What is grassroots marketing?
You may have heard the term, but like most marketers, you probably haven’t put it to practice.
In this article, I’ll walk you through why grassroots marketing is worth your time.
What We’ll Cover
- What grassroots marketing is
- Why grassroots campaigns are used
- How to start a grassroots campaign
- How to optimize a grassroots campaign
- Focus on emotions
- Appeal to vanity
- Capitalize on timeliness
- Cater to your audience’s interests
- Rely on humor
- Opt for a PR stunt
- Use ambient ads
What is Grassroots Marketing?
Generally speaking, a grassroots movement is the kind that uses the people in a specific district, region, or community as a base for a political movement.
Through self-organization, these movements inspire those community members to take action and contribute, organically spreading the word and ideology behind the movement.
Think a boots-on-the-ground, door-to-door type initiative. It starts small, and later snowballs into a broader, often national movement.
Remember Occupy Wall Street? The 2011 movement eventually involved millions of people attempting to cleanse the dirty practices of Wall Street.
But it all started with just a few – a spontaneous group of people who were fed up with the process.
That was a grassroots movement.
Grassroots marketing follows the same principle. Using grassroots campaigns, marketers work to purposefully target a niche group of people in hopes that they will spread, or propagate, their campaign message organically.
The focus of the campaigns is on intent and audience. Your audience = the niche group, your intent = motivation to spread the word.
This is, clearly, quite different than your average PPC or email marketing campaign. That’s because, with most advertising campaigns, the goal is to reach as many people as possible.
But with a grassroots campaign, you’re targeting down to that very narrow group. And if all goes well, they’ll reach the masses for you.
You might have heard about guerilla marketing. It’s the concept championed by Jay Conrad Levinson back in the mid-1980’s. It’s about using unorthodox methods to reach an audience.
It may seem like guerilla marketing and grassroots marketing are related, but they’re not.
Sure, there might be some crossover. But the two are distinguishable by the level of reach.
With guerilla marketing, you’re trying to reach as many people as possible. In many cases, your target market is wide open.
Why Use a Grassroots Campaign?
I get it. In theory, a grassroots campaign seems kind of risky.
After all, there’s no guarantee the audience you target will actually spread the message. And if they don’t, you’ve put a lot of eggs in a pretty insecure basket.
And I could cite many grassroots marketing examples that failed.
That’s a big reason behind why many marketers shy away from grassroots campaigns.
By nature, it is informal, with little structure behind it. For many, that’s not exactly comforting when there are marketing dollars on the line.
But that lack of formality is exactly what allows it to resonate so well with audiences.
It’s an organic movement fueled by your audience – not your campaign dollars or clever ads.
In a way, it’s a big form of social proof. Your niche audience is endorsing you by spreading your message. It brings with it more trust and validation in a day and age where consumer trust is a big factor in purchasing decisions.
And because your initial goal is to target just that very niche group, grassroots campaigns end up being remarkably cost-effective.
And, these niche groups are often harder to reach through traditional PPC campaigns.
How to Start a Grassroots Marketing Campaign
Remember, any marketing agency will tell you that grassroots marketing is focused on two things: your audience and intent.
So it makes sense that the first step to a successful campaign is to accurately identify the niche you need to target.
This goes beyond your usual target audience definition.
You need a full persona mapped out, focusing specifically on interests and worldviews.
What keeps this person up at night? What issues are they passionate about? If they were telling their friends or family about your product or service, what particular benefits would they highlight?
Grassroots marketing plays to passions and emotions – whether it’s someone’s altruism or simply what makes them laugh – so a solid understanding of what motivates them and where their pain points lay is key.
What’s really cool about it now is that it doesn’t have to be tied to a physical location (thank you internet).
Instead, you can target based on niche interests through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. So, make sure you also have a good handle on the networks your audience uses most.
How to Optimize Your Grassroots Marketing Campaign
When it comes to successful examples, engagement is absolutely key.
That means everything you create should be as user-friendly as possible. When creating grassroots content, make sure it checks the following:
- Optimized for all devices
- Contains a visual element
The first one is pretty self-explanatory. In order to get the most engagement, your content needs to find people no matter what device they’re using, whether its a desktop, tablet or mobile.
The second point is a big one.
