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Guerrilla Marketing: Now More Than Ever

By Mark S. A. Smith

It's truly a jungle out there. With the crash of the global economy and the aftermath of September 11, finding business is brutal (and seems to be getting tougher). If you're like most companies, you're minimizing the marketing budget, slashing staff and battling for business. The ruthless competition squeezes your profits, and customers drive a hard bargain on every deal. What can you do to compete and make a fair profit? Market like a guerrilla.

So what exactly is guerrilla marketing, anyway? It all started back in the early '80s, when Jay Conrad Levinson wrote his first book with the same name. As a top advertising executive responsible for some of the world's most successful marketing campaigns, Levinson studied what small businesses did to profitably compete with a limited budget. He discovered that successful entrepreneurs used strategies and tactics similar to guerrilla freedom fighters. They use their limited resources to maximum advantage. They never fight the enemy directly, but instead choose to strike at the competition's weaknesses. They operate with the utmost efficiency and integrity, but they refuse to play by the normal rules of engagement.

In this spirit, here are nine fundamental strategies of Guerrilla Marketing. Embrace them all and you'll be a success. Miss just one and you could be an also-ran in your industry. And be sure to ask your counselor how you can incorporate effective promotional products into the mix.

Time, Energy And Imagination
Instead of relying on money, power or brute force, guerrillas rely on brain power. You may be facing competition with a marketing budget larger than your entire annual sales. You could fret about a lack of funds, unless you realize that you'll never be out-spent on time, energy and imagination.

Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. Guerrillas maximize the time they spend in contact with customers and prospects because that's where the money is. Take this principle into account when you select what promotional products to use. What can you select that creates an impact and saves precious time for your prospect? Perhaps it's a tool that delivers a short-cut, such as a slide rule or a cross-reference table. Maybe it's combination pen-highlighter for rapidly notating your catalog.

Guerrillas also maximize their personal energy. Vince Lombardi observed: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." You can create a winning edge when you eat right, rest well and care for your body. Healthy living is in, so consider this concept when approaching your prospects. Select a logoed stress-reliever, massage tool, nutrition bar or water bottle as your product. Finally, as Einstein pointed out: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." Given this, guerrillas often choose to abandon common knowledge and invent their own rules and outcomes. Could you imagine doubling your business over the next year? If you can, you've taken the first step to actually getting there. Try this: Grab your calendar and look at today's date a year from now. Imagine yourself heading out to a company wide celebration because business has doubled from the year before. Take a moment to review what you did that allowed you to achieve that. Sure, you'll have to use your imagination to figure it out, and in the process the wonderful ideas you'll create will help you get where you're going.

Psychology, Not Guesswork
Around 1880, retail genius John Wanamaker said, "I know that half of my advertising is wasted - I just don't know which half." The good news is that now we can track what works and what doesn't, so we no longer have to guess. In the 1970s, 75% or more of marketing budgets went into advertising. Now, because of lead tracking and analysis, 25% percent or less of the average budget is directed to advertising, about 50% goes to trade promotions and another 25% gets spent on consumer promotions, with a substantial proportion of the budget moving to online marketing.

Guerrillas use practical, applied psychology to decide how to approach prospects and motivate customers. They learn about and stop doing what prospects dislike. They discover and do more of what motivates customers. Here's how: Most businesspeople ask customers, "How is everything?" The answer is usually, "Fine," which tells you nothing. Instead, ask customers, "What one thing can I do to improve your experience doing business with us?" Then listen. Don't make excuses; your customer is telling you a secret to increasing your business.

You can also use psychology to select promotional products. Use customers and prospects to help choose what you'll use. No need for a complex focus group; just ask customers which item on a list would best serve them. Ask prospects which choice would have the most impact and be most memorable. Please don't ask your salespeople to make the decision. Since they're not paying customers, they won't use the correct mindset, and you'll probably make a poor decision.

The Only Yardstick Of Success
Often, advertising execs will discourse about exposure or cost per thousand impressions. Knowing that they can't eat exposure or imbibe impressions, guerrillas judge the quality of a marketing campaign solely by the profits generated.

Guerrillas measure everything meaningful. They calculate the cost to close a sale instead of the cost of a lead. They determine the logoed products that produce the most new business and return the most repeat business. They always conduct a small-scale campaign before rolling out big time. No matter how cool a potential item, if it doesn't help turn a profit, they pass on it in favor of something perhaps more mundane but money-making.

Gear To Small Business
Entrepreneurs are natural-born guerrillas. They apply these ideas without a second thought. Small businesses can, in fact, do certain things large corporations can't. For example, they can base their marketing on listening to customers instead of being driven by an ivory tower marketing department.

Consider this: Most of your clients are probably small businesses, and your most successful customers could be entrepreneurial spirits working a corporate culture. Also keep this in mind when you choose imprinted products. How can you identify and deliver entrepreneurial spirit to your customers? Perhaps with inspirational quotes. Maybe by recognizing their contributions with an award. Could you collect the best ideas of your best customers and turn that into something special?

No Mystique
Successful guerrilla marketing doesn't require an advanced degree, a huge research budget or a committee of experts. All you need is information from people who buy or who want to buy. Your marketing strategy can be as simple as promising prospects what they want and guaranteeing against what they don't. The principles of successful marketing are simple, but they require diligence and work. Marketing isn't an event; it's a process that continues as long as you're in business.

Guerrillas also understand that the bell curve of customer behavior means that 2% of customers will hate you no matter how hard you work, and 2% will love you no matter how poorly you perform. Never make marketing decisions based on that 4%. Concentrate on the 96% you can truly serve. Sure, you remember more of the negative comments than the positive ones, but now that you're aware of the real ratios, you can place the put-downs in their proper context.

Marketing Combinations Work
There's no single marketing method that works all the time or for everyone. There are great prospects who won't listen to the radio, don't accept telephone sales calls, or would never consider reading direct mail. Marketing combinations do work, however, and promotional products are definitely part of the mix.

The most potent products remind people who you are and how to reach you when the need arises. For example, refrigerator magnets that advertise pizza delivery or appliance repair services show up in the right place at the right time. Tools and other useful items are in your prospect's hand when they need you.

You can also use product samples as premiums. Estee Lauder uses this approach with great success. Its products never go on sale, maintaining margins and positioning value. But when you purchase $25 worth of product, you receive a gift bag worth $50 that contains peewee-size samples. How can anyone pass up a deal like that - especially if the bag they're in is imprinted?

And let people know you have the promotional product available. Sell it in your catalog, mention it in your product packaging, feature it on your Web site. Create contests giving it away as prizes. One company that has been successful with this approach is Horizon Organic Dairy. Its Web site address is printed on its milk cartons, often along with an offer for consumers to win prizes like logoed clothing and totebags for completing a quiz about their products. What a great way to educate consumers and gather important data in exchange for a gift that further advertises your firm.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Mark S A Smith is a partner of the Guerrilla Group Inc. in Boulder, CO. He is co-author of Guerrilla Trade Show Selling, Guerrilla TeleSelling and Guerrilla Negotiating. You can reach him at mark@GuerrillaGroup.com

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