Going Offline: An Experiment in Grassroots Marketing

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How a creative effort to generate buzz offline led to a significant jump in traffic to this founder’s site. 

By Rena Thiagarajan (Founder, Project Bly)

While it’s easy to get consumed by social media marketing and pursuing online influencers especially as an online company where success is measured in clicks, there’s a lot of research that shows that social influence offline and word-of-mouth marketing can be very powerful. We at Project Bly, a boot-strapped startup with a very small marketing budget, decided to experiment with some creative, grassroots marketing, and get face-to-face with potential customers to talk to them about our brand.

Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton, in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On explains that “It’s not about necessarily having people talk about you; it’s about setting up the conversations so at the end of the day you’re part of that conversation.” The six principles he suggests make a product or idea contagious are:

  1. Social Currency – feeling like you’re part of an exclusive club
  2. Triggers – an association that triggers a reminder of something else
  3. Emotional Resonance – striking an emotional chord
  4. Observability – making something more observable
  5. Usefulness – people like to share things that have practical value
  6. Storytelling – everyone loves a story

So what exactly did we do? We created a conversation-starter that embodied our brand. To launch our Kumasi Collection from Ghana, we worked with a local San Francisco street-artist to create 100 “art-tables” inspired by the vibrant batik textiles we found in Kejetia market, in Kumasi, Ghana, one of the oldest in West Africa. Using basic IKEA side tables, paper, glue, and spray paint, we created striking art—pieces. We then gave them away to picnickers in parks in San Francisco on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

We were overwhelmed by the response. We had far fewer tables than there was demand for, and a lot of people came up to us to ask us what the story was even after all the tables were gone. This gave us an opportunity to engage them in conversation and explain our brand. Picnickers who received a table were especially curious about Project Bly, not to mention thrilled with their new tables. The tables stayed in the park all afternoon, and people were free to take them home, where they hopefully continue to be part of a conversation that includes our brand.

In my estimate we personally reached and engaged a minimum of 500 people. This number in terms of mere clicks isn’t very much, but I think what we did was give people a story to talk about that related to Project Bly, a brand focused on travel and design.

In terms of numbers, the weekend of our “Table Drop” resulted in the highest traffic we’ve had on any weekend since we launched on March 27, and a 127% increase from the prior weekend. We also received the most email signups that weekend. Our web traffic for the month of August is approximately 20% higher than July, and direct traffic or search traffic for “Bly” or “Project Bly” accounts for over 35% of total traffic.

Did we go viral? No. But I think we achieved what we set out to do, all for less than half of what a 1.5” x 1” ad on a popular interior design blog costs. For pictures of the fun we had with this marketing experiment, click here. 

How has your startup gotten creative with offline marketing?

bio picAbout the guest blogger: Rena Thiagarajan is a recovering corporate attorney and the founder of Project Bly. She couldn’t have pulled off this creative marketing campaign without her partner-in-crime, Cori Brosnahan, and a tremendously talented team of freelancers, including Zach Meyers, Erika Kohnen, Alex Rapine and Jon Knox.