Guerilla marketing for small businesses

Of all the new fields of marketing to have emerged over the past couple of decades, guerrilla marketing is certainly one of the most talked about. Designed as a way of producing high-impact, creative campaigns on a limited budget, it has huge potential for small businesses that are yet to establish themselves.

What is guerilla marketing?

Guerrilla marketing was originally the brain-child of marketer Jay Conrad Levinson. The term, which he coined in a 1984 book of the same name, refers to highly effective marketing activities that can be utilised by firms and individuals with small cash budgets.

Guerrilla marketing relies on the creativity and ingenuity of the marketer, rather than a huge amount of cash, to get the message heard. It often means using marketing methods that have perhaps been overlooked by conventional marketers, and that might exist outside the channels normally used in regular campaigns. For example, guerrilla marketing generally eschews things like newspaper adverts; they are too expensive and insufficiently targeted, and it is very easy for your message to be drowned out by other competing campaigns.

Many of the best guerrilla marketing campaigns are successful specifically because they use unusual channels. These campaigns are eye-catching and they become talking points, often with an impact far greater than that which would have been achieved by a high-cost print campaign.

What are the benefits for small businesses?

Guerrilla marketing was conceived with small businesses in mind. Levinson and other practitioners realised that many small firms lack a big marketing budget – but what they have by the bucket-load is creativity. Guerrilla marketing therefore allows you to utilise the resources you have, rather than wasting cash that you cannot afford to spend.

Another of the most important benefits of guerrilla marketing is that a good campaign can become a talking point in its own right. A campaign that encourages people to talk about your brand is a priceless thing, particularly if your business is yet to establish itself.

There are, however, some dangers associated with guerrilla marketing. As many guerrilla campaigns stray into areas in which individuals would not normally expect to be sold to, it is vital that the product or service in question is good enough to live up to the campaign. A guerrilla campaign without a great product or service to back it up will quickly be seen as an intrusion, and that talking point can turn sour.

What are guerilla marketing techniques?

There is a wide range of guerrilla marketing techniques available to small businesses. The trick to developing a good campaign is to consider channels and methods that are relevant to your business, but that may come as a surprise to customers.

Viral marketing

A mainly online activity, viral marketing uses social networks to get the word out about a brand or product. This is often achieved through the spread of something not immediately related to the product in question. For example, Microsoft recently had a big viral hit with a video about a waterslide – when, of course, they do not sell waterslides. Viral marketing, when successful, can be a great way to get people talking about your brand.

Reverse graffiti

This is a very new form of marketing, which uses temporary images to advertise a brand or product. Rather than spray-painting images onto a surface as with conventional graffiti, reverse graffiti sees marketers removing dirt in order to create the image. By their nature these images are highly visible, and are particularly eye-catching due to its unusual placement. Nokia, for example, are currently running a reverse graffiti campaign across Trafalgar Square.


This technique sees marketers developing campaigns that appear to outsiders to be grassroots or spontaneous behaviour. Successful campaigns of this sort have a very high potential for popular engagement, as individuals believe they are participating in a popular movement rather than being sold to. A good example is the ‘Bring Back Wispa’ campaign which, although appearing to be a spontaneous popular campaign, was allegedly an astroturfing effort by Cadbury.

There are no set parameters for guerrilla marketing; indeed, the idea is to think as creatively as possible, and to come up with campaigns that work for your business. There is no comprehensive list of guerrilla marketing techniques. Instead, you can use previous examples as a launch pad to develop your own ideas.

Guerrilla marketing has applications for businesses of every size, as its adoption by firms like Cadbury suggests. But it is particularly useful for small firms with a limited cash budget. Rather than spending huge amounts of money on a conventional campaign, consider some of the ways that you can use your own creativity, and a bit of time, to raise awareness of your brand – and hopefully boost sales.

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