Get All Access for $5/mo

The 5 Basics of Guerilla Marketing The scoop on guerilla marketing: what it is and how it can help you grow your business.

By Joe Prusha

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We've all been there before. No matter where you live, everyone has experienced a traffic jam, and amid fumes of frustration, glanced around to see a horizon of billboards.

This type of "wait marketing," which capitalizes on moments of immobility or forced attention, maximizes on potential exposure. But unless a motorist has some special connection to an advertiser, it's very likely that he or she will have forgotten about the ad almost as soon as traffic starts moving again.

In a broad field of contenders vying for the same potential customer, advertisers need to distinguish their product and set their brand above the rest. Guerilla marketing uses unconventional advertising methods to do just that.

Guerilla marketing can take many forms. Some advertisers stage publicity stunts, even going so far as to hire actors to pretend to be customers. Seeing a crowd of "protesters" outside a business, for example, will certainly make passersby look twice. When they read the signs these picketers are carrying—which, in this case, would be favorable comments or reviews about the business—they remember the incident far more vividly than if they had merely passed by a billboard.

Related: See The Hidden Meanings Inside 17 Tech Company Logos

But guerilla marketing does not necessarily need to be so bold and flashy. Even bumper stickers or complimentary promotional gifts fall outside the realm of conventional advertising, if they're done right. But they need to be fresh, and they need to be memorable. So, what are the basics of guerilla advertising?

Public places: Advertisements need to be seen in order to be effective. This one is pretty basic, but it extends outside of physical places. Putting a video on YouTube, for example, doesn't necessarily make it an effectively marketed form of media. But using catchy tags, an irresistible name or title and sharing a video until it goes viral can be a wildly successful marketing strategy.

The right places: When marketing your business, whether using conventional or unconventional methods, your advertisements need to be localized to attract maximum business. This is especially true for small businesses. If your business has only one location in California, advertising in Nevada is not necessarily effective. Potential clients do not want to be led on a long walk; they want their goods and services to be reliable and easily available, because even the most dazzling advertisement has a limited shelf life of influence on potential customers.

Related: Seeing Red? Keep This In Mind When Choosing Marketing Colors.

Finding the right balance: The key to successful marketing when trying to set your business apart from the rest is striking the right balance between the familiar and the surprising. Too familiar risks being boring and unmemorable, but too shocking can turn people off to your product or service. Similarly, knowing your audience is important. Something suggestive will catch people's attention and perhaps make them laugh, but being too bold could offend potential customers and make them look elsewhere.

Living up to the hype: Guerilla marketing works best when it creates hype around a product or service. The folks at Erbert & Gerbert's Sandwich Shops know that our Facebook pages are a huge way into our customers' hearts and minds, so we spend a lot of time and effort on the corporate page. It generates interest, and that interest spurs conversation. But if your advertisement or post builds too much hype and your business can't deliver on the expectations you've created, customers will be disappointed. So, rather than making unreasonable claims in your unconventional advertisement, it might be better to rely on attainable promises delivered in a humorous, innovative, or otherwise memorable fashion.

Maximizing reception: Whatever form your advertisement takes, ask yourself—will potential customers be more receptive when they see this, or less receptive? Being stuck in traffic, for example, affords opportunities of attention which can generate exposure. But most drivers are frustrated, glancing at the clock, or shuffling through radio stations to find a traffic report, and are not entirely open to a unique advertising experience. Catching people unaware might be key here. This is why guerilla marketing tactics like flash mobs have been so successful. People walking casually through a shopping mall or sauntering onto a subway platform are caught unaware when they see a large group of coordinated performers, and they immediately stop and take notice.

No matter how excited customers get over the initial advertisement, remember that it's quality service and attention to detail while they're in your place of business that will keep them coming back. Guerilla marketing can be tremendously successful at bringing traffic through the door, but it's no substitute for your business dazzling them once they're in. That's what makes customers truly happy.

Related: Thinking About Becoming a Franchisee? Your Burning Questions Answered

Joe Prusha

Owner of Erbert & Gerbert's

Joe Prusha is the owner of Erbert & Gerbert's in Milwaukee, Wisc., serving Eastside, Shorewood, Murray Hill, Riverwest and Downtown. As a young man, Prusha worked at Erbert & Gerbert's to pay for college then worked at a variety of restaurant concepts in order to evaluate their strengths and decided to open his Erbert & Gerbert's because they were the best he'd encountered. His Milwaukee location opened in 2009 and has been thriving since. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Solutions

Increase Productivity with This Microsoft 365 Subscription, Now $25 Off

It can make the entrepreneur life a lot easier.

Business News

Apple Pay Later Is Ending. Here's What's Taking Its Place.

The program was available for less than a year.

Leadership

This Artist Answered a Businessman's 'Powerful' Question — Then His Work Became 'the Poster Child for Juneteenth': 'Your Network Really Becomes Your Net Worth'

Reginald Adams was the executive director of a Houston-based art museum for more than a decade before he decided to launch his own public art and design firm.

Leadership

Harvard Business School Professor Says 65% of Startups Fail for One Reason. Here's How to Avoid It.

Team alignment isn't nice to have -- it's critical for running a successful business.

Business News

Here's What Companies Are Open and Closed on Juneteenth 2024

Since it became a holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been recognized by some major corporations as a paid day off.

Growing a Business

I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue by Being More Transparent — Here Are the 3 Strategies That Helped Me Succeed

Three road-tested ways to be more transparent and build relationships that can transform your business — without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed.