Guerrilla Geometry for Content Creation
Guerrilla Marketing is not about working cheap. It’s about building smarter strategies for content creation and marketing – with a little help from geometry.
Long before there were webpages and social media (long before the phrase “content creation” became a paradigm for the digital marketing age), there was Jay Conrad Levinson. He published his first book with the title “Guerrilla Marketing” in 1984 and became an overnight marketing guru. Imaginations ignited as corporate boardrooms and marketing professionals all across America adopted Levinson’s ideas (at least by the book title, at any rate). The phrase was quickly jargonized to describe every off-the-beaten-path marketing tactic. That’s where most of them got it wrong.
The term guerrilla marketing is a direct reference to irregular warfare tactics used by smaller forces to gain the advantage over a larger, and probably better-equipped ones: using intelligence and surprise tactics against massive organized military apparatus. Unfortunately, just about any non-traditional process has become “guerrilla.” As a result, many activities that people call ‘guerrilla’ are decidedly NOT guerrilla; like slapping stickers on traffic signs or on bathroom walls. Moreover, doing things on the cheap is the greatest distortion of Levinson’s concept. Where most would-be guerrillas fail is on his most pivotal point: the importance of state-of-the-moment marketing intelligence.
Touchpoints in the Geometry: Drive the Message
The most important tool the guerrilla has is knowledge: knowing as much as possible; not of just the “enemy” and the lay of the land, but also of himself, his capabilities, and his limitations. Codified into battlefield parlance, that’s intelligence: the gathering of information through surveillance, observation, reconnaissance, and espionage. Without the flow of up-to-date intelligence, how can we set targets and goals? How do we measure success?
Again, using warfare as an example, the guerrilla tactician collects and prioritizes all of the information she has at her disposal. She weighs them for strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Then she triangulates her intelligence into a framework of geometry and an actionable plan.
We already commit a great deal of geometry into the evaluative process; for instance, when we probe demographics to define our target audience and search for favorable openings for messaging. We can also use geometry to disrupt the playing field when our competitors are being predictable and we counter with unexpected high-impact messaging. Being one with your “guerrilla” means looking for other geometry in that all important flow of moments in patterns: audience flow, trends, competitor movement, other events. How else may we shoehorn our content where and when it’ll have the highest impact? When observing the data, do you ask questions? What will it take to create content that engages people on a more personal and memorable level and generate lasting impressions?
Some of the answer from Levinson’s toolkit of nontraditional methodologies are well-known: ambient marketing, word-of-mouth, buzz marketing, undercover marketing, viral marketing, and so on. Each activity does more than emphasize the positive experience of existing customers; it boosts content into the path of new customers – creating anticipation for [fill in the blank – it’s your deal]. But how do you plot anticipation?
When I was working in the hospitality and lodging industry, I came across the concept of “touchpoint marketing” – a research model that focuses study on the minutia of the customer experience. The model was used chiefly for surveying opinion-forming experiences. It measured cause and effect behavior of the target audience at every point of contact – from front desk to departure. Our client, Marriott Hotels, used this model to conduct in-depth research on guest behavior and found that lasting impressions and opinions about the entire chain formed during the first two minutes of direct contact with the property. Marriott surveyed guest impressions of the front desk, guest rooms, staff interaction, the lobby, halls, amenities, and even the parking lot. This data helped the chain triangulate the guest experience and plan areas that needed improvement or upgrade. Management also created schedules of value enhancements – guest discounts, freebies, and specials.
I thought of my experiences in other sectors (technology, real estate, legal services, healthcare, et cetera) and realized that the same model applies to all businesses. Within this geometry of attitudes and behaviors, I could triangulate my content by predicting touchpoints that draw the most attention from my target audience. Ah ha!
This complex geometry of behaviors opens up what I believe is a strong tactical tool for content creators. You can play with audience interest and deploy tactical dazzle with a dab of insight and creativity; and armed with a whole lot of common sense. And here’s the thing – and this is sooo very important: this exercise doesn’t have to cost a nickel more than what you’re doing already! How about that? If your marketing budget is about 5-6% of projected gross revenues, you’re already spending enough. You may have to re-order/re-prioritize some expenses, but in my experience – you won’t have to increase your budget.
One caveat – like guerrillas on the battlefield, it takes good intelligence to be successful. If you lack time/funds for extensive primary research, find quick/cheap fill-ins to get the data you need (secondary sources, anecdotes, word-of-mouth). “Deep thinking” alone is not a substitute for research (curb your assumptions!).
Drawing Lines between the Points
I incorporate Levinson’s concepts in just about everything I do. I agree with him that entrepreneurs and small organizations are better able to undertake ‘guerrilla tactics’ because they are usually closer to their customers and considerably more agile than their large corporate counterparts. I believe the condition was true in the 80s when he wrote his book, and I am certain that it is true today.
