We hear it again and again: word-of-mouth is the holy grail of marketing. It’s what makes content go viral. It’s what drives the entire buzz-world of social media influencer marketing. It’s unquantifiable, and in that sense, it has mystique and power.

In this web-happy world of ours we sometimes forget, though, that word-of-mouth actually happens on the street, in schools, homes, workplaces—from real mouths making sounds in real time. Influencers and social media channels have a lot of power to reach a lot of people quickly. But when it comes down to it, people are still rooted in the physical world.

Since that’s the case, a powerhouse business knows its marketing strategy fires on all physical and digital cylinders at once.

From organic to digital

In Square’s guide on how to run a business, there’s some common sense advice on marketing: “The best place to begin is with the stuff that’s low cost. Start with the community—oftentimes, organic, word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective.”

Start with the community, and establish a savvy presence on social media channels. Include email marketing because it’s proven to work. According to Campaign Monitor author Kim Stiglitz, “Email marketing is the king of the marketing kingdom with a 3800% ROI and $38 for every $1 spent.”

In the best case scenario, you run grassroots efforts alongside digital efforts. The following will provide you with grassroots branding and marketing ideas to go directly with digital campaigns.

Grassroots #1: The Event

Rage Against the Machine concert at Target Center, Minneapolis

Sponsoring a concert or other event, such as a marathon, is a great way to establish a positive, fun image of your brand. Red Bull does this successfully with the Red Bull Sound Select “artist development” program. The Facebook page has nearly 43 thousand likes, and you can bet the company sells plenty of beverages at concerts.

Corresponding digital action: Videos and Social Media

To go with your event, create a whole series of videos. Doing so will place you square in the middle of the wildfire that is video advertising: in 2014, Facebook saw a 50% increase in video views within two months. Facebook prioritizes video in its news feed. Don’t get me started on the live video factor. Facebook now automatically prioritizes live video feeds by default.

You can also pump out shorter video on networks such as Vine and Instagram. And don’t forget about YouTube. Creating a series of videos for these networks and capping it off with a live feed on Facebook and Twitter will blast your event, and your brand, into the stratosphere.

Grassroots #2: The Charity Drive


A prime example of the successful charity campaign is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was hugely popular. With 2.4 million tagged videos, the whole thing went viral in 2014, helping to raise awareness of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and helping to raise funds for organizations such as the ALS Association.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was creative. Nominated participants had to endure getting drenched with a bucket of ice water, or donate money for the ALS cause. Whatever charity you choose, and whatever form your fundraising takes, make sure you’re being genuine. You’re trying to raise money for charity first and foremost. Your brand will be in the background, creating positive brand recognition.

Corresponding digital action: Social Media and Website

Setup social media pages and a website to go directly with your charity drive. Hopefully you can make this an annual thing so that the page and the site stay fresh. Even if not, they’ll be archived and will continue to gain authority in search engines. You’ll create written content and videos to boost traffic. You’ll be linking to your business site from the social media channels and website.

Grassroots #3: The Influencer Review

According to author Robin Burton, “Marketing is about getting your product in front of people. And it’s about making sure they see your product in the light you want them to see it in.” She goes on to suggest finding YouTube influencers with thousands of views and sending them a sample of your product for review. This is a great way to leverage the power of influencers.

Of course, nothing guarantees influencers will “see your product in the light you want them to see it in”—but if your product or service is quality, the fact that they’re getting it for free won’t hurt. The resulting word-of-mouth will more than make up for what you spend.

Corresponding digital action: Content Marketing

Now that reviews are in, it’s time to create content based around them. There are several ways to go about this. You could write content for your site that cites positive reviews. Or, you could get permission to post glowing reviews on your site. And, you could do guest posting in which you reference descriptive, helpful parts of reviews.

With guest posting, you have to be careful, because no one wants to publish press-release-style, promotional content unless you pay them (or it’s a PR site). If that’s the type of content you to publish, go ahead and pay them.

Make sure you push review articles and your posts on social media.

Grassroots #4: The Art Contest

Awards Youth Art Contest
Awards Youth Art Contest

Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar location, an art contest is an attractive branding tactic. This gives you the chance to kill two birds:

  • Harness the power of artistic influencers—good artists are great guerilla marketers
  • Get some stunning visual material you can showcase

Post flyers around town to attract artists. You’ll be giving the contestants a theme congruent with your brand’s values. Hopefully, your brand’s values reflect those of your audience, because you’ve done your research.

The winner of the contest will receive a prize that makes this worth their time. Include your product or service, and exposure at your location, as part of the prize. Think about partnering with other organizations for maximum effect.

Then, display the artwork in your store and on your website. This puts you in an entirely different realm, adding a level of class and legitimacy to your brand.

Corresponding digital action: Social Media and Visual Content Marketing

You’ll want to be on social media with this from the get-go. It’ll be part of soliciting contestants, and you’ll broadcast winning material there, tagging the artists. The winning photographs or art will also go up on your website. Here’s where you can get creative about using this material for your visual content marketing. Hubspot’s list of visual content marketing stats provides plenty of proof as to how this is worthwhile.

People are 80 percent more likely to want to read a piece if there’s visually appealing content with it. People are 40 times more likely to share visuals vs. other types of content on social media.

This is grassroots marketing at its best. You’ll have the word of artistic influencers on the street in association with your brand. And you’ll have powerful visual content to take digital, and potentially, to go viral.