What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

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If you're big on ambition but short on budget, guerrilla marketing could be the perfect marketing tool for your business. Guerrilla marketing uses unconventional tactics to "ambush" buyers and impress them into buying your products and services. It's a labor intensive tactic since you're using creativity and not just money, to achieve your marketing goals.

What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

Jay Conrad Levinson coined the term guerrilla marketing in 1984, in his book of the same name. The idea is to invest time, energy and imagination into a marketing campaign that's so unexpected, it takes consumers by surprise – like the covert tactics guerrilla groups used in Vietnam to ambush the U.S. army. Guerrilla marketing is low-cost, high-impact and unconstrained by rules. The only focus is on making the buyer feel intrigued, thrilled and privileged, thus generating word-of-mouth publicity for your business.

Guerrilla Marketing Examples

While guerilla marketing is popular among small businesses with equally small marketing budgets, some bigger brands have got in on the act. Here are some high-profile examples:

  • To encourage the purchase of cell phone insurance in Romania, Vodafone hired professional pickpockets to slip flyers into people's pockets, proving how vulnerable they were to theft. The flyers read, "It's this easy to steal your phone. Insure your phone at Vodafone."
  • Over 4,000 children die of water-related diseases every day. In an attempt to change that, Unicef installed a vending machine in Manhattan that sold one-dollar bottles of dirty water. Flavors included cholera, malaria, dysentery, typhoid and salmonella. As the machine pointed out, a single purchase could provide 40 days' worth of clean drinking water for a child.
  • A cancer-prevention charity placed morgue toe-tags on sunbathers and laid out coffin-shaped beach towels to raise awareness of skin cancer.

How to Do Guerrilla Marketing

The only rule of guerrilla marketing is that it's unexpected and therefore memorable. A campaign typically starts with a creative idea that delivers the marketing message in a surprising way. So, you'll need to brainstorm some ideas. Use the following tips to frame your discussions:

  • Know your audience – who they are, where they hang out and what type of messages will resonate with them. Aiming for something that adds value to them is the surest way of making a positive connection with consumers.
  • Choose a public location like the street, parks, festivals, shopping centers and sporting events. The ubiquity of smartphone works in favor of guerrilla marketing. Every photo or video a consumer shares is free advertising for your business – even better if your campaign goes viral.
  • Focus on targeting smaller groups. A local pizza restaurant will find that it's much cheaper, and potentially much more intriguing, to chalk a series of catchy slogans on the sidewalk than to take out a conventional newspaper ad.
  • Be authentic. If your tactics sound like a "sell," consumers will quickly lose interest.
  • Don't be a copycat. A guerrilla campaign loses traction when repeated too many times.

Risks of Guerrilla Marketing

While your budget may not be on line with guerilla marketing, your reputation might be. A communication that is too wacky may be misinterpreted. The Cartoon Network, for example, got it badly wrong when they placed strange flashing LED devices around Boston to promote characters from one of their shows. Residents mistook the devices for bombs, bomb disposal experts were called in, and the company got hit with $2 million in fines. Understand that you likely will need a city permit or the property owner's permission to run a flash mob, put up posters or graffiti the walls. You'll have to take responsibility for your actions so make sure you understand the consequences of your campaign before you begin.