Farewell to the Guru of Guerilla Marketing

guerilla marketing

Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of “guerrilla marketing,” passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 80. I didn’t know him personally but his 1983 book Guerrilla Marketing—geared to small business owners and entrepreneurs—was inspirational to me.

Levinson was quite a character. Often dressed in camouflage, he was passionate about his approach to marketing and loved to engage with people through his articles, books, talks and training programs.

Instead of a big marketing budget, Levinson proposed that small business owners could use low-cost and unconventional means to create buzz and promote their products and a services. The essence of guerrilla marketing, according to Levinson, was “achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money.”

“Guerrilla marketing” is now part of the popular lexicon and many of his techniques have become the way to market a business, both small and large alike.

I’ve shared many of his marketing tips with students over the years. Key guerilla marketing principles include:

  • Concentrate on how many new relationships are made each month, instead of new customers
  • Aim for more referrals and more (and larger) transactions with existing customers
  • Forget about the competition and concentrate on cooperating with other businesses
  • Use current technology as a tool to build your business
  • Aim messages at individuals or small groups (the smaller the better)
  • Focus on gaining consent to send more information rather than trying to make a sale
  • Measure your business by profits not sales

In an interview from 2011, Levinson said that guerilla marketing is the opposite of what people think it is. “It’s not shocking or ambushing and it does not result in instant anything… it’s oriented to the client. And it does not work instantly because guerrilla marketers realize, ‘I’ve got to build up a sense of confidence, and I can’t do that immediately.’”

Levinson believed that a solid plan, committing to that plan, and patience are key to effective and successful marketing campaigns. “The graveyards of marketing are littered with terrific campaigns that were abandoned too soon. People think ‘This should work in a hurry,’ but marketing doesn’t. And if you think it does, you’re going to be in for a life of grief, frustration and Tums because it doesn’t work instantly; it does, however, work eventually if you commit to it.”

According to Levinson, patience is especially important when using social media as a marketing tool. People “get a Facebook account and become active on Twitter. They think that social media will work for them. It doesn’t work in a hurry. But it’s so uncomplicated if you go about it in the right way, which is not expensive. The key element is patience, because the best-crafted marketing doesn’t work instantly.”

What marketing approach has been most successful with your business?

Here is a video of Jay from a few years back answering the question, “What is Guerrilla Marketing?”

In the Company of Others

A common assumption is that word-of-mouth promotion for small business means encouraging customers or clients to tell other people about your business, either directly or through online review tools like Yelp. This is important but another key part of word-of-mouth promotion involves your own word-of-mouth efforts—attending events, meeting new contacts, talking with others and sharing who you are and what you do.

It’s great to attend events that directly relate to your business or industry and it’s also incredibly valuable to just get out there and make contact with people. We need to be out in the public—be it a street fair, holiday event or home-based party—and connect with others.

Even at gatherings that aren’t “officially” networking events, try to put yourself into the mix and in your own way, “work the room”. It’s okay to have an agenda in mind. You can be ready with a critical question to ask or some simple information to share about you and your own business. Travel with a business success story or a lesson learned, and always be on the lookout for good resources and leads for other business owners you know.

word of mouth

In conversation with PTA Associate Andrea Baker, Owner of Baker Consulting

The key to building a good reputation may simply mean being a person ready with a story to tell, good resources to share, and the ability to listen and ask questions in all conversations. Every encounter is a potential business opportunity—even if you don’t know what the benefit will be to you and your business in the moment! It is in the company of others that magic can happen.

Testing the Waters

Before you start a new business or expand into a new marketplace, it’s always essential to “test the waters”.  This means doing some simple market research. The intent is to find out as much as possible about potential customers or clients before taking the plunge and/or repeating a marketing effort!

market research

Shoe leather approach
Market research can be as simple as asking casual questions, comparing prices, walking around your neighborhood or attending a trade show. I call this “shoe leather research” even if you don’t do it by walking around. You learn by keeping your eyes open, your ears to the ground, and paying attention to what you notice.

Situational Observations
Casual and informal research can also be called situational research. Basically, it involves getting a feel for the industry, the general marketplace, and/or the specific targeted market that you think is right. The process can include informal conversations with potential customers (“I’m thinking of opening an online pet helpline. Would you use something like that?”), direct competitors (“I wonder if you could help me as I’m thinking about opening a shop like yours 50 miles away.”), and potential suppliers (“Can you tell me how much inventory you usually sell to stores that carry your line?”) Sometimes this informal style of research generates enough information to build your confidence and help you get a new business started. Other times, this approach will help an existing business to identify and carry a new product line.

Formalized Primary Research
Shoe leather and situational research can be very helpful but more formalized research may also be needed when trying to determine if your business approach is the right fit. This can include careful observation (watching, counting, recording), interviewing someone relevant to your business area (by phone, in person or online with carefully chosen questions), or preparing a survey to administer to your potential customer base (by mail, in person or online using free software like Survey Monkey).

Secondary Research
It can also be very helpful to do secondary research—getting information from trade journals, census reports and other industry references. There are online services based on Google key words or specific industry data.  This form of research is easier in a way (you just go online and ask some questions) but it isn’t always relevant and may be too general for your market. A combination of primary research (done by you to acquire original data) and secondary research are BOTH valid and need to be part of your business planning.

Making the Time
The most important factor when selecting a market research approach is to determine if you have the time to do it and if you will actually compile and use the data. Your research should help you minimize the risks related to the venture you want to undertake, so make the effort to talk to people, gather information from the industry, watch competitors and record your impressions. Testing the waters (even at the shallow end) will make your plunge into business much more successful!

photo credit: http://walkingfit.ucr.edu/faq.html