Remember, a grassroots marketing campaign relies on its shareability. And studies show that visual content is consistently shared more often.
Just take a look at these stats:
- Colored visuals increase people’s desire to read content by 80%.
- Content with images increases the view rate by 94%.
- Visuals generate more backlinks than any other form of content.
- Posts with images produce 180% more engagement.
See what I mean? Don’t skip the visuals.
It’s no surprise that many of the more successful marketing campaigns come in video format.
Our brains are wired for videos. According to studies, the average viewer remembers 95% of a message when it is watched, whereas only 10% when read.
But keep in mind that often, you’ll need to put some work in before you can expect even a video to go viral.
Grassroots campaigns require nurturing and an active fan base. Don’t be surprised if this type of initiative takes some time.
Your first job is start connecting with the niche audience you’ve identified. Connect with them on social media and start Facebook groups to create an engaged following.
Once your audience is engaged, they’ll be more apt to share.
Which brings us to the million-dollar question: what kind of content lends itself best to a grassroots marketing campaign?
Grassroots Marketing Campaigns: Focus on Emotions
Emotional triggers and marketing go hand-in-hand.
Studies show that people rely on emotions, not information, to make brand decisions.
And according to a study by Unruly – which ranks the most viral ads of each year – the most-shared ads back in 2015 relied heavily on emotional content, largely dominated by friendship, inspiration, warmth, and happiness.
One of the best emotions to target is empathy. Tapping into that kind of emotion, coupled with powerful storytelling, carries a strong potential to influence your audience to perform the desired action.
It’s what Westjet used in 2013 to power its holiday campaign – and it’s since become one of the most popular examples of grassroots marketing in action.
The Canadian airliner offered passengers a chance to tell Santa (recorded via livestream) what they wanted for Christmas.
Then, when the passengers arrived at their destination, the presents mentioned were distributed to them at baggage claim.
It capitalized on the warm, fuzzy feeling of the holidays and the glee of excited children receiving presents from Santa – and it worked.
Look no further than the YouTube comments.
This wasn’t an ad, it was a video streamed on YouTube. And resulted in a huge 48 million views.
Here’s another one of many successful grassroots campaign examples: Charity Water’s Rachel’s Gift.
For her ninth birthday, Rachel asked for donations to Charity Water rather than presents. She fell just a bit short of her goal, and died unexpectedly before she could attempt her goal the next year.
Charity Water took up the call, and through Facebook and YouTube, launched the campaign to fulfill Rachel’s wish. It proved to their most successful campaign to date.
Why? Because it was genuine. Just take a look at this video:
Everything – from the music, text, and news flashes – are designed to elicit emotion.
And the movement that started with a little girl and her family lead to 31,997 donations.
Grassroots Campaign Ideas: Appeal to Vanity
This one is a bit more unorthodox.
But let’s be honest, we all know there’s a bit of vanity and narcissism associated with social channels like Facebook and Instagram (selfies, anyone?)
In fact, when the New York Times conducted a study to see why people shared certain content, they found that users like to share content that builds their online personas and makes them look good in front of their peers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? It’s yet another one of many successful grassroots campaign examples.
By all accounts, it shouldn’t have worked so well.
After all, it required people to put in some work. Not only did they have to undergo the physical discomfort of actual ice water being dumped on their bodies, but they had to get the water to freezing temperature and arrange for the entire thing to be filmed.
Despite all that, it was an undeniable success, and the ALS Association pulled it off beautifully.
By incorporating their call-to-action into a nomination where friends nominate each other to take the challenge, they tapped into that concept of peer recognition.
Because people are being nominated by friends – and on social media where everyone can see the call out, nonetheless – people feel more compelled and pressured to follow through with the action.
In the end, 17 million people uploaded videos and raised $70 million for ALS.
Grassroots Marketing Campaigns: Capitalize on Timeliness and Movements
There’s no time like the present, right?
That’s especially true in marketing when new trends or movements come to life.
Campaigns or movements that capitalize on what’s current, like the #MeToo movement and #BlackLivesMatter, have a much greater chance or cultivating a wide following
And in the age of emerging body positivity and self-love, no brand has pushed those values more so than Dove.
With their Real Beauty Sketches campaign, Dove set out to illustrate that women are their own worst critic when it comes to body image.
