grassroots mentality toward marketing forces you to focus on exactly what the attributes and appeal of your business are, and exactly who your target audience is. The rubber really meets the road with grassroots marketing techniques. And their effectiveness will tell you a lot about whether your company is on the right path!