Your marketing budget is tight, maybe minuscule. What to do? Guerrilla marketing may be the answer. With imagination, sweat equity and time, you can give your competitors a run for their money without breaking the bank. But guerrilla marketing is more than a quirky slogan, a controversial ad or a low-budget flyer. Here are a dozen things to keep in mind when going guerrilla:
Be creative and fun
The essence of a guerrilla campaign is that it's witty, has a lot of personality and strikes a chord. Meanwhile, the message -- to buy your product or service -- is so subtle, viewers or readers don't feel they're being pressured to make a purchase. For example, 1-800-FLOWERS launched Boykame.com, a virtual way to send flowers to others. "It was a fun way of doing something," recalls Jordan Glogau, founder of
. "Now, we're brainstorming how can we get more people to use it? How to monetize it?"
Take a risk
Don't be afraid to push the envelope a little if that's where your audience is. For example, John Palumbo, author of "What's Your Sales DNA?" (Sterling Learning Group), encouraged a real-estate client to send out postcards that may offend. Rather than highlighting the property's beautiful views and serenity, he suggested the postcards say, "You have to be crazy to buy real estate right now, unless you know what you're doing." Another postcard would say, "Bet you know a lot of losers who bought real estate a couple of years ago. Aren't you glad you waited?"
"If you're driving on the road and you see beautiful pastures and houses, you keep driving," explains
. "However, if you see a gruesome car accident and cops are there and fire trucks, you slow down and look, even though the police are waving you to go faster. You have to create something to make people stop and look."
Draw them in
Whatever campaign you do, drive people to your Web site, Palumbo recommends. Once they are there, offer them content or incentives that are more than run of the mill.
Speaking of value
Develop relationships with customers centered on how you can benefit them. Articles should be useful, with no hint of company promotion. Incentives can be as simple as a free month's worth of dry cleaning to the person who emails in the best dry-cleaning horror story. You've then captured their email addresses.
It could be offering help to those in need. Glogau's wife's medical-billing business landed new customers after offering to help medical offices get back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina.
Relationships are important
Customers rarely buy when you first reach out to them. Be persistent and so they grow to trust you, eventually taking the leap and buying your product or service. Too often, says Tom Marshall, a guerrilla-marketing coach and founder of
, entrepreneurs give up after the first try. "Guerrilla marketing is about having many different inexpensive relationship building marketing campaigns going at one time so that the prospect funnel is always full," he says.
Make those moments count
If you're one of many in an area, a cheap way of differentiating yourself is making all points of customer contact meaningful. Think of everything from how your front door looks to what your voicemail sounds like, says Terri Langhans, author of "The 7 Marketing Mistakes Every Business Makes and How to Fix Them" (Blah Blah Blah Publishing). "If everyone has horizontal business cards, make yours vertical," Langhans says. "Little things can have a huge impact."
Build a network
Over the years, Jill Lublin, co-author of "Guerrilla Publicity: Hundreds of Sure-Fire Tactics to Get Maximum Sales for Minimum Dollars" (Adams Business), built up a network of 200 people she contacts regularly via email. She calls them her champions or advocates. So whenever she wants to get the word out about a new book, she fires off an email to this group. As a result, she's been able to spend less on marketing and promoting her books. "I spent a lot of money on my first book," she recalls. "By my third book, I spent a couple of thousand dollars max."
Another inexpensive, in some cases, free way to develop relationships with potential customers is to have a company blog. But don't let it be a rehash of your company press releases. The blog should provide readers with useful information, insight into the industry or a behind-the-scenes look at the company. "Also get people in different parts of the organization to blog," says Ryan Buchanan, CEO and founder of
, an Internet marketing firm. "The most clicked thing on our home page is one of our three blogs. It's dynamic every day and people get a more personal, human take on the company and industry."
Blogs can, in addition, drive traffic to your company Web site by being search engine optimize-able and linkable.
Turn employees into advocates
Also free is getting staff members to be gung-ho about the company and what it does. Web sites Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have changed the way people reach out to one another. By getting employees involved internally and with customers, "everyone wins," says Buchanan. "Internally, there is more knowledge sharing, personal connections and a positive employee culture. Externally, customer service improves, more sales are generated through word of mouth, and more customer evangelists mean more profitable, loyal customers."
Expertise is marketable
If you have nothing but your experience and career to market, don't be shy to toot your own horn to those other than your family or friends. Becoming the go-to-person a journalist can turn to for insight or a snappy quote about the industry is as guerrilla as you can get. Not only do you get instant credibility for your company, you get free publicity and marketing.
started with his local Long Island newspaper. He called the editor of the Jericho Tribune to pitch himself and his new book. After sending her a press kit, she called him two days later for a story. The next day, he was front-page news. From that front-page story, he crafted another career, as author of 10 books, including "Guerrilla Publicity" (Adams Media). "Writing a book is probably the best marketing thing that a business person can do," he says. "It makes them the perceived and real expert. You wrote a book so people assume you know what you're talking about."
Money isn't everything
To be guerrilla is to do something memorable and newsworthy on little or no budget. It can be as basic as hosting a bike ride every Saturday morning that departs from your store. Before the ride, sell discounted water, snacks, T-shirts, whatever. It could be having signs printed for a local football game where one side says something like "Go Rams" and the other side has your menu, address, phone number and Web site. It could be letting customers vote what flavor you'll launch next, like Kettle Foods did with its People's Choice campaign.
But do set a budget
Just because you're going guerrilla doesn't mean you spend nothing. You have to spend something to get something. Lublin recommends allocating 10% of your budget to marketing.
Lan Nguyen is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Worth magazine and Star magazine.