There's an old saying that you can get it cheap, fast and high-quality, as long as you pick any two of the three. But with new guerilla marketing techniques, you can truly have it all.
What Is Guerilla Marketing?
It's a strategy for saving money while you invest your imagination and manpower — otherwise known as "sweat equity" — to:
  • Successfully break through the millions of messages people receive every day through magazines, Internet newsletters, emails, television, iPods and so forth. It's not easy to get people's attention these days!
  • Target the audiences who will be most likely to buy your products. There's no reason to use a shotgun approach, which sends your message to a host of people, many of whom aren't interested. Better to tailor your message to those who are in the market for your product or service.
  • Save money. The cost of advertising has become so inflated that few small businesses can afford to use traditional methods, such as television ads, magazine or newspaper inserts or four-color flyers, brochures or other sales materials. The methods of guerilla marketing are legion. So how do you choose the one, or ones, that will be most effective for you?
Step One: Know Your Audience
Before you consider undertaking any type of marketing, you must know your audience. This is a traditional marketing approach and necessary for any type of plan you create. So, here are some questions to ask yourself about your existing customers to create a profile of your potential targets: Are they young, old, male, female? What is the typical income level? What are their interests? How did they find out about your business? Why do they choose you? Where do they live?

The more you know about your existing customers, the better you'll be able to find similar people who would be good prospects.

Remember that word-of-mouth is the greatest endorsement you can have, and it is the least expensive way for you to gain a larger audience. People trust their friends much more than they trust advertising; when people get a recommendation from someone they know, they're much more likely to try you out. Of course, you can only achieve endorsements if people are happy with the way you treat them. So, the most important thing you can do to attract new customers is to satisfy your current customers and keep them coming back. Any professional marketer can tell you that it costs at least five times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep the ones you already have.
Step Two: Familiarize Yourself with Types of Vehicles
With the myriad of venues available to you, where should you be spending your time and effort? Here are some vehicles you might consider:
  • Buzz marketing: You're trying to get everybody talking about your latest people to talk about your product, preferably among people like themselves. There are two types of buzz:
    • Organic buzz: when you are keeping your customers so happy that word spreads automatically. When "influencers" support what you're doing, your product essentially sells itself. In the fitness industry, influencers might be doctors, celebrity
      fitness gurus, high visibility community leaders, other companies that might be interested in partnering with you, and so on.
    • Amplified buzz: when you set out to make yourself buzz-worthy in hopes of attracting attention. It's simply a campaign or method used to pump up word-of-mouth and get people fired up about you. It often happens via consumer-generated media like blogs or discussion boards.
  • Sidebar definition: Consumer-generated media is word-of-mouth on the Internet. It comes in a variety of forms, including blogs, message board posts, commentary in forums and so on. Anytime a person shares his or her opinion, advice or commentary online, it's a part of a permanent digital record.
  • Email marketing: This is a quick way to reach a lot of people; however, there are rules about sending email that is not solicited. One way to deal with this is to send an email-newsletter or other enticement but offer an "opt out" feature. This lets people email you 
    to tell you they don't want to receive further emails from you. Check the email rules to be sure you're within the law.
  • Ambient marketing: Be sure to advertise to people at the right place and time. For example, if you operate a fitness center near a school, parents might be good prospects because they could visit your business after dropping off or before picking up the children. Community partnerships are just one method of ambient marketing.
  • Stunt marketing: Something newsworthy is always super-effective. One restaurant in California offers free meals to bald people on Wednesdays. If you have half your hair, you get 50% off. The media loved it — even national publications. That's stunt marketing.
  • Stealth marketing: Recently, companies have been essentially tricking people into thinking that buzz is real when it's actually fake. A liquor company might pay attractive women to sit in bars and drink their product. When a man approaches a woman and offers to buy her a drink, she orders the product and encourages him to try it, too. The unsuspecting gentleman has no idea that the woman is being paid to promote the product. However, if people find out you're doing this, they'll lose faith in your product and, more importantly, in you. Once your reputation is damaged, it's hard to recover.
  • Experiential marketing: The best way to win customers is to let people try a sample. Think of the classic Pepsi challenge, in which people blindly taste a Coke and a Pepsi and then give their opinion about which is better. This gets people involved and gives them a hand-on experience of the product. In the fitness field, offer people a free Zen mini-garden if they stop by and take a tour of your facility, or offer a free yoga lesson, counting on the fact that once they've experienced your facility, and they'll come back for more.
Step Three: Picking the Right Place and the Right Time 
Don't expect people to go out of their way to find out about you. Go where they are. Suppose you offer yoga classes. Who does yoga? Well, young mothers are one group. If you're aiming for stay-at-home moms who tend to attend such classes while the kids are at school, catch them during school hours — just before school or just before pick-up times.

To reach these moms, you might do a stunt, like having an outdoor yoga exhibition to attract their attention as they drive by. You could get the school's permission to put up fliers. Try posting fliers in a nearby grocery store. Offer a free yoga class to people who show a picture their child drew, or even visit the school to give the kids a free yoga lesson. Remember, the idea is to catch people where they are most likely to see your product.
Step Four: Make a Plan
An effective marketing strategy takes thought and planning. You'll want to consider your budget and how much time you can invest in it. Can you get friends or relatives to help? In creating a plan, be realistic. It's better to do less and do it well than to bite off more than you can chew. A half-baked plan will fall flat, so pace yourself.    

Map out a year's worth of marketing vehicles: Repetition is advantageous because it keeps you top-of-mind with customers and prospects. Develop a regular schedule of activities. For instance, do an emailing once a month, every quarter do an experiential activity, offer repeat customers an annual free session, and so on.

Whatever you choose to do, do it professionally — it's worth the investment. If you choose printed brochures or a website, get advice from a professional. Chances are you're not a writer or a designer, even if you think you are. There are freelancers who will sell you an hour of their time just to help you figure out what you should do. Take the next step, and let them create the tool for you.
Step Five: Measure Your Success
Almost every plan needs to be tweaked. To find out which parts of your plan are working and which ones are not, you'll need to measure each one.      
Suppose you've decided to put out fliers at grocery stores and elementary schools plus an ad in the local business journal and a website. At the end of the quarter, 500 people have come to your facility. Always, always ask them where they heard about you, otherwise you won't know whether the fliers, ad or website drove customers to your door. If you ask, you may find out that 250 came from the website, 150 looked in the Yellow Pages, 50 learned of you through word-of-mouth, 35 came because of the school flier and only 15 resulted from the grocery store fliers. Obviously, the website and Yellow Pages are your best source.

One other thing to be considered is the return on investment. For instance, even though you only attracted 15 people from the grocery store flier, it took almost no effort; just stopping by and putting up one piece of paper one time. No sweat. Clearly, you should continue that activity because it is delivering some results.
Put on Your Guerilla Suit
Small businesses can be just as successful as larger companies. The trick is to act like a pro. Approach your marketing with deliberation and strategy; great marketing doesn't just happen. Your job is to investigate the tools, consider which ones are right for your business, evaluate the time versus money factors, and, most importantly, implement them in a professional way. When you get to the end of the day, you should discover that your marketing plan is effective, and your business is thriving. Go get 'em, King Kong!

           Colleen Wells is a 15-year veteran of communications and marketing with Spellbinders, Inc., a marketing and communications firm that provides services to Fortune 500 corporations, including FedEx, Hilton Hotels and Coca-Cola Enterprises. Colleen co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Guerilla Marketing with Susan Drake, Spellbinders' founder and president. For more information, visit


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