In principle, guerrilla marketing sounds cool. The premise is pretty accessible; rather than investing money into a traditional advertising campaign, or investing lots of time and money into an ongoing inbound marketing strategy, you’ll pool your resources to pull a kind of publicity stunt, often public, to increase your brand visibility (and possibly, your reputation along the way).
Guerrilla marketing has become popular in recent years, especially for startups and for major brands looking to change or revitalize their image. Because it’s a somewhat edgy, unconventional strategy, it tends to earn brands bonus points in the “non-traditional” category, and if done correctly, it can be an effective way to generate ample visibility on a low budget.
But is guerrilla marketing worth the trouble it takes to create a campaign?
Clearly, there’s something to guerrilla marketing or the terminology wouldn’t be in our collective lexicon as marketers. So what are the advantages that make this marketing strategy so special?
· Distinction. Guerrilla marketing isn’t a common tactic, so if you engage in it, you’ll be more likely to stand out from the competition. This is useful especially for new brands trying to break into an industry with a unique angle or something that sets them apart from the rest of the crowd.
· Unconventional advertising. People tend not to trust advertising — at least not when they know they’re being advertised to. Traditional advertising is a straightforward, unapologetic, and direct attempt to get someone to buy something — and people don’t like to feel manipulated. Instead, guerrilla marketing offers you a soft way around this problem by selling to people without them knowing you’re selling to them.
· Creative liberty. When it comes to ads, you’re usually limited in terms of visual space and the words you use — in fact, most advertising mediums have standard formats to which you must adhere. Guerrilla marketing offers you far more creative liberties, allowing you to brainstorm and find the perfect opportunities for your brand to showcase itself in unique, true-to-voice ways.
· Potential for virality. Of course, the biggest benefit is the potential for your guerrilla marketing stunt to go viral online. Getting exposure to people in a local environment is nice, but if those people share photos and videos of the experience, your brand could circulate on a national level — and faster than any other marketing or ad campaign could allow under normal circumstances. This isn’t easy to achieve, but it is a possibility, and an alluring one at that.
There are some downsides to the strategy that put these benefits in a different light, however.
· Time investment. One of the biggest factors in the “success” of a strategy is how much you’ve invested in it in the first place. If you invest too much and don’t see a corresponding benefit, you’ll end up wasting your time and money — and guerrilla strategies take a long time to think up, plan, and execute.
· Unpredictability. Guerrilla strategies are also inherently less predictable than other forms of marketing and advertising. You can’t guarantee exposure, impressions, or even a growth rate here. In fact, depending on the tactics you use, much of your success will come down to timing and luck.
· Difficulty in measurement. Since much of your campaign will revolve around random in-person interactions and generating more visibility, it’s notoriously hard to measure the results of your campaign in the first place.
In addition to the main drawbacks, there are a couple of major risks you face when pursuing a guerrilla strategy:
· Visibility failure. The first risk is somewhat innocuous, but it could make all your hard work be for nothing. Let’s say you stage a stunt, or hide Easter eggs throughout your city, but nobody seems to notice them, or worse — they don’t associate them with your brand. In these cases, you’ll miss out on any significant impact to your brand. The potential for spontaneous virality is nice, but this is the counterbalance you’ll face in opposition.
· Misinterpretation. There’s also the fact that your guerrilla marketing tactic could be misinterpreted as something else entirely, possibly jeopardizing your reputation or causing logistical problems. This is what happened in 2007 with the Boston Mooninite Panic, when a few dozen innocent guerrilla marketing displays were mistaken as being covert bombs.
I should also note that not all businesses have the same needs or goals, and not all brands will benefit equally from a guerrilla marketing campaign. A tech startup, for example, might have a low budget, an “edgy” brand, and impressionable clientele; this makes it a perfect fit for guerrilla marketing. A prestigious investment firm, on the other hand, has ample money for more trackable forms of advertising, and a much more conservative brand to uphold.
You’ll also want to bear your timing in mind — there are definitely better seasons, events, and general opportunities for guerrilla marketing than others.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to come to a definitive conclusion with so many variables in play, but I’m going to try. The bottom line is that guerrilla marketing certainly can be effective, but only when it’s executed the right way; your brand needs to be one that stands to gain from the strategy, your timing needs to be right, and you need to be able to balance the risks and drawbacks while striving for the unique rewards that make this strategy appealing in the first place.