Getting Back to Basics: Guerrilla Marketing

Those of you who’re familiar with the term might be thinking: Guerilla marketing? Isn’t that for poor businesses and charities who don’t have an advertising budget? Well, in effect yes. That doesn’t preclude those of you who have a little money to spend from using it either. “A penny saved is a penny earned”, as Benjamin Franklin once said.

In fact, what in the heck do you think social media marketing is? Sure, there’s a thousand and one ways that you can pay someone to do it for you, including paid posts and various social media marketing services; but at its core, it’s free. How many pizza shops have you driven by in a major city lately without seeing at least one goofy looking person in a pizza costume, or someone in a chicken suit dancing out in front of a fried chicken joint?


photo credit: Wikipedia

Free or ultra low-cost is what guerilla marketing is all about: Finding free ways to promote your business. Developing ways to build your brand without making any significant dent in your budget (if you even have the luxury of a few extra nickels and dimes worthy of being called an official budget in this economy!)

Let’s first define the concept, then we’ll look at the basic principals of guerilla marketing techniques, then we’ll examine some really cool and unconventional ideas that anyone can use to boost their business marketing success.

Guerilla Marketing Basics

Guerilla Marketing Defined

Using thought-provoking concepts to generate a buzz using time, energy and imagination to get results rather than a big marketing budget.

The 13 Basic Principals of Guerilla Marketing:

1. Due to the free or low-cost methods being used, guerilla marketing methods are rarely stand-alone; but rather a combination of several campaigns.
2. Though anyone can use the idea, the concept is best utilized by small business owners.
3. Your efforts should be directly measured by the amount of actual profits you make, not strictly by the number of individual sales or even leads your guerilla marketing methods draw in.
4. Aside from the free or low-cost requirement, this methodology should be focused specifically on relationship building techniques – furthering relationships with existing customers and bringing in new ones, to ultimately increase profits.
5. Referrals are one of the easiest, low cost methods to increase profits.
6. Human psychology is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding where to focus your passions for maximum results.
7. The trends that are influencing buyers are just as important when formulating your game plan, and in fact, synonomous with the human psychology element of any guerilla marketing planning process.
8. Guerilla marketing takes the focus off of thinking of competition as your enemy and to rather find ways that you and they can work together for mutual benefit.
9. Find a way to hyper-focus the scope of your products and services, so you don’t spread your business efforts to thin, ultimately creating excessive (expensive) marketing strain that you can’t keep up with.
10. Focus on smaller demographic groups (e.g., 21-30 year olds, instead of 12-55 year olds) to maximize the impact of your guerilla marketing strategies and allow hyper-focusing to be effective.
11. A true guerilla marketer will fully understand the effective frequency involved with their product in order to effectively focus all the information collected in the planning process, in order to put their plans together and commit to take action with them.
12. Technology can increase the reach of your campaigns, provided you don’t have to purchase them, or can find that technology at a low cost. Computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. All can help you specifically with Internet-based campaigns such as social media, video streaming, email, forum posting, or distributing promotional content.
13. “Think tanks” and other team-based approaches should be used whenever possible. Use Chris Swanger’s “GorillaSwang” approach by making your team come up with 2 ideas that are easy and inexpensive to execute – after the ideas are conceived you have 24 hours to deploy.

Examples of Guerilla Marketing

Grassroots “Astroturf” Advertisements

If you’re confused, you can also think of this term as fronting or being initially deceptive to get people’s attention. I’m going to spend a few paragraphs on this one, so that you understand both the techniques you can use and the implications involved, as this is a “grey area” method that can get you into trouble, if implemented with naivety.

Pushing out positive testimonials on the Internet and offline publications, under the guise of being an uninvested “grassroots” user of your product. Creating a popular blog that draws users in, gains their trust then (gently) pushes your services on them. Organizing public events under the guise of serving a legitimate public or consumer interest, while in reality you’ll be afforded the opportunity to network with demographics who you want to procure as customers.

These are easy and inexpensive to do, but you do need to be clever in order to make your grassroots marketing methods work. This is perhaps one of the most effective and inexpensive forms of guerilla marketing available to small business owners looking to plug their product or service. There are, of course, ethical implications, and this is by no means a recommendation to do it, or not to do it.

However, this method is extremely effective and if you do indeed have a legitimately helpful product, then you’re using a little deception in order to give the customer what they need and build your brand.

Don’t lie to your customers!

Fake testimonials are one thing, but you should never lie about the results a customer will receive. For example: telling a customer that a special berry extract will make them lose weight – when there’s no factual proof behind that claim – is a sure way to get the FTC on your back. Stating that your service will deliver specific profits or other related results – when you have no experience in obtaining said results – will quickly lose customer loyalty and lead to negative fallback when your deception is uncovered.

Use good judgement to differentiate between little white lies such as a fake testimonial with provable claims, and outright lies that can easily be uncovered, resulting in lost customer loyalty and potential legal action against you.

Flyer Placement

This is a little less complex than the previous method. Printing out flyers costs little more than the time required to conceive the idea and the price of the paper and ink. Distribute flyers all over. Look for high-traffic areas where telephone poles, vehicles, bulletin boards, and other visible places at eye level exist.

