What would prompt ordinary citizens to don carrot costumes and publically campaign outside a store? A good cause, of course. The “carrotmobbers” pictured above, along with the thousands of others like them across the world, are part of a spending spree organized through the social enterprise, Carrotmob. In other words, they are there to pump dollars into the business by buying its products, and invite friends, relatives, and passersby to do the same. In exchange for the boost in income, the business agrees to make a positive pre-determined change, ranging from a switch to energy-efficient equipment to the adoption of a no plastic bags policy. In the case of Kale’s Natural Food (pictured above), they applied their record-setting revenue to “set up recycling facilities” for its cardboard.
The Carrotmob Concept
As a small business owner, it would be easy to dismiss the story of the quirky Carrotmob as irrelevant to their interests, occupying as it does a very special niche. But even if you don’t plan on inviting carrotmobbers to your store anytime soon (to say nothing of wearing a carrot costume yourself), the success of Carrotmob is more than applicable. Through their model, it’s easy to recognize how businesses can use community events to gain the goodwill of the community, and in turn increase foot traffic, generate more sales, and build customer loyalty. Here are two often overlooked principles to guide you in accomplishing just that.
Capture their Imagination
This advice may seem more appropriate for artists than entrepreneurs, but this notion is even truer in the era of Twitter and bite-sized attention spans. Imagine if carrotmobbers exchanged their costumes for business attire and their signs for flyers, then sat sedately at a table, as many community organizations tend to do, waiting for interested people to come to them. This would have the same premise—an organized spending spree—only a far different effect: It would be much more difficult to reach the revenue milestone with this lackadaisical, commonplace approach.
To put it in another way, Carrotmob, with its catchy display of branding, is a spectacle no matter who you are. If passersby don’t know what Carrotmob is, they will after they ask the inevitable questions: What’s a carrotmob? Or on a more basic level: Why are those people dressed up as carrots? You want people to have the same curious reaction to community events at your business, and the only way to ensure this is to not be afraid to get creative. The further you deviate from what people expect, the more likely you are to capture their imagination, and in turn, their attention.
As a local entity with a limited budget, the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce is a great example of just how far this creative spirit can take you. Instead of hosting a ho-hum mixer, as so many chambers do, the JRCC opted for a chili cook-off to benefit charity (yes, complete with someone dressed as a chili pepper). The event also boasted “live music from singer/songwriter Larry Magnum, children’s bounce houses, and a silent auction.” In turn, the chili cook-off drew over a thousand plus patrons, all of whom learned more about the chamber and local businesses truly in the name of good fun.
Build a Community
While patrons may curiously enter a business due to the carrotmob colorfully campaigning outside, they stay for the opportunity to do good. More accurately, they stay for the opportunity to do good in the company of others. This dynamic cannot be underscored enough. People go to Carrotmob events to share in the presence of like-minded people, all of whom care about the community in general and this small business in particular. In such an atmosphere, giving back is plain fun, as the video below can attest:
This may strike some as a cynical attitude of community events—that people go primarily to socialize—but no matter how you take them, this aspect must be addressed. If you’re a business owner, you want to ramp up the opportunities for interaction between all the people involved. In this way, people will feel like not just a face in the crowd, but a part of something much bigger than their individual selves.
The Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce also demonstrates this principle extremely well. Out of the myriad events that the JRCC could have designed, they wisely did the one that required people to move about and mingle the most. For as a cook-off, patrons have to make the rounds to taste the various chili concoctions from booth to booth. And while camaraderie may not happen instantaneously, it’s much easier to connect with others when you have at least two things in common (a love of community, and of course, chili).
The Bottom Line
While most entrepreneurs will think of community events in terms of logistics and dollars, it’s also helpful to view them as an artist (how can they be designed to capture people’s imaginations?) and as a social engineer (how can they be designed to encourage interaction between attendees, so as build an even stronger sense of community?). If you can address these two questions, you’ll be that much closer to gaining the wholesale support of local consumers.