Marketing Warfare: Guerrilla Strategy

Marketing Warfare: Guerrilla Strategy

Guerrilla marketing is a tactic ideal for small businesses, but available to any size business – assuming they are creative, flexible, and willing to take a risk. It differs from a traditional flanking campaign in that the move is generally very small, and will be significantly different from the market leader’s position. Though companies of any size can practice guerrilla marketing, guerrilla marketing is ideal for companies who are too small (relative to their competition in the market) to launch offensive or flanking moves. Great for small businesses and startups with a limited budget.

Social media has immensely helped guerrillas gain a foothold in the market.

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Consumers are not only using social media, but are willing to share their experiences with businesses and brands being creative in the world. Be sure to integrate social media in your campaign in some way to capitalize on this.

Fundamentals of Guerrilla Marketing Warfare

  • Approach segments that are small enough for you to defend. Try to limit the attack – focus on a small geographic or demographic segment, a specific industry or price point.
  • Be quick on your feet. Be ready to adapt and change according to the situation you are in. If the market turns, exit quickly to avoid losses. Larger companies can’t respond as quickly to market opportunities, either, without investing months or years of research and preparation. That is an advantage for a smaller business. Sometimes, a guerrilla opportunity can arise because a large company has discontinued a product, leaving a gap where a small guerrilla firm could capitalize.
  • Don’t act like the leader. This leads out of the last fundamental of guerrilla marketing. Often times, a small amount of success with guerrilla marketing gives companies a big ego. They begin to act like market leaders, increasing the size of their business or expanding product lines. Guerrillas need to resist the temptation to immediately grow and give up their size advantage. Remaining small and lean gives you a lot of flexibility.
  • Be creative but stay consistent. Be different, be bold. Guerrilla marketing is not for the faint of heart. Use a variety of methods to get the word out – but always be consistent in message. Repeatedly seeing a similar message in different forms can help build interest and will generally be more memorable to the public, not to mention that changing the message for each of your stunts will simply splinter and diminish the public’s perception of your brand.

Vodafone noticed a potential foothold in the cell phone market in Romania, as they had such a high rate of cell phone theft. In Romania, a cell phone is stolen every two minutes, but few had phone insurance to cover a loss to theft.

To educate the public, Vodafone hired professional pickpockets. No, they weren’t out there stealing cell phones – instead, they were slipping flyers and cards into people’s pockets, and just about anywhere they were leaving their phone unattended. With a message of “It’s this easy to steal your phone,” people got the hint that they were at risk.

This was unconventional, but proved effective at raising public awareness of Vodafone insurance in Romania.


Guerrilla Marketing Strategies

Ambient Marketing

Guerrilla campaigns begin and end with great ideas. It’s not just the message content that is bold and engaging – but the form of delivery itself. A surprising or innovative method is key to really engage the interest of the consumer and get the reach you need.

Arkaden, a fashion mall in Sweden wanted to advertise their fall line in a new way. They felt that, if they could only get people to try on their clothes, they would love the way they looked.

So in 2009, with the help of Dragster Gotenburg, a marketing firm – Arkaden, instead of traditional posters and advertising, deployed mirrors that contained cutouts of their fashions – allowing the public to see what they could look like in Arkaden’s fall line of clothing.

Arkaden Fashion Mall Advertising

Ambient marketing uses elements of the environment and unique physical surfaces to convey a message.

In 2007, marketing agency Bates Y&R drew lines for parking spaces in the most unlikely locations in Copenhagen to advertise the Jeep’s versatility in urban environments. This wasn’t the first time a tactic like this was used, as the marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi employed the same strategy in Hong Kong for the Lexus 4×4 all terrain in 2001.

Ambush Marketing

Although it generally comes in many forms, ambush marketing is about making an association in the mind of the audience, many times without there being any official connection to the activity, event, or venue. Have you been to an extreme sporting event or college campus in the last ten years? If so, then chances are you’ve seen a curious little vehicle that has a huge can of Red Bull sticking out the back. This is done on purpose. Red Bull wants to be associated with not only extreme sports, but the young adult market. They love to hand out free samples of Red Bull, so if you see one, don’t be afraid to say hello.

Stealth Marketing

It may seem like common sense to have a camera on a cell phone now, but in 2002, Sony Ericsson was the first company to ever produce a cell phone with a digital camera. They wanted to generate buzz on a large scale, but the device was such a new concept that the marketing teams were having trouble finding an effective way to communicate with potential customers. Instead of traditional advertising, Sony went guerrilla.

With 60 actors across 10 cities, Sony had what seemed to be “regular” tourists and individuals asking strangers on the street to help them take a photograph. The strangers, expecting to be handed a camera, were handed this new cell phone. The actors were sure to talk about the features and were happy to show strangers how to use the new camera feature. The campaign was an incredible success. The T68i was one of the best selling phones that year in several of their target countries.

This was an excellent example of stealth marketing. By engaging in this style of guerrilla marketing – a company tries to get people involved with and learning about a product without even knowing they are part of the advertising campaign. This of course needs to be done carefully – the moment you lose the element of surprise or stealth angle – it could backfire on the brand, and look like you are deliberately lying or misleading the public.

Viral Marketing

Like a virus or epidemic, viral marketing can start with a single individual and explode to millions. It is the biological option in the marketing warfare arsenal. This encompasses just about any strategy that can encourage the public to pass on your message to other people, which can create an exponential reach for your business.

Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia takes the cake as one of my favorite YouTube Viral Marketing campaigns. This one, for a public service announcement regarding safety – quickly went viral online.

Poised to break 100 million views any day now, they certainly got the reach they wanted, and more. It hit the internet engagement trifecta: cute, catchy, and most certainly violent (while still being safe for work!).

Guerrilla Alliances

An alliance can be useful in mounting a guerrilla strategy in a small regional area perhaps. By creating a brand, or a lifestyle that other businesses can emulate and join has been successful for many areas, allowing businesses to combine their marketing efforts and remain aggressive while reducing their individual investment.

A good example of a guerrilla alliance could be that of rental properties and hotels inthe Wildwoods, in New Jersey. To a casual observer, it would seem that the hotels and motels throughout the island, over 10,000 rooms worth, are all in direct competition with one another. However, another way to view the situation is that every hotel is allied together in their attempt to generate tourism in their island rather than another resort or vacation destination. Alliances are beneficial to those hotels, rather than struggling in direct competition with one another.

Guerrilla Marketing Fail

Guerrilla marketing can be a very risky endeavor, especially if you end up doing something that is illegal or upsetting.

Being too creative, too out-of-the-box… can come back to bite you. Cartoon Networks tried promoting their new film, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (that was the actual name of the movie), by placing flashing electronic devices all around Boston.

Instead of creating the buzz that they wanted, the devices terrified residents. As calls poured in across the city, the Boston police deployed SWAT teams to deal with the potential threat.

After this failed guerrilla marketing stunt, the head of Cartoon Network resigned, and the two men who were responsible for placing the devices faced criminal charges.

Regardless of the risks involved, for most companies, guerrilla marketing is the appropriate strategy simply because in most industries only a small percentage of firms are large enough to pursue offensive, defensive, or flanking strategies. Be sure to read up about all of these marketing warfare strategies in order to figure out what your next steps are as a business owner.

Marketing Warfare Strategies for Business

Defensive Strategy - Marketing Warfare
Offensive Strategy - Marketing Warfare
Flanking Strategy - Marketing Warfare

Hauser, John and Steven Shugan. Marketing Science, Vol. 27
Ries, Al and Jack Trout. Marketing Warfare.
“Marketing Strategy Models.” Venkatesh Shankar. 2010. Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing.

Andrij Harasewych

Although I ended up graduating from Villanova University with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, a side passion of mine for the past decade has been business and marketing. After three years of working full time as a mechanical engineer, and part time as a freelancer, success in my freelance work motivated me to alter my path and focus fully on marketing.

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