Che Guevara, who knew more about guerrilla tactics than most of us could ever dream of, once said that guerrilla fighting “draws its great force from the mass of the people themselves.” The guerrilla band, he stated, is “an armed nucleus, the fighting vanguard of the people.” Marketing perhaps requires less urgency than a grassroots Marxist revolution—but it is no less a composite of the energy of the people surrounding it.
Guerrilla tactics in the marketing sector take vision and a careful understanding of the lay of the land—especially when the idea selling your product traverses the landscape of human emotions. Here’s how leading teams leverage affordable guerrilla marketing techniques to transform everyday campaigns into marketing magic.
Ask Passersby to Interact with Their Surroundings in a Unique Way
Some of the best examples of guerrilla marketing are ads that infiltrate public spaces, transforming them into a nonconformist wonderland. Good guerrilla marketing shakes things up. In urban areas, like on subway platforms and along sidewalks, bored commuters are looking for something—anything—for a distraction, and guerrilla marketing can be just the intellectual excitement they need, when done correctly.
Consider, for instance, this ad for Sharpie that allows passersby to draw on a cast, or this Swiss Skydive ad that turns the floor of an elevator into a seven-floor drop. These installations are successful because they capitalize on the repetitiveness of everyday surroundings. But pulling off an eye-catching guerrilla marketing technique like this means using your imagination. You’ll have to make use of the urban landscape in a way that’s not predictable. Ask yourself, how could your product or service interplay with windows, walls, sidewalks, buses, or even billboards.
Play Your Cards Close to Your Chest
A standout guerrilla marketing campaign typically has an aura of mystery—so this isn’t the time to splash your logo across your materials in big bold colors. Some marketers play up the secrecy, using it to ratchet up curiosity until it reaches a fever pitch, then revealing the man behind the curtain.
This can backfire, too, of course. When Adult Swim was promoting the show Aqua Teen Hunger force, as part of their guerrilla marketing, they distributed LED displays depicting an eight-bit rendering of one of the characters around Boston, thinking it would be a snappy way to get viewers’ attention. Needless to say, a number of Bostonites mistook the crude circuit boxes, dotted with blinking lights, for handmade bombs, and a small panic ensued. All of this is to say that while mystery can make people lean in to take a closer look, it can also send up alarms, so make sure to think about how your tactics will be perceived by someone unfamiliar with your product.
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Take Advantage of the Element of Surprise
Our brains thrive on happy coincidences—there’s something about “just finding” something that makes it seem special, in fact, almost spiritual. Letting a street-goer come across your message in this way also takes away the hard edges. Your advertising appears innocuous, not crass and in-your-face. That’s a great technique, since failed guerrilla marketing techniques have given the approach a reputation as an unwanted ambush.
Hacking Conferences and Trade Shows with Guerrilla Techniques
Of course, a more subtle way to harness guerrilla marketing is through your on-the-ground forces—namely, employees attending trade shows and industry conferences. These platforms are so jammed with pamphlets, presentations, and company pitches that a little out-of-the-box thinking is sure to cut through the noise. Take, for instance, a favorite example of ours here at Modernize. Software company Medallia managed to stand out at SXSW 2014 by creating a “Donate Your Swag” table. Employees stationed at the table collected all the little extras that conference-goers didn’t want—and ended up getting their name out there, too—by doing the precise opposite of what was expected of them.
Conferences present the perfect opportunity to do the unexpected, precisely because attendees are anticipating the format and tone ahead of time. But you can ditch same old bullet points and slideshows for storytelling presentations that contain a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. Your high school English teacher’s advice of “don’t tell, show” will come in handy here. Don’t simply tell your audience about how plunging sales brought forth an innovative new marketing technique. Instead, try to invoke the feelings of that moment. Place your audience into the office of the sales manager, struggling to weigh the human drama of budget cuts against a seemingly inevitable future. Or, pivot to a completely unexpected story—for example, how chewing gum helped develop one of your leading products. Look for opportunities to surprise your audience by drawing them down a completely unexpected—and vividly expressed—path.
Think of the Piece as a Gift
Truly great marketing happens when ad designers tap into the power of human emotion. A perfect example of this is Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. Aside from creating some powerful commercials, it’s leveraged guerrilla marketing in the past to transform not only how consumers think about beauty products, but also the culture around beauty itself.
Dove’s bathroom scale guerrilla marketing campaign captures the trepidation and judgement women feel when they weigh themselves—and transforms it into a message about wholesome self-love. In a moment rife with slick and calculated advertising tactics, sometimes this kind of earnestness pays off. Each recipient of your brand’s messaging is, after all, a human heart with similar needs to your own. Guerrilla marketing showcases your ability to relate to those basic needs—emphasizing that there are real humans—with our flawed ideas of love, compassion, and humor behind each and every product. If that’s not a way to hit home with your marketing, we don’t know what is!
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