Yet, Levinson goes further to explain that any organization – no matter how large – can capitalize on guerrilla strategies and generate high energy audience engagement. But that what about the ‘quality’ of the relationships? Feast on this Levinson gem:
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.
Nowadays we call it “relationship marketing” originally defined by direct response marketers and network campaigns. Many of these programs are successful because they emphasize customer retention and satisfaction through direct engagement and interaction. Over time, this approach has proven to be far more effective than simple transactional sales.
At this point you should be thinking, “Wait a minute. I’m not Amway.” Most entrepreneurs are not. However, I urge a deeper look. His underlying point is that we all sell better when you know what you customer wants – be it product or service. Common sense, right?
Consider this observation: gathering intelligence on your target audience, then marketing to them is much like the “hunting” analog: the best hunters learn behaviors and habits, then triangulate to ‘capture’ the prey. But you need more than just action points. You need a core strategy that draws lines between those fabulous touch points.
I have a clue for you. It’s a little something I picked up from Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations (paraphrasing):
Know what you want people to know;
Know what you want people to feel and think; and
Know what you want people to do (how they will react).
Obviously it is troublesome have direct relationships with EVERYONE who wants to buy your product or service (especially online). What’s the next best thing? In this day and age: content. It doesn’t matter what product or service you offer, the fact is, you sell better when you:
- Engage the audience on their terms;
- Interact with them to pursue their interest; and
- Convert their confidence into commitment.
And you can accomplish all with gobs of relevant content that YOUR target audience will consume. I call it the EIC approach to content marketing. You can engage all the relationships you need with lots of well-placed and well-planned content. Interact with your audience with your content on social media; that means a great variety of content that gains interest and good positioning (on search engines). Be where your audience goes and speak their language. THEN convert them into sales.
That’s influence marketing, content marketing, AND search engine marketing, all rolled into one basket.
Heavypen’s Guerrilla Rules
Levinson’s observations on audience engagement is backed with what he called “guerrilla principles.” The original list has been expanded quite a bit by various opinionists and thinkers. I believe the concept maybe distilled to these SIX that I recommend are the most relevant today:
1) Aim for more referrals and more transactions from existing customers – word-of-mouth is the best single greatest benefit of guerrilla marketing.
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 use 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 vital information.
6) Go deep and long. Apply the concept of effective frequency and stick to branded messaging for long-term effect.
Think of your touch points as the desired skeleton for every relationship you want to generate. Then “engage, interact, and convert” to pull it all together.
High-quality content is essential. Don’t just generate content to fill the space. And don’t believe for one minute that a handful of nicely written blog posts is going to do the job either. Create content that anticipates the moods and motives of the target audience; and do this all the time, over time.
The power of long-term consistent content marketing. By the time I met Subir Chowdhury, he was already a powerhouse business management consultant and author of 14 books, all of them nonfiction business and several of them were international best sellers. Without a robust online presence, however, his brand was in danger of falling behind hundreds of new authors and speakers. In anticipation of the release of his his 15th book, “Robust Optimization,” (co-written with Shin Taguchi), Chowdhury and I launched a branded personal website and began an aggressive program to post bi-weekly text and video blog posts and to share them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Four years later (with about 400 posts under our belt, plus the help of a very active social media posting campaign on LinkedIn and Twitter), Chowdhury engaged more than 25,000 business students and business managers worldwide to vote for him in three successive Thinkers50 ranking promotions. Plus we put him in excellent position for a great launch of his 16th book, The Difference, released last year.
The power of strategically placed original content. The producers of the film Terminator: Genesis wanted to make a splash for the opening. What better ambassador than Arnold himself? This is guerrilla marketing at its best. Cheap? Hell no. And it took a great deal of planning. But was it effective “EIC” content? Absolutely! This “publicity stunt” was far better than a whole slate of ads and a wall of stickers. The video picked up more than 20 million views, 167,000 likes, and more than 100,000 shares within 6 months of launching. In my opinion, serial deployment of various guerrilla tactics like this saved the film from what could have been a less-than-impressive opening. The film also had a fairly poor reception from critics. RottenTomatoes gave the film a 26% and Metacritic, 38%. The film needed every bit of help.
The content creator’s ROI: relevant, optimized, impact
Although the subtitle of Levinson’s book reads: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business, Guerrilla marketing IS NOT about cheap marketing strategies. Sure, can be a less expensive alternative to big dollar campaigns – but you still need research, 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. You still need to create mind-blowing content, consistently and over the long-term. Which brings me to my own guerrilla principle:
If you want penetration, the message must be relevant to a specific target audience. If you want to trigger interaction with your audience and truly engage their interest, your message must be optimized for THEM. If you want conversion from your engagements and interactions with your audience, the message must carry impact on specific interests they have. These three – relevance, optimization, impact – must work in total concert with each other for the campaign to work effectively and efficiently.
Still want to slap stickers on a wall like other so-called guerrillas who have come before you? That’s your business. But if you truly want to engage markets like a guerrilla, your campaign must be guided by intelligence.