Outside the Box Marketing for Small Business

Put Guerilla Marketing to Work For Your Small Business This Summer

I usually love marketing, but sometimes the traditional modes of communicating with our audiences feel tried and tired. I don’t think I’m alone here, either: It’s easy to be dulled by the constant barrage of social media ads and posts, television spots, billboards, Google ads…

While big-name brands usually hold the trophy for most creative and most effective guerilla marketing — at least most publicized — I think small businesses can and should step it up with their own out-of-the-box marketing.

Our audiences are easier to reach, our target usually local. Our community is our backyard. Our brands are well-known to our whole community, and if they’re not then we’ve got a lot of work to do.

So let’s talk guerilla.

No, I don’t mean this type of gorilla.

Guerilla Marketing

We mean this kind:

Frontline Guerilla Marketing

Or this kind:

Mr Clean Guerrilla Marketing

Guerilla marketing takes root in guerilla warfare. In the 1980s, business writer Jay Levinson applied the term to marketing in a few of his books. Like guerilla warfare, guerilla marketing relies on the element of surprise.

Guerilla marketing costs little in dollars but a lot in creative time and effort.

The goal of guerilla marketing is to disrupt your target audience in a way that puts your brand on their mind and in turn helps increase your bottom line. This isn’t your grandma’s advertising.

You can do it outdoors. You can keep it inside. You can ambush an event. You can even take it down an experiential, interactive line.

Here are a few idea starters:

  • Stamp your logo or a creative and relevant marketing message on the sidewalk with some chalk art. Heck, maybe draw footsteps in chalk that your audience can follow to your store.
  • Take your usually brick-and-mortar shop mobile with a pop-up shop.
  • Partner with your local bus company (hello, Cyride!) and go guerilla on its buses!
  • Talk to your local mall about placing spots on their escalator or stairs in a creative, eye-catching way.
  • Let your audience interact with your ad — create something that allows them a photo op that they will share on their social media with a hashtag you’ve created.
  • Plan to engage your tactic during a local event that draws big crowds, like your fair or main street celebrations.
  • On the flip side, gain greater exposure and media by staging a guerilla marketing tactic when nothing is happening around town — be what’s happening.
  • Don’t be afraid of digital, like Shazam did.

Now that we’ve got you convinced guerilla marketing is the way to go this summer, then let’s get down to what it takes. Let’s splash the cold water of your brand in the face of your sun-soaked audience!


  1. Start with a specific goal.

This may feel like your spouse telling you to do the dishes before you eat a delicious, fun dessert. But really, you’ll thank yourself for doing those dishes in the long-run — and likewise, you’ll be glad you acknowledged your goal from the start of your guerilla marketing campaign.

With a goal leading your efforts, your brainstorming and creative outcomes will be more focused. And you’ll be better positioned to achieve the results you want. Really, you should never undertake a new marketing campaign without a goal in mind.

Here are some *basic* common goals guerilla marketing could help your small business achieve:

  • Raise awareness of your brand or your cause.
  • Reach more customers in a new location to immediately increase sales.
  • Garner interest from new prospects in your target market.
  • Introduce a new product or service with a big bang.
  1. Invest most of your time and effort in your creative and its execution.

If the idea you land on doesn’t make others go “wow,” keep on thinking. Guerilla marketing is about surprise. Hopefully a good surprise. You want to get their attention and make an impact.

If you Google “guerilla marketing examples,” you’ll find plenty of ingenious ideas that work so well that they seem almost too perfect and obvious to not exist. But these ideas were cultivated by a team of professional creatives who invested a lot of creative juices and execution hours to get it done.

You can do the same yourself. Or, you can enlist a team of creatives like yours truly at Zao525.  

Whatever you do, you can start thinking about how your campaign will look now. Take your time with this brainstorming stage. Spend a few hours a day for a week and list all of your ideas down. Yep, even the really embarrassing ridiculous, we could never do this ideas. They could help spark a really good idea. And if not, they are easy to erase, right?

Ask one or two people who know your brand well to help.

Here are some idea-starters:

  • What’s the benefit you want your audience to link to your brand? How could you represent this in a creative way? (See image above of Mr. Clean and the white cross walk.)
  • Go through the alphabet. For each letter, come up with a creative idea.
  • Get a map of your local community and start pinning areas where your target audience goes the most. How can you insert your brand experience in their routes?
  • Write down all the words you associate with your brand. Ask others to share their words.
  • Make a contest on your social media account for ideas. Gift the winner something fun — along with getting to see their idea come to life.

After you’ve found three to five creative ideas that get you really excited from your list of dozens, narrow it down by thinking through how you’ll actually make the creative happen.

Who will create your plan? Who will place it? How will they place it? For how long? Do you need a new landing page for the campaign? Do you need to be active on social media concurrently?

Think through the whole big picture plan. Once you find the idea that’s feasible to see through. Start to knock out the steps, one at a time.

  1. Make a plan for where your guerilla marketing will live.

Start to see advertising media wherever you go — more importantly, where your audience goes. If your target audience walks from campustown to the memorial union everyday, walk that path and consider the lamp posts you pass, the crosswalk signs, the sidewalk, the trees, the steps of the union. See potential in any platform. The less conventional, the more likely your audience will notice you.

Likewise, explore your local mall and talk with its management. Check out gas stations, parks, bathrooms, the city bus — even the outside of your own car. Speak with event planning staff. Can you convince your city to let you create legal graffiti artwork on the side of that old wall your target audience passes every day?

Or consider digital avenues. Should you stage a Facebook page takeover from a big local personality? Can you ask your Twitter or Instagram followers to share their photos of them using your product this summer for a chance to win a prize?

Once you decide where you want your guerilla marketing to take place and on what, lock down the logistics. Will you place the creative? For how long will it stay up? Who do you need to get permission from? How much will it cost?

Don’t let this stage keep you from moving full steam ahead. Chances are, your community will be more than willing to support you. If you do meet a “no,” have a plan two.

  1. Still have a call to action to see results.

Though big-name brands can put something out there that’s wow-worthy and artsy with nothing more than their logo, us small business marketers need to remember to make the most of our marketing budgets.

And the truth is, your audience will nine times out of 10 not do anything on their own unless you tell them to.

“Cool,” they’ll say to their friend when they see your piece of guerilla marketing. What do they want me to do about it? They ask themselves.

Make it easy for your target audience. Tell them what you want them to do — or better yet, show them. You don’t have to be explicit or obvious. But provide that hashtag. Put that unique URL for the campaign on the creative. Or simply put the literal call to action in plain English (or whatever language your primary customer speaks).

  1. Don’t forget to give the buzz a little nudge!

Remember, if you build it and build it well, your target audience will come.

But your guerilla marketing efforts can outlive its execution. Share the results on your social media accounts or through a blog post. Tip off your local press during your guerilla marketing campaign to foster coverage.

And plan beforehand how you’ll track the results. If your sales rage during your campaign, job well done. If they remain stagnant, remember to not be discouraged but encouraged to try something new next time.

Want help with parts or all of your guerilla marketing campaign? I have a team of creatives, thinkers and doers who can help you make your audience stop and stare. Let’s talk.

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