In tough economic times we try to save money wherever we can. In business, and for small businesses especially, this often means cutting back on marketing or, worse still, abandoning it altogether. But history shows that failing to market during a recession can be particularly bad for business long term.
When marketing stops, sales inevitably decrease creating even greater cash woes, but it’s the failure to maintain a strong company profile that has the most negative effect. If a business is seen to be floundering or “off the radar” even long-standing customers lose confidence and head elsewhere, and when the recovery finally arrives that’s when the problems really start.
Why Guerilla marketing?
During a recession the aim is not to cut back but to modify your marketing plan reflecting the changing economic conditions. Professional marketers are always looking for unique and clever ways to connect with the customer and when times are tough and budgets slashed, traditional mainstream methods play second fiddle to more unconventional, guerrilla tactics.
Guerrilla marketing was made for small business owners as it doesn’t necessarily require a big budget. If you’re really smart it hardly requires a budget at all – especially with an online campaign.
What it does require, however, is time, imagination, flexibility and a willingness to take a little risk. The aim is to get noticed, to set your business apart from the competition and earn a reputation for being creative, fun or different.
Okay, that might not be at all appropriate for certain industries or their clientele; financial services, law and insurance, for example, but that doesn’t mean guerrilla tactics can’t still be employed. The objective is to capture the customer’s imagination not shock them. There are ways for all businesses to utilize guerrilla tactics, it is all a question of risk tolerance, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and doing something that hasn’t been done before.
But if “edgy” or “pushing the boundaries” is your thing, a guerrilla campaign is often the only way to implement a subversive, ironic or viral campaign. And bearing in mind that today’s consumers will gravitate toward campaigns that ooze original and emotive content – word of mouth has a big role to play – it’s a hugely effective way to get you noticed, and quickly.
So what is guerrilla marketing?
Guerrilla marketing as a concept was introduced in 1984 by author Jay Conrad Levinson, and over the last 25 years the popularity and methods of guerrilla marketing have grown rapidly. One of the main reasons that guerrilla marketing has become so successful among small business owners is the emergence of the Internet and the means to circulate ideas and concepts quickly and cheaply.
While difficult to define exactly, guerrilla marketing is ostensibly any promotion that seeks conventional goals while using unconventional methods. Its aim is to promote a product, business or idea as ingeniously as one can. A guerrilla campaign should be:
If successful they can generate a great deal of attention largely because of their inventive and often subversive nature.
Online vs offline
It should be noted that guerrilla marketing is generally more controversial offline than online. The Internet, by and large, is a hugely tolerant democracy where pretty much anything goes. It takes imagination and skill to grab the attention of the global community.
Towns and cities, however, are governed by all manner of laws and social conventions. Add to the mixthe sensibilities of the easily offended and an offline guerrilla marketing campaign can very quickly become newsworthy.
Take fly posting; illegal advertising displayed on public or private property without the owner’s consent. It’s the simplest form of offline guerrilla marketing there is. Imagine the reaction of a small local community to a campaign of posters, say, from a pressure group highlighting animal cruelty with very graphic images. An identical campaign simply posted online is unlikely to cause similar discord. However, if the pressure group were to video the angry reactions of the local community, then embed it onto video sharing and social networking platforms then the impact would be significantly increased.
On a much larger scale, do you remember Benetton’s controversial ads which used shocking images? The deathbed scene of a man dying, an image of a bloodied T-shirt ridden with bullet holes from a soldier killed in the Bosnian War. Now it could be argued that Benetton’s ads were unnecessarily gratuitous, but the campaign caused great debate and was regularly featured in the national news and press. Benetton, of course, always claimed their campaigns were less about advertising and more about making political statements on sensitive issues!
More “shockvertising” than guerrilla marketing, the campaign nonetheless utilised many guerrilla tactics, but had it – like our fly posting example above – simply been presented online would they have been as divisive? Maybe consumers have become more cynical to advertising and immune to shock tactics but the point remains, even the most dramatic images can be underwhelming online, which is why seeing them presented in an offline context can have a greater impact.
So when creating a deliberately provocative campaign set up the stunt offline first. Photograph or record it, then circulate every which way you can online.
Guerrilla marketing, incidentally, isn’t viral marketing it’s more strategic and direct, appealing more to local and regional markets rather than a global one. Its aim is to surprise or ambush the consumer’s attention and create an immediate response. A viral campaign, especially a successful one, is difficult to control or monitor.
