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Declaring War on Tradition: Why Guerrilla Marketing is Here to Stay

Marketing ROI Timeline

The first principle of guerrilla warfare is to “abandon conventional military tactics.” In doing so, this strategy favors the element of surprise and lends a competitive advantage to those willing to fight, and think, outside of the box.

The war marketers wage for customers’ attention requires a similar approach, which is why guerrilla marketing is transitioning from a flash-mob fad to a legitimate, non-traditional marketing outreach strategy. The saturation of traditional marketing campaigns is leading brands to find innovative tactics to maximize their marketing spend, reach mass audiences, and successfully compete for attention.

Unlike traditional tactics, guerrilla marketing continues to evolve, with no stringent regulations or accepted blueprints. Its popularity has even lead some to argue that print media is now non-traditional, as blogs and social media become the new normal in marketing strategies. While digital media continues to gain advertising adherents, the saturation of sites like YouTube will push marketers to favor “offline” tactics that incorporate a participative element.

The Basics: What You Should Know About Guerrilla Marketing

WhatTo make the customer part of the brand experience, companies are developing campaigns that center around:

  • Community events
  • Free samples
  • Window displays
  • Logo placement
  • Street demos and exhibitions
  • Pop-up stores
WhoWhile guerrilla marketing initially favored small businesses that face fewer risks when approaching new brand tactics, larger corporations are delving into the non-traditional space.
  • Simple implementation that is hard for competitors to replicate.
  • Cost-effectiveness, with the potential to decrease monthly marketing budgets upwards of 95%. Instead of requiring huge sums of budgetary funds, this strategy relies more on human capital investments of time, imagination, and energy.
  • Opportune for product advertisements.
  • Emergence of the millennial generation generates demand for new marketing tactics that are “share worthy” across social platforms.
WhereThe beauty, and pillar, of guerrilla marketing is the ability to employ “offline” tactics in any setting. However, one key limitation is that you must conduct each marketing activity frequently to truly grow your audience.
HowMarketers strive to evoke the imagination of the customer when creating these high-energy appeals, relying on the following types of marketing strategy:

  • Ambush
  • Viral
  • Undercover
  • Ambient
  • Experiential
  • Alternative

Source: Hanover Research

Using Your Marketing to Tell Your Story

“The best sales technique ever invented is to tell a good story,” says Sean Kevin Fitzpatrick, former Chief Creative Officer of Interpublic. “The difference is that this generation can actually live the story. Herein lies the whole purpose of guerrilla marketing: your marketing is a story that is happening and the customer is a key character within your narrative. This interactive activity will be far more powerful than an ad or commercial.”

Executing non-traditional advertising certainly poses risks, especially for larger businesses that face brand distortion from failed campaigns and are subject to heightened media scrutiny. The success of the approach is largely contingent on the response generated by those that witness your appeal, resulting in either “viral” momentum or massive failure.  Fitzpatrick continues: “The limitation is that you must do this activity frequently to truly grow your audience. That’s where the interlocking of print media, TV, and PR comes together to ensure your company is providing a coordinated message that is interpreted by the greatest number of participants.”

Successful implementation of guerrilla marketing campaigns has the power to save your company money while appealing to a wide consumer base. To generate the desired business outcome – whether it be increased store traffic, elevated brand awareness, or growth in social media engagement –marketers should consider developing appeals that integrate three elements:

  1. Establishing personal connections with your audience – The Dove Real Beauty campaign elicited emotional responses by tapping into a key thought – that women are their own worst beauty critic – to make it one of the most viral ad videos of all time, shared over 672 million times across the world. Similarly, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” concept is customizing consumers’ brand interactions, quite literally, by name.
  2. Creating new customer experiences – TD Bank recently took a new approach to customer appreciation by transforming Canadian branches’ ATMs into “Automatic Thanking Machines.”
  3. Conveying your brand’s “real” lifestyle – The Live in Levi’s Project provides a worldwide platform for consumers to share their stories with the brand, while also providing the company with an avenue to create and promote authentic, yet targeted, content to different global markets.

Generating Returns on Marketing Investments

Should your company declare a war on traditional marketing approaches? The return on investment guerrilla marketing can provide indicates so, as this strategy is proven to generate a  30% increase in sales and has the potential to decrease monthly marketing budgets by upwards of 95%.

Treating marketing as storytelling involves more than experience-building, often relying heavily on an understanding of how to influence human behavior. What drives purchasing decisions, and how can customers’ habits be molded to support the integration of products and services? BJ Fogg, founder of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, reinforces this line of questioning, stating to CMO: “A lot of the assumed wisdom and traditional ways of marketing are wrong or no longer practical. It’s important to start with a blank slate, map out behavior, and examine things in a far more systematic way. Marketing executives must focus directly on behavior and use it as the basis for making decisions.”

To effectively achieve this goal, companies need to conduct iterative brand analyses and consistently test campaign performance to validate marketing ROI or, if necessary, reallocate resources.  As the advertising market continues to evolve with non-traditional tactics and the millennial generation increases its hold as the nation’s most influential (yet difficult to influence) purchasing base, identifying the strategies that work for your business becomes increasingly important.


Article Contributor:


Sean Kevin Fitzpatrick retired from the advertising industry as executive vice president and vice chair of the board of McCann-Erickson World Group. His career has included Chief Creative Officer of the world’s largest and most successful advertising agency (Interpublic), Brand Champion for the world’s largest automotive companies, Creative Director of Bing Crosby Productions and Columbia Pictures. A member of The Wall Street Journal’s Creative Leaders Series and judge at the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival, Mr. Fitzpatrick currently serves as a guest lecturer at The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business.

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