“I don’t get how dressing up in a gorilla suit will help me sell this product.” – Anonymous Quote
Long before there were webpages and social media, there was Jay Conrad Levinson and his book Guerrilla Marketing. Introduced in 1984, the title itself was quickly adopted by marketing professionals. It registers as a noun in marcom jargon that describes nearly any off-the-beaten-path marketing tactic. New vehicles have given Levinson’s original theme greater scope, but nothing has really changed the core inspiration that all marketing is a matter of geometry and kinetics.
The term guerrilla marketing adopts the concept of irregular warfare used by smaller forces to gain advantage over a larger, and probably better equipped forces: small arms and surprise tactics like ambushing, infiltration and sabotage. That’s where the geometry comes in – probing for openings to your target audience, disrupting the playing field with a style of advertising that relies on unconventional strategies. Instead of a carefully sculpted ad schedule adorned with clever slogans, look for opportunities where you can shoehorn your message where it may have highest impact.
Levinson points the way to kinetics (i.e., potential movement) with the type of high energy surprise that makes a lasting impression on your target audience. Guerrilla tactics engages people on a more personal and memorable level than display ads and other ‘one-way’ communication. That’s why his toolkit includes methodologies like ambient marketing, word-of-mouth, buzz marketing, undercover marketing and viral marketing – all to achieve that high-energy encounter that produces conversion (e.g., transactions).
When Michael Wollner and I were working in the hospitality and lodging industry, we came across “touchpoint marketing” – a research model that focuses study on the minutia of the customer experience for opinion-forming behaviors; from branding all the way to direct contact with the customer. For instance, while researching guest behavior for a hotel chain, we found that people are more likely to form lasting impressions and opinions about the entire chain based on the first two minutes at one location. We later found that the same can be said for all businesses. Within this geometry, we can triangulate audience attention by predicting the points that draws the most attention and produce positive kinetics from everyone we touch.
Levinson equips us with a cartload of other guerrilla ‘weapons’ and tactics to go with them. My best advice however is to use your creativity and a dab of common sense. He also believes that small organizations and entrepreneurs are probably better able to undertake his guerrilla tactics because they are usually closer to their customers and considerably more agile. That might have been true in the 80s when he wrote his book, but I don’t believe that to be the case now.
Any organization – no matter how large or small your company – can execute activities that generate high energy audience engagement and locking power with the target audience.
In order to sell a product or a service, a company must establish a relationship with the customer. It must build trust and support the customer’s needs, and it must provide a product that delivers the promised benefits.
Among Levinson’s top guerrilla principles, I believe these SIX are the most relevant today:
2) Establish a single strategy (e.g., increase unique page views, increase inquiries) and apply a combination of marketing methods in a single campaign; launch several campaigns (big and small).
3) Current technology is a tool, not the means to build your business. Learn all you can and utilize them to fulfill the goals in your strategy.
4) Aim small messages at individuals or small target markets; the smaller the better.
5) Message for the “opt-in” – not always to get the sale. Get the individual to accept you as a source of entertainment and information.
6) Go deep and long. Apply the concept of effective frequency and stick to your brand and messaging for long term effect.
Unfortunately, just about any non-traditional process has become “guerrilla.” As a result, many activities that people call ‘guerrilla’ are decidedly NOT guerrilla. More often than not, managers misuse the term to describe ways of doing things on the cheap. This is probably the largest distortion of the concept and why many would-be guerrillas fail.
Guerrilla marketing can be less expensive alternative to big dollar campaigns – but it is not a way to do cheap marketing. You still need great design and content that drives audience engagement; you still need to deploy imagination in places where other people have overlooked; you still need to be tasteful and mindful of your target audience. Which brings me to the 7th guerrilla principle that I added:
If you want penetration, the message must be relevant. If you want engagement with your audience, the message must be original. If you want referrals and transactions, the message must have impact.
So you want to slap stickers on a wall? Fine. But what if your sticker blends into a wallpaper of stickers from all the other so-called guerrillas who have come before you? Like the warfare tactic that spawned the idea, the action itself must be more than exhibition; it must carry a specific message, a call-to-action that triggers a reaction.