Going Rogue: The Value of Guerrilla Marketing

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Photo by Jack Finnigan.

Some of the most memorable ad campaigns are the result of guerrilla marketing. There’s a reason for that. Done right, guerrilla marketing works. An advertising strategy that makes use of public spaces in low-cost, attention-grabbing campaigns, guerrilla marketing is edgy and makes an impression. It takes the audience by surprise and gets them talking. It aims to disrupt, much like the random sneak attacks and ambushes of guerrilla warfare from which it takes its name.

The appeal of guerrilla marketing for the entrepreneur lies in the creative freedom to express the essence of a brand that is not bound by the restraints of size, decorum or editorial slant of traditional advertising, as well as the option for a low-cost campaign with the potential to go viral. Guerrilla marketing can be a bit like rolling the dice on a five and turning it into thousands—if it gets picked up and goes viral, you’ve accomplished a national or even international marketing campaign for the cost of something local.

Below are some tips for crafting a low-cost guerrilla marketing campaign for startups.

Get Creative

The sky is the limit when it comes to the creativity of a guerrilla marketing campaign. Miki Agrawal, founder of one of the first farm-to-table restaurants, WILD, and listed on Fast Company’s 2018 list of Most Creative People, got the attention of editorial staff for the opening of her first restaurant by hand-delivering boxes to editors and journalists containing an IV drip bag and a note: “The perfect food will be arriving on November 27th. Until then, don’t eat anything.” This creative stunt got the attention of publishers like the New York Times, which ran a review of her restaurant not long after it opened.

Sit down with your team and brainstorm some ideas for a campaign. Think about the essence of your business. What feeling do you want to give people? What question do you want them to ask that your business will answer? How will you create this sense of mystery? The style and execution of your campaign will flow from these initial concepts.

Choose a Medium, and Make it Social

How are you going to spread the word about your business? There are limitless options for this, from chalk drawings on sidewalks and art installations to posters and flash mob events. When choosing how you’re going to spread the word, make sure to consider how this is going to integrate with social media. You’ll want something that is easily snapped in a picture and shared. This is where the potential to go viral will come from.

When Smoke’s Poutinerie owner Ryan Smolkin opened his first location in Toronto, he opted for guerrilla marketing tactics over traditional advertising and promoted his poutine store with very little investment. He created buzz by stickerbombing the city with a black and white image of a face. Just the face—no logo or brand info. He put the stickers in high-traffic areas, and eventually people started noticing. They wanted to know what the face was. What did it mean? Instead of giving them the answer, he let them find out for themselves. When customers to his poutine shop noticed the logo included the face they had been seeing all around the city, they started snapping and sharing with friends. It went viral, and within two years Smolkin had turned Smoke’s Poutinerie into a chain with over 10 locations across the country.

Piggyback on Industry Trade Events

Not all guerrilla marketing campaigns have to be so geographically widespread. Attending industry trade shows and events can be an essential piece of a company’s overall marketing strategy and a great place to implement some low-key guerrilla tactics. Try walking the show in branded gear and striking up conversations with people on the floor and at different booths. Bring branded swag such as magnets, temporary tattoos or creative business cards that are tweaked to be event-specific to give away to people as you move through the show.

For example, when StickerYou attended a recent tea and coffee industry trade show, we printed stickers with a cup of oolong tea and the phrase, “Can’t We All Just Get Oolong.” People loved them, and we had people returning to our booth several times to pick up more or bring friends.

Find Community Partners

Word of mouth is often touted as the best kind of advertising, as people are most likely to trust products recommended by friends, family and community members. Maximize this potential by partnering with local community businesses and organizations for a guerrilla campaign that will get people talking about your company in your neighborhood.

Does your company make athletic gear or clothing? Organize a pop-up shop at a local gym or yoga studio. Is your product a creative commodity? Partner with local artists to create murals or graffiti around town that obliquely advertise your brand. By teaming up with partners, especially those with large social followings, you can maximize the impact of your campaign.

Guerrilla marketing can be a great tool for startups and has vast potential for brand awareness and exposure. Get creative, maximize the impact with partners, and make something that speaks to your brand in a unique and unforgettable way.

Andrew Witkin is founder and president of StickerYou. As the founder of a global e-commerce leader in custom-printed, die-cut products, Andrew Witkin is widely recognized as a leading authority on e-commerce, customization, startups, marketing and the tech economy. Witkin has also served as VP North American Licensing for Nelvana/Corus Entertainment and Director of Marketing for MegaBrands/Mattel.