What Is Guerrilla Marketing? Definition and Guide

what is guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing refers to low-cost, unconventional marketing tactics that generate high profits. It is a term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book by the same name, which was published in 1983.

Using guerrilla marketing tactics, small businesses can leverage the resources they have – mainly time and creativity – to gain an advantage over their much larger, better-funded competitors. This is a huge advantage over other types of marketing. So while a corporation might invest tens of thousands of dollars in print advertising to reach its customer base, for example, a small business might zero in on one particular target market and spend a fraction of that to gain visibility, such as through no-cost publicity.

Guerrilla marketing components

To be effective, a guerrilla marketing campaign must:

  • Zero in on your target market - Don’t try and serve everyone. Aiming at a segment of the market is much more effective because it is easier to reach, which will cost you less, and because you can speak directly to their particular needs and wants. So instead of trying to sell to athletes, focus instead on marathon runners or the equestrian community.
  • Emphasize benefits - Most companies focus on a product’s or service’s features, whereas the benefits are why people really buy. So instead of talking about how soft a shoe’s leather is, talk about how it reduces blisters. Or instead of how light a car is, how about touting the amount of money drivers will save on gas as a result.
  • Give customers what they want - How is your product or service better than what is already on the market? Does it serve an unmet need? What does it do, exactly? Being clear about what your offering does helps potential customers understand why they should buy it.
  • Generate high profits - Guerrilla marketers monitor profits more than sales or revenue. The goal is to land a customer for life who will buy regularly and be willing to spend increasing amounts with you.

Effective marketing tools

Some of the lower-cost, high impact tools guerrilla marketers use include:

  • Doorhangers – for door-to-door services, hang ads from front doorknobs
  • Remnant ad space – buy leftover print ad space at a fraction of what other companies spend
  • Postcards – well-designed postcards can attract new customers for very low cost
  • Contests – freebies and contests entice prospects to hand over their contact information
  • Trade shows – rather than spending thousands to exhibit, sign up to attend a show and market while you’re there
  • Publicity – provide reporters and writers with information they can use and earn free media coverage
  • Bill inserts - piggyback on mailers other companies send out by providing preprinted messages
  • Testimonials – ask satisfied customers to talk about why they love doing business with you, then use that in all your marketing materials
  • Special (free) events – invite prospects in to check out your offerings
  • Partnering with a nonprofit organization – aligning your business with a local charity can endear people to you and allow you to support a deserving nonprofit

Case studies

While companies with huge marketing budgets might opt to advertise on a huge billboard, at thousands of dollars a month, a guerrilla marketer would instead look at other places to post their message. Like the sidewalk - Forest Tresside applies waterproof clear spray to create rain-generated messages. That’s a clever approach a guerrilla marketer would take. Instead of paying thousands to advertise in the sky, advertise on the ground.

Jordan’s Furniture of Boston once ran a contest in which they gave away a house to a lucky winner drawn at random. All participants had to do was to come into a Jordan’s store and lie on a waterbed for 60 seconds to qualify. Jordan’s grew from $500,000 to $100 million in sales over a 20-year period through smart campaigns like this.

Smart grocery stores, like Wegmans, set up live demonstration stations throughout their stores on the weekend, inviting shoppers to learn how to prepare a simple dish using – shocker – items easily found inside the store. Customers like watching the activity and can sample the finished product, making them more likely to buy.

Because they are so effective, guerrilla marketing techniques are now used by companies large and small. But they can have the greatest impact on a small business.

Guerrilla Marketing FAQ

What is meant by guerrilla marketing?

Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional, low-cost, and often humorous way of marketing a product or service. It focuses on using surprise tactics, such as flash mobs and pop-up ads, to create buzz and get people talking about a product or service. Guerrilla marketing campaigns are designed to be memorable and disruptive, making them more likely to be noticed and shared on social media.

What is an example of guerrilla marketing?

An example of guerrilla marketing is a company setting up a promotional display in a busy public area, such as a city street or a park. This display could be anything from a large banner to a promotional table with samples or flyers. This type of marketing allows companies to promote their products or services to a large number of people who may not have heard of them before.

Why is it called guerrilla marketing?

The term "guerrilla marketing" was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book, Guerrilla Marketing. The term was inspired by guerrilla warfare, which is a type of unconventional warfare that is often used by an underdog with limited resources to defeat a much larger opponent. In this sense, guerrilla marketing is a way for businesses to promote their products or services in an unconventional way with limited resources.

Is guerrilla marketing illegal?

No, guerrilla marketing is not illegal. However, it is important to check local laws and regulations to ensure that your guerrilla marketing activities comply with any applicable rules.