Their goal was to reach “real” women with insecurities, not the supermodel ideal that had come to be expected.
They hired an artist to paint women as they saw themselves, and a second time as strangers saw them.
Dove put the video on YouTube, and it eventually racked up 1 million Facebook likes, 20,000 Tweets, and 66 million views, ultimately making it the most watched video ad of all time.
Grassroot Campaign Ideas: Cater to Your Audience’s Interests
Any marketing agency will tell you that the goal of a grassroots marketing strategy is to find your niche audience.
But some campaigns can get away with marketing ideas that play on universal emotions and themes, while others go the extra mile to speak very soundly to their audience.
That’s especially true when it comes to reaching millennials.
The WWF pulled it off when they launched an emoji campaign to target a younger audience for small donations.
They turned 17 endangered animals into emojis, and encouraged their Twitter audience to tweet one out and pledge a 10 cent donation.
Within one year, the emoji had been used over 202 million times on Twitter.
Barack Obama accomplished something similar when he needed to encourage 26-35 year-olds to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
To reach them, he appeared on the comic web series Between Two Fern to promote those sign-ups.
The video quickly became the biggest source of referrals to the website, increasing traffic by 40%.
Both of these grassroots marketing campaigns worked because they soundly hit their target audience in the places they’re most interested in, and in doing so the brands (or person) became far more likable and relatable.
Grassroot Marketing Campaigns: Rely on a Little Humor
Humor is a well-known catalyst for viral videos.
It can take something as historically un-funny as dental hygiene and turn it into a viral sensation.
That’s exactly what the Oregon Dental Association did with their “Teach Me How to Brushy” YouTube video.
The goal was to reach a younger audience and convey the importance of a good dental regimen at a young age.
To do that, they knew they needed a way to engage that pushed the usual boundaries of dental marketing.
“Teach Me How to Brush” did just that. By using a current, popular song and featuring cameos from few well-known local figures, the video spoke directly to a younger audience in Oregon.
And eventually, to the nation.
Grassroot Marketing Campaigns: Opt for a PR Stunt
Want to set yourself apart from your competitors? Go with a PR stunt.
Do something radical. Something out of the box. Something that people aren’t expecting but will find fascinating.
Then, put it on film and submit it to YouTube and your various social media accounts.
Watch what happens next. If your instincts were right, the video will go viral.
And then you’ve got free buzz about your brand.
If you own a bottled beverage company, for example, you could have used the recent bottle cap challenge to promote your business.
The bottle cap challenge, in case you missed the viral episode, originated thanks to UFC Featherweight champ Max Holloway. He used his kicking skills to literally kick the cap off a bottle.
He filmed it so the world could see. Soon, high-profile celebs like Jason Statham and Conor McGregor got in on the fun.
Your brand could have joined the viral moment.
Imagine hiring a martial arts practitioner to kick the cap off one of your beverage bottles and posting it on YouTube. That might have gained some traction.
You’d probably have to add a twist though. After all, people were already familiar with the bottle cap challenge.
Maybe you could have the martial arts expert say something funny, then unexpectedly kick the cap off the bottle.
Or maybe the person could kick the caps off two bottles.
There are other ways that you could create viral moments, of course. Mandic Cloud Solutions once held mock funerals for outdated technology parts.
People who watched the video saw numerous caskets containing “dead” tech. The whole point was to promote Mandic as a brand with state-of-the-art cloud solutions.
Is that a bit morbid? Yes, but it did get people’s attention.
Grassroot Marketing Campaigns: Ambient Ads
Another way you can roll out a grassroots campaign is with the aid of ambient ads.
No, ambient ads don’t have anything to do with pharmaceutical products. They’re ads that appear in unusual places and act as attention-getters.
As you go about your day-to-day life, keep your eyes open for unorthodox spots that might make work as locations for ads.
Remember, consider everything a possibility. Look at the sides of buildings, the backs of vehicles, or even clothes people are wearing.
Look for an opportunity to promote your brand where your competitors aren’t running ads.
Wrapping Up Grassroots Marketing
Hopefully, you have a much better handle on what grassroots marketing is and how to produce a successful strategy.
Granted, not every strategy will work for every business. But at the very least, the ideas above should serve as inspiration as to how you can tap into and motivate your own audience.