What is Guerrilla Marketing? A Guide for Entrepreneurs

Street advertisement for Old Forester whiskey

Modern consumers exist in a crowded world where businesses are continually trying to reach them. Traditional marketing methods, such as print ads or email marketing, have become oversaturated to the point that they are now too easy to ignore. Besides, making these strategies effective is dependent on a large budget, which is something many new businesses lack.

This is where guerrilla marketing comes in. This underground advertising ethos uses word of mouth and creativity to make an impact on customers – and it is designed to do so through affordable techniques. To help you decided if it is the right approach for your marketing strategy, here is a guide to what guerrilla marketing is, as well as some of the pros and cons of the format.

What is Guerrilla Marketing?

US business writer Jay Conrad Levinson first introduced the concept of guerrilla marketing in 1984, authoring a series of books on marketing solutions for small companies unable to compete with the budgets of larger advertising departments. It was inspired by the concept of guerrilla warfare and is built around the similar use of surprise and creativity to maximise impact.

Of course, since then, guerrilla marketing has adapted to the internet's conversational nature, and most companies engage in at least a small level of guerrilla marketing through social media. One example of this is the Twitter account of the US fast-food giant, Wendy's, which is humorous and combative in a way that does little direct selling but engages customers and strengthens the brand.

However, most guerrilla marketing campaigns are still physical in nature, and can be divided into four categories:

Outdoor – Advertising that adds something to an existing urban space, such as temporary artwork or a temporarily modified statue. As an example, paper towel manufacturer Bounty “spilt” a giant coffee cup in New York to generate buzz in 2009.

Indoor – Indoor guerrilla marketing adds an element to a pre-existing indoor space such as a metro station, shopping mall or university building. Flea collar manufacturer Frontline placed a giant picture of a dog on the ground floor of a mall that made shoppers look like pests.

Event – This guerrilla marketing tactic utilises the audience of a popular public event, such as a soccer game or concert performance, to advertise a product. For instance, Dutch beer company Bavaria sent 36 women into a widely-watched soccer game to promote their beverage during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Experiential – These marketing opportunities can take place in any of the venues above but require the customer to interact with the advertisement effort in some way. IKEA demonstrated this approach in 2011, holding a sleepover event in one of their UK stores to generate brand awareness.

The Pros and Cons of Guerrilla Marketing

Here are some of the primary advantages and disadvantages of utilising guerrilla marketing in your promotional campaigns:

Pro: Low Budget Requirements

One of the primary draws of guerrilla marketing is its low cost. This is because it does not depend on traditional advertising platforms and avoids the high costs of using them. Mainstream marketing methods such as billboards, print advertisements or television commercials come with the expectation that your message will be in front of a broad audience, but the companies that provide these services know their value and charge accordingly.

Successful guerrilla marketing depends more on a creative idea that captures consumer attention. Indeed, the best guerrilla marketing campaigns gain so much attention that they end up going viral, communicating a global message at little cost to the companies that implement them.

Con: Difficult to Measure Success

One of the main drawbacks to guerrilla marketing is that you can never be sure what the impact of your marketing efforts will be. One of the reasons that mainstream marketing methods have endured for so long is that they can be measured, and a return on investment (ROI) can be calculated for them. This is much harder to do with guerrilla marketing techniques.

This is another reason that guerrilla marketing is usually conducted on a low budget. By keeping the costs minimal and the creativity levels high, your bottom line will avoid damage if the idea doesn't pan out. However, if something does strike a chord with customers, it will be well worth the time and effort it took to mount the campaign.

Pro: It Increases Brand Recognition

A good guerrilla marketing campaign will communicate a message that embodies the spirit of your company's brand, mission and corporate values. Guerrilla marketing is an excellent way to express these things in a manner that wouldn't otherwise be available in your everyday interactions with customers.

It is essential to keep this in mind when developing a campaign. Guerrilla marketing is often less concerned with converting customers than it is with building a relationship with them. By using your marketing materials to make a positive impression on your audience, you can position your company to sell to them in the future.

Con: Misunderstood Marketing Can Generate Backlash

It is important to take a broader view of what potential guerrilla marketing campaigns can mean to consumers. A misunderstood campaign can have unintentional negative consequences for your company and may hurt sales more than it helps them.

One famous example of this occurred in Boston in 2007, when a series of LED advertisements for a film triggered a bomb scare and resulted in an emergency response from the authorities. In one sense, the marketing worked, as the story made national headlines and captured the attention of the news media for weeks. However, the studio's parent company was required to pay millions of dollars in fines before the event was concluded.

This is why it is vital to consider the potential adverse effects – or even legality – of any guerrilla marketing ideas. While temporarily modifying a statue probably won't have many serious legal implications, an event disruption could cause more trouble than it is worth.

Pro: It Generates Word of Mouth

Guerrilla marketing is perhaps the best way to get old fashioned word of mouth conversations started, especially as small businesses depend on positive relationships with their customers to find new clients and enable growth. A good guerrilla marketing campaign will get people asking questions about who you are and what your company is all about.

Guerrilla Marketing? Yes or No?

One of the great things about pursuing a guerrilla marketing campaign is that it is an opportunity to take stock of how your company is engaging with your competition, your community and your customers. Since it is a somewhat riskier form of advertising, with fewer guaranteed returns, it means that any strategy must be carefully thought out ahead of time.

However, it also means that it is a great chance to utilise time rather than money to enhance your marketing. It helps foster a collaborative environment within your company as you try to come up with the best marketing opportunity. It will help connect your company to the community around it by making a creative mark on a shared space. Finally, it will introduce you to new potential customers and remind those who already know you of the value of your company.

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