Get a Handle on Guerrilla Marketing

By Features Business on Main

We’re living in a brave new world of guerrilla marketing. Learn how these businesses are making it work for them.

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An Austin, Texas, movie theater — notorious for its rigid no-talking policy — takes a phone message from an irate customer and morphs it into a controversial viral YouTube smash.

A bit tamer but no less innovative, a Lawrence, Kansas, computer repairman sticks his company logo on copies of popular magazines and delivers them throughout town to businesses with high-traffic waiting rooms.

These examples represent the power and value of guerrilla marketing — a tactic that allows small businesses to spread their names and messages using creative and response-generating strategies.

Guerrilla marketing is widely cited in the age of social media — and just as often misinterpreted, according to Jay Conrad Levinson, who authored the seminal 1984 book “Guerrilla Marketing.” He explains guerrilla marketing this way: “The short definition is to go after conventional goals through unconventional means.”

Broken down further, guerrilla marketing is especially geared toward entrepreneurs and small businesses. For one thing, you don’t need to run an expensive ad campaign. It’s about creativity and tapping into human psychology and behavior to craft a message that’s provocative and worth passing along. “It’s an investment in time, imagination and knowledge,” says Levinson.

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Here’s a look at how some small businesses use guerrilla marketing to boost their profiles — and how you can, too.

Playing to your strengths

Strapped for marketing funds but eager to reach new clients, Ithaca Audio — a music and sound design firm in Brighton, England — pieced together a video and music montage demonstrating the company’s skills and style. “The mash-up was created over two days with zero budget,” says company director Chris Evans-Roberts. “We decided to play to our strengths and create a video to capture people's attention.”

The video has led to more than 14,000 views on YouTube and, as Evans-Roberts puts it, “a strong increase in new client inquiries.” He adds, “The video aimed to show our creative attitude and the resourceful, innovative approach we take with all our projects.”

Stirring up controversy

Another benchmark of guerrilla marketing is triggering referrals from existing clients. Alamo Drafthouse is a Texas movie theater whose viral campaign hits home with every film buff whose night at the movies has been ruined by off-screen dialogue from other patrons.

A miffed patron left an angry voice mail for Alamo when she was tossed from the theater for using her cellphone (talking and texting are strictly verboten). Rather than apologizing, Alamo created a video out of the caller’s profanity-riddled, grammar-challenged diatribe and added a note of its own at the end that might as well say, “Thanks for not coming back.”

Going for the win-win

But guerrilla marketing need not be so edgy. DoctorDave Computer Repair in Lawrence, Kansas, slaps stickers with company information on copies of popular magazines. The magazines are then handed out for free to doctor’s offices, auto repair shops and other locations where time can drag and reading material is welcomed.

“It’s a win-win for all parties,” says owner Dave Greenbaum. “The business gets a steady stream of magazines, the patrons get something to read and I get my name out there.”

Scaling up with social media

Social media have broadened the means and possibilities of guerrilla marketing. In particular, they allow small businesses to share news and information at a minimal expense. Notes Lyn Mettler of Step Ahead, a Charleston, South Carolina, marketing concern: “Using social media allows creative ideas, promotions, contests, videos and more to go viral much more efficiently and quickly than through traditional word-of-mouth.”

To help boost her husband’s video and film production business, Margelit Hoffman started a blog, developed email campaigns and launched other online programs. Five years later, Hoffman Productions in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is booming. Says Hoffman: “From 2009 to 2010, we tripled our revenue — and this year we’re hoping for twice that.”

Going guerrilla isn’t always easy

Despite its powerful potential, guerrilla marketing isn’t an effortless slam dunk. For one thing, strategies like blogs, Twitter and Facebook mandate creating a schedule and sticking with it. “Don't commit to anything you can't handle consistently,” counsels Hoffman. “Being consistent — continuing with blogging and posting and emailing on a regular basis — is the key to successful marketing.”

Also, be sure to track the reach of your programs by monitoring their affects on such indicators as sales or inquiries. If something seems to be working, keep riding it. On the other hand, if you try something that just doesn’t seem to be panning out over three to six months, don’t be afraid to scrap it and try something new.

One last rule of thumb, adds guerrilla marketing godfather Levinson: Try not to offend anyone.

That brings us back to the controversial Alamo Drafthouse video, which has language that could embarrass a sailor. Ever tuned in to the world of guerrilla marketing and sensitive customers, Alamo didn’t back away from its initial strategy, but did create a censored version — cleaner, but guerrilla at its core.

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