A much less controversial but hugely successful online guerrilla campaign was for 1999 film The Blair Witch Project. Arguably the most important aspect of any successful online guerrilla campaign is staying one step ahead of the public. As consumers become wise to ad agency efforts, marketers have to figure out how to snare us from unexpected angles. With no stars, or script and a budget of just £30,000, University of Central Florida Film School friends Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez successfully blurred the line between reality and fiction.
Unable to afford advertising for their venture Sánchez set about creating an apparently legitimate account of the Blair Witch by building a website dedicated to the mystery. The so-called Witch was a fictitious, woods-based ghoul who’d been murdering Maryland residents for the last century. His aim was to make the accounts so real that by the time the film came out the legend was already established, talked about openly and, most importantly, believed. Sure enough, through word of email, chat rooms and forums (this was pre the social networking phenomenon), it was quickly seized upon by gullible spook-seekers everywhere and before long the legend – or urban legend – was born.
The film came out with the tagline: “In October 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later, their footage was found.”
Audiences were expected to believe that the shaky, low-quality videotape of the terrified kids running around in the woods was an edited-down version of real recovered footage.
Although it was a highly inventive way of making a film, it was hardly a classic and was chock full of holes, but it didn’t seem to matter. Audiences loved it, and believing they were watching a genuine, terrible event, told their friends, who in turn told theirs. At that point, the “I’ve got to see for myself” factor took over, and Blair Witch dominated at the box office. Pretty soon, thousands of people were scared of the Blair Witch.
Even when the actors who played the “film students” started showing up (alive) doing interviews many people refused to believe the Blair Witch wasn’t real! Considered the most effective horror hoax ever, and without doubt the most ingenious online guerrilla campaign there has ever been, the film grossed £150 million worldwide.
Guerrilla marketing is not traditional marketing
Its provocative content often precludes the use of Guerrilla marketing in mainstream media such as print and TV where advertising standards have to be adhered to. Guerrilla marketing is a cheap system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination.
Typically, campaigns are unexpected and ideally interactive. The objective is to create a unique, engaging and thought-provoking concept that generates a short-lived buzz.
A few things you shouldn’t do
It’s easy to shock people, much harder to surprise them in a positive way. So make it a priority never to intentionally upset, offend, scare or provoke your customers. Your goal should be to implement a campaign that they will embrace, enjoy and share with friends.
Don’t be contrived or too bland, either. The main thing is to be true to yourself and your business. If you stand by what you create, have tested it on a small circle of friends and they approve too, you’re much more likely to drive it forward and get results. And besides, you don’t want to end up in court.
Marketing plans can be written on the back of an envelope or run to several hundred pages. The guerrilla rule of thumb is to lean toward the brief side, but with enough meat that it can be used as a guiding tool along your marketing journey. A good guide will provide plenty of information for you to develop the initiatives, actions, follow-up, accountability and measurement to run your business effectively and, in this case, your marketing.
To create an effective plan you need three basic things:
• Information – What are you promoting, who are your customers? As silly as it sounds, this is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to marketing, guerrilla or otherwise. You cannot come up with a great concept if you do not know what you are promoting or whom you are promoting to. Find out your prospects’ pain points. In other words, what do they really lack, miss or have problems with in relation to what you do. Use that in your tactics. People immediately notice solutions to their problems. • Thinking time – Analysis, ideas and creativity. Coming up with a great concept invariably means throwing out a dozen good ideas first. Don’t settle for your first idea however good it may seem. Better it. Then better it again. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get attention and make a positive connection with your customers. You are more likely to achieve this if your concept is original, so do a little research and make certain your idea hasn’t been done before.
• Initiative – The ability to want to do something, and the ability and inclination to get it done. This is key, without a budget it’s all down to you. Ensure you care enough to put in the hours.
Try not to think of guerrilla marketing as a simple publicity stunt as this will limit your horizons and the potential impact. Yes, your idea will make the consumer stop, think, laugh and tell their friends, but it has to inspire them sufficiently to take additional steps, so make certain there is a call to action which benefits your business.
Here are a couple of great examples, simple, funny and very cheap.
In addition to a couple of props, tagline and lots of imagination, the creators found their inspiration on their doorstep. The ads are immediate, relevant and local. Photographing and posting them online gives them longevity, people see the images and feel compelled to share. The company develops a reputation for humour and originality showing a human side – one of the most overlooked but essential components in today’s highly competitive online marketplace.
You can do the same. Wherever you live will have instantly recognizable landmarks and features, monuments, street signs, urban art, statues and sculptures.