Event flyer distribution

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Labor can be a cost if you don’t have the manpower to distribute them on your own, but family members or low-cost help from energetic kids can help ease or eliminate expenses.

Flyers – the old, reliable

Flyer placement isn’t necessarily an unconventional idea, but it is an effective and affordable one.

Be aware of the rules and laws of the places you’re posting. It’s better to have permission or at least be within your legal means when distributing your flyers. While not recommended, you don’t need permission per-say, but you risk having your flyers removed by staff at said locations, or possible fines when it comes to defacing public property, such as when posting telephone pole adverts.

Downtime Marketing

This method has a lot of diversity and meets the all the major criteria of guerilla marketing, requiring only time, energy and imagination to implement. Here, you’ll be placing yourself in front of potential leads and/or customers by hitting them where they’re forced to give you some time and attention.

KitKat Chair

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What is downtime marketing?

Also known as “Wait Marketing” you can hit the doctor, dentist, airport, busy rush-hour streets, Internet chat rooms, coffee shops, food service lineups, and any other place where you know your demographic hangs out and will be forced to wait to be served – or to sit down/stand around while they eat, drink, etcetera, for a set time period.

Your knowledge of the effective frequency of your intended customer is very important here, as you’ll need to understand if your time is best served using this method – since often, you’ll only be talking about/showing your product to each person once.

Clean Tagging

Often referred to as “green graffiti”, this is another method that has the potential for legal implications if you’re not careful. We all know that graffiti is frowned upon by the “Po-Po”.

Using chalk that will wash away after a rain or two on high traffic sidewalks, or stone/steel structures of all kinds can be very effective. Particularly if you have a viral product, or your clean tagging locations are front-and-center with your preferred demographic.

Another often seen, but not thought of form of clean tagging is to write a plug for your business on a dirty building or even automobile window! Something catchy is definitely in order, as a lone phone number isn’t going to be very effective. Something like “Sick of those filthy bills dragging you down every month? Call 989-848-4858” You get the idea, short and catchy is always best, but hopefully the example you just read doesn’t come across as too preposterous to be useful in a real-world scenario.

Some words of caution…

The key with clean tagging is that you’re not using anything permanent to write your message, as otherwise you’d be defacing public or private property, and thus subject to prosecution!

Hand to Hand Marketing

Also referred to as “Tissue-pack marketing“. This isn’t necessarily free, unless your business is in the printing or cheap product manufacturing industry. However, it’s worth a mention because of it’s relatively low cost-to-profit ratio.

To give you a shocking example of how effective it can be: In Japan, it’s estimated that over 75 billion dollars in sales revenue per year because of this method. The Japanese post advertisements for various products and services on give-away items that are cheap to make and distribute.

Why is it called “tissue-pack marketing”?

The term “tissue-pack marketing” is coined because the Japanese started the trend with little packets of tissue paper (obviously). However, now this form of guerilla marketing has extended globally to an innumerable number of cheap swag: matches, pens, pencils, notepads, chapstick, mousepads, fridge magnets, card protectors, etcetera.

The idea is that a customer will likely toss a flyer or piece of promotional material into the first trash can they see (or recycle bin if they’re environmentally responsible!) Or they’ll fold it up, put it in their pocket and forget what it’s all about, then toss it later when emptying their purse or pockets.

But if you give them something that has even a slight useful value, they’ll probably hang on to it, and knowingly or unknowingly promote your product for you for an extended time period. The possibilities are endless with regard to how long hand to hand marketing can effectively promote your product.

Just think of how long a pen or pencil might last before it’s put into the hands of someone who, just by chance, needs what you’re offering.

The downside is that the results (profits) are harder to measure with this method, due to that same timeless value mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Buzz Marketing

Good ol’ buzz marketing. This is about as free as it gets. Much of the marketing we all do these days on social media platforms is buzz marketing, or at least an attempt at it.

Word of mouth marketing

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Viral videos on YouTube, clever catchy quotes on Twitter, pictures of interest on Facebook or Pinterest. Out on the streets, you can create a buzz using many of the methods discussed already in this article, but this method has been traditionally centered around word-of-mouth communication.

Top tip on buzzing

Get people talking about your business in a good way, or even a bad way if you’re exceptionally clever, and that buzz you created will equal more leads and/or sales.

Go out on public streets with your business partner, friend or family member and start walking around talking about how great “XYZ Business” is, and have your employees do it to. Always make it a point to be talking about your business as much as possible and encourage everyone you know to do the same.

How did any of us find out about anything before the last decade brought unbridled Internet-access to virtually every home in North American and beyond? We “heard” about it right?

Final Thought

Always do remember that the goal of guerilla marketing is all about the profits. How much extra revenue did any given method or combination of methods net you – this week, this month, this year? If you’re creating a buzz that has led to increased profits, there’s still something missing, right?

Be prepared to re-evaluate often. Tony Robbins says this repeatedly: “Time is all you have. Master your time and you master your life.” This relates specifically to the concept of guerilla marketing, because the goal is to increase profit by using: time, energy and imagination. Each of those elements are surely wasted if they net you zero return. However, time is the one thing you can’t buy or trade. And once it’s gone, you can never get it back!

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