Guerilla Marketing: Unconventional Ways to Grow Your Business

October 12, 2023
Written by
Melissa Zehner
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Ayanna Julien
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Guerilla Marketing: Unconventional Ways to Grow Your Business

Attention is the new economy, with Americans increasingly spending more time on streaming services, video games, TikTok, FaceTime, and Zoom. So what’s a small business to do? How can you get consumers to look away from their screens and pay attention to you? 

Guerilla marketing—immersive experiences, mind-boggling surprises, and larger-than-life moments of enchantment, inspiration, or joy. To capture attention, you need to create something so remarkable that even the most disinterested passersby can’t help but notice and join in. 

Let’s explore what guerilla marketing is, how it can help you grow your small business, and some brilliant guerilla marketing ideas from some of the world’s leading brands. 

What is guerilla marketing? 

Guerilla marketing uses unconventional marketing tactics to surprise and delight consumers, resulting in an undeniably memorable experience and favorable impression of your brand. Think skyscraper-sized dolls, billboards that bring Dracula to life, Deadpool’s Tinder profile, or even flash mobs (remember those?)—these are all examples of guerilla marketing. 

There are four major benefits of a successful guerilla marketing campaign: 
  1. Accelerating brand awareness by exposing your brand to large numbers of consumers in a short period
  2. Building brand affinity by associating your brand with a positive experience in the minds of consumers
  3. Increasing social proof and word-of-mouth recommendations by prompting social media shares
  4. Attracting local, state, or national media and press coverage 
Guerilla marketing tactics vary wildly, ranging from KitKat park benches to the legendary Red Bull Stratos space jump. This is one of the perks of guerilla marketing—these tactics offer much more flexibility and capacity to be creative than traditional marketing methods, whether you have a candy bar-sized or history-making budget. 

Here are some of the most popular guerilla marketing tactics: 

1. Ambient marketing

Infuse your product or campaign into the consumer’s environment with the intention of blending it into the experience rather than disrupting it. You probably see ambient marketing examples every day. Small ads on gas pumps, hand dryers, or golf balls are common examples of this guerilla marketing tactic. 

2. Ambush marketing

Promote your product unexpectedly at an event, often without the event team’s permission. A well-known example of event ambush marketing is the Fiji Water model, featuring a photobombing of many of the 2019 Golden Globes red carpet photos, exposing the brand to millions of viewers. 

This kind of marketing can have a major downside, though: if you work without permission from the event team, you risk removal from the event or even face legal consequences. 

3. Buzz marketing

Use endorsements or recommendations from celebrities or influencers to build interest in your brand. Rather than paying for brand mentions like traditional influencer marketing, buzz marketing typically relies on organic endorsements from high-profile individuals, which makes it cost-effective but difficult to execute effectively. 

4. Experiential marketing

Create immersive experiences or activities consumers can directly participate in so they become part of your marketing campaign. 

For example, Coca-Cola created a virtual reality experience during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Zurich that enabled sports fans to “play soccer” with Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri. Passersby couldn’t resist the opportunity to try their skills against a professional soccer star, making the campaign a success. 

5. Street marketing

Market or promote your product on the street or in other heavily trafficked public places to ensure widespread exposure. Street marketing isn’t confined to billboards and flyers—it often involves sidewalks, park benches, trash cans, and more.

6. Viral marketing

Encourage consumers to share your brand or product online or through word of mouth. The benefits of viral marketing are undeniable—Dollar Shave Club used a viral video to capture 12,000+ orders in just 48 hours. However, there’s no guarantee that your campaign or product will go viral, making this guerilla marketing tactic often less predictable than others.

Brilliant guerilla marketing examples from the “Barbie” movie

We can’t talk about guerilla marketing without highlighting the pinkest of them all: the “Barbie” movie campaign. From turning bus stops into Barbie’s living room to renting out a real-life Barbie Dreamhouse on Airbnb, the “Barbie” marketing team brilliantly turned consumers cotton candy pink with “Barbie” fever—and gave us a masterclass in guerilla marketing along the way. 

The worldwide campaign catapulted “Barbie” into Hollywood history: it’s now the highest-grossing Warner Bros. film ever made, surpassing every film in the “Harry Potter” and “Dark Knight” series. It's also the largest-ever film debut for a female director, a huge milestone in an industry historically male-dominated at almost every level

While the “Barbie” team had a healthy marketing budget, you can leverage some of the same tactics even if your budget is as small as a Barbie doll’s wallet: 
  • Large replicas of Mattel’s distinct Barbie doll packaging were on display at movie theaters and other public spots, encouraging fans to pose inside the boxes and share their photos on social media. If your brand has an unmistakable visual identity, create photo opportunities that encourage your customers to share images or videos on social media. 
  • Another social media share tactic that worked well for the “Barbie” team: an AI-powered, customizable selfie generator that enabled fans to create movie posters. (Yes, guerilla marketing can be digital too.) Use this idea for your business by creating digital assets, like posters, memes, or short AI videos your customers can customize, download, or share.
  • Brand partnerships were a key component of the “Barbie” marketing team’s strategy, extending beyond movie ticket sales to another moneymaker: merchandise. From Joybird’s bubblegum-colored couches to ALDO’s flamingo pink heels, fans had countless ways to decorate, dress up, and embrace the Barbie lifestyle. The result? Free marketing for “Barbie.” Masses of pink-clad fans filled public places around the world, making flash mobs look like amateur hour and capturing press coverage from countless media outlets, including CNN, NBC, and The New York Times. 
What can we learn from the “Barbie” movie campaign? When you thoroughly understand your audience, you know exactly how to prompt excitement, encourage participation, and build brand affinity. Delight your customers, and they’ll gladly share and support your brand. This is the ideal outcome of guerilla marketing.

Tips and ideas for creating a guerilla marketing strategy

Like any other marketing approach, be thoughtful to be successful with guerilla marketing. 

Start with a clear goal in mind—do you want to increase social media followers, foot traffic, or sales? Then, reverse engineer a campaign that directly supports your goal.

Here are some questions to ask as you plan your guerilla marketing campaign: 
  • Is your campaign eye-catching and engaging enough to capture widespread attention?
  • How can you make it straightforward for people to participate in or share your campaign? 
  • What message will the campaign send about your brand? Does this message support your brand positioning?
  • Can you execute your campaign safely and preserve respect for the space it’s in and the people it may impact?
  • Have you confirmed that you can legally use the space?
  • Are you prepared to address potential criticism from consumers or the press if your campaign is controversial (like PETA)? 
  • How will you measure success? What metrics can you track?
  • How will you sustain relationships with consumers or participants after your campaign ends?

Use guerilla marketing to capture lifelong customers with Twilio SendGrid

Now that your guerilla marketing campaign has ended, don’t forget what comes next. Once you’ve captured the eyes (and hopefully hearts) of your campaign participants, how will you convert them into loyal customers? 

You’ve just sparked positive relationships with all these people, so don’t let them fizzle out post-campaign. Create a way to stay in touch with participants as part of your guerilla marketing experience. Then, launch an email or SMS nurture campaign to ensure all those happy participants become loyal customers. 

That’s where we come in.

When you sign up for a free Twilio SendGrid account, you’ll gain access to expert advice, tips, and templates to help you with every step of the customer journey, from gathering contact information to increasing sales. If you need help getting started, check out this guide

We can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

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