Find inventive ways of incorporating them into your advertising. Use an appropriate and clever strap line. For example, a crumbling statue, or bust of a local dignitary might be used for beauty treatments, skin products, self-help or restoration. Pop on a hat or a pair of sunglasses, wrap a scarf or a towel around it and the options increase.
Here’s another great guerrilla example implemented offline but circulated online. Not only is it, as claimed by the makers, one of the “greenest” ads ever made, it’s got to be one of the most cost-effective and clever too:
Guerrilla tactics can be easily implemented into your online presence
Always use strong, original images throughout your website. Too many web designers use bland stock photos that do nothing to enhance a company’s personality. Make them relevant, it’s much better to use less-than-perfect shots that are genuine and show what you are about than generic studio set-ups.
Or better still, use video. In a world where people’s attention spans are getting shorter clicking “play” is so much easier than reading text. Make certain your videos are short, entertaining, educational or inspirational and over time you will start to notice the attention you or your business is getting.
One of the most visited but neglected pages on a company website is the About Us page – your opportunity to show prospective clients who you are. It doesn’t matter what your business is; customers generally don’t care where you studied or how clever you are. Your home page and testimonials have already reassured them you know what you’re doing. What they do care about, however, is you; who are you? Are you someone they could connect with, do business with? This is a great page to employ guerrilla tactics. Surpriseyour customers. Make them smile, show a human side. A clever tactic is the “mouseover” – when you scroll over one image to reveal another. It’s used to good effect on this website. Simply roll over the team’s photos:
Running a competition
Hosting an online competition on your website is a very simple tactic. The prize? Your products and services. It’s interactive, fun and generates free publicity with very little or no investment. Make sure you alert the business section in your local newspaper to help generate traffic. Get a photo of you and the winner(s) then email it to the paper to get even more free press coverage.
Offer other freebies
If feasible, offer visitors a free sample or two of your products and services. You might also think about upping the ante and offering them something they wouldn’t dream of ignoring – a free appraisal of their website, a short consultancy, an eBook of tips. Remember, this is a successful guerrilla tactic only if there are no terms and conditions attached to the free offers. The aim is to create goodwill and a reputation for being an honest person to do business with. It also gives the impression that one can afford to be generous.
One novel approach for online businesses is to let your customers take you on a “test drive”. Not everyone wants to commit right away, especially if money is tight, so offer some incentives. This needn’t be a free service, offer several price plans depending on what you’re offering and how deep the prospect would like you to dip into the project. And if they decide to go ahead and work with you, deduct the test drive fee from the overall project price.
Groupon is a website that offers discounts on products or services. The consumer has so many hours before the offer expires. If a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal is on. Why not set up something similar on your own website? For example, offer a product or a service with an appropriate discount on a first-come-first-served basis. Keep it simple, just a few lines in a box accompaniedby a fun image or short video, and make the offer available for a month. Email your client list with some tantalizing copy and a link, and encourage them to tell their friends and colleagues. Remember, the deal is only on if enough people subscribe so it’s in their interest to alert others. Keep people posted and update the web page accordingly.
Forum participation and guest blogging
This might not sound like the most exciting tactic, but if you’re creative with copy, funny and original it can work wonders. Be involved with as many forums as you can and, without being too overt, find inventive ways to share your URL.
Invite other (good) writers to guest spot on your website in exchange for you writing on theirs. Make sure their business is somehow relevant to your own. This is about collaboration not competition, and in hosting a wide range of views and thoughts about your industry you gain a reputation for being at the centre of things. People will stop by your website first if they’re looking for topical, pertinent information.
Making your website the home page
This is a highly localised form of guerrilla marketing but very effective. Strike a deal with Internet cafes to make your website the home page on all their computers. You will no doubt need to make a small payment for this to happen, but when anyone opens the web browser it’s your website that opens. And visit your local library, college computer room, wherever there are computers available for public use and set your website as the default browser home page. Just try not to get into a fight with the librarian.
Cheap and tongue-in-cheek, online guerrilla marketing is advertising with a smile. The successful campaigns usually grab attention through inventive or subversive means before revealing their true purpose. They distinguish themselves by being so clever that even once the bait is revealed there’s no negative outcry.
Marketing is essential at any time but especially when money is tight and the customer is trying that little bit harder to find the best possible deal. Instead of slashing one’s marketing budget small businesses must employ clever cost-effective strategies to hold on to their customers. Online guerrilla marketing may just hold the key.
by Nick Laight
Business Opportunities Expert
Nick Laight is the editor of What Really Makes Money and helps ordinary people find simple, workable home business opportunities. You can sign up for his free weekly eletter here:
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