Guerrilla Marketing - How To Succeed

A failed guerrilla marketing campaign can be disastrous to the brand. Many large organizations have made missteps that were costly in terms of money and reputation. Learn the steps and considerations you need to factor in when planning a guerrilla marketing event.


Bill Arnold

2/3/20246 min read

Guerrilla Marketing Best Practices
Guerrilla Marketing Best Practices

When contemplating a guerrilla campaign, keep in mind that a failure can be extremely costly to the brand. Guerrilla marketing is the creative use of novel, or unconventional, methods in order to boost sales or attract interest in a brand or a business. We shared some epic failures in an article called Guerrilla Marketing – Hits and Misses.

Some major brands, who should have known better, had to pay millions of dollars for their mistakes, and the brand awareness they received was all negative. If the promotion fails or embarrasses the client, it will spell disaster for both them and you. So, we have assembled this list of best practices to help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can turn your campaign into a nightmare.

Guerrilla Marketing Best Practices

Know The Audience– Like every marketing endeavor, guerrilla marketing requires a keen understanding of your target audience. However, in many respects, it is even more critical when implementing guerrilla marketing tactics. This is because, by its very nature, GM is designed to get lots of attention and generate a lot of amplification. A poorly thought-out GM endeavor can blow up in your face and cause a lot of bad press.

So, when you are contemplating a GM program, you need to go beyond the mere development of buyer personas and understand, with great certainty, how those being targeted and those viewing the event will react. If you are not certain that the event will be greeted with a positive response, take time to rethink and reformulate your concept.

Brand Continuity – Not every brand should be considering the use of guerrilla marketing campaigns. If your brand presents itself as a formal, highly professional company, the use of GM may be seen as going against the brand’s voice and image. If your target audience is older and more conservative, the use of GM may be seen as irritating. Before you implement an avant-garde marketing concept, make sure it is on-brand, and that it will be accepted by your target audience in the spirit you are trying to create.

Ability to Deliver – Guerrilla marketing requires the element of surprise, so you have one opportunity to be able to pull it off. Make sure you have enough resources before you begin and have taken care of any permits, permissions, or venue issues that might shut you down mid-production. Nothing goes viral quicker than a failed guerrilla marketing effort. You don’t want to be forever known as the brand that went viral for a failed effort.

Check Local Laws – While it may seem cool and hip to bend a few local ordinances, the consequences may not be what you expected. We shared, in our Hits and Misses blog, a number of well-established companies forced to clean up their violations and pay fines to the city. What may have been even worse for them is that local residents did not appreciate what they saw to be vandalism. The social sharing that they received was not about the cool graffiti but how their city was defaced for corporate greed.

Be Creative - Guerrilla marketing is all about thinking outside the box and delivering an experience that will be fun and memorable. Too often, a company sees an idea on the internet and decides to replicate it in their city. This is an immediate failure as copycat guerrilla events rarely go viral. The new and the novel will capture the minds and attention of internet users. Be unique. Be special, and craft your own identity and concept for an event. The reason guerrilla marketing is not done is that it is really hard to find that special concept that has not been done before. However, if you are able to find this magic, it can lead to the development of unique brand identities and marketing campaigns that resonate with customers. Entertain, startle, and surprise those attending the event. The element of surprise is a key aspect of guerrilla marketing.

Develop a Budget - One of the hallmarks of guerrilla marketing is the fact it can be done on a shoestring budget, but that does not mean it's absolutely free. Before you begin, determine how much money you can allocate to your campaign and what will be the most cost-effective tactics to accomplish your goals.

Practice – Practice – Practice - Just because you want your guerrilla marketing event to look spontaneous, doesn't mean it will be. Every aspect of the program, and every individual involved, needs to attend and practice multiple times until the rollout seems almost boring to you. It may be the first time your audience sees the event, but it should be the 100th time you've actually run it.

Evaluate Risks and Potential Impact- Just because you can do something does not mean you should. Consider the guerrilla marketing tactics that you plan on undertaking. What are the potential risks and consequences to the brand? Ensure that they align with your brand values, and that they won't offend your target audience. If you are uncertain, consider a low-key test event, where members of your target audience watch your practice event and obtain their feedback

Include Local Media and Influencers– The whole point of any guerrilla marketing initiative is to increase brand awareness. This only happens if the event is shared and broadcast across social platforms and regular media. If you have a spectacular event planned, and you are confident that it will go off without a hitch, invite your local TV stations and influencers to the location you are going to use. Do NOT tell them what you are going to create, but let them know that a legal and safe viral moment will happen. Ask them to be discrete but ready to point cameras when events begin to unfold.

Local media and influencers love to share such moments with their audience. It gives the always-needed content and a feel-good story that can offset the doom and gloom they are required to share.

Focus on Smaller Groups – You do not need 100,000 or even 10,000 people to view your GM event. A few hundred, or even a few dozen, can propel your brand into the stratosphere. The more intimate the event, the more likely those viewing it will feel special and compelled to share it across social feeds. It is also more likely that using smaller events and making a more personal connection will compel those viewing it to become loyal customers.

Read the Room- it is critical that you know your audience and who will be at the location where the event is to occur. If you are planning a risqué program, or an event that might be socially questionable, to a particular group, find a venue where it will be well received. You do not want to have an audience of highly conservative individuals or those who are repressed and present an off-color or highly controversial program. The initial reaction will be highly negative which will be what is sent across social platforms and shared in the media.

Have a Defined Objective – What does success look like? What action do you want those attending or those seeing it on social media to take? All too often, I have seen guerrilla marketing that had great potential, but those who ran it failed to have a concise call-to-action. While some programs are strictly to create brand awareness, it is a mistake not to include an opportunity for those you reached to take the next step and engage with your brand.

Be Flexible – Being flexible and adaptable is critical, even on the day of the event. You need to plan on every contingency, but realize at the same time, you can’t. Be prepared to contend with unexpected situations, and have clear leadership so those participating can look for a modified plan or instructions.

Post-Event Opportunities - Plan ahead on how you're going to capitalize on the attention your event will receive.

Bystanders -One suggestion that we have utilized in the past, and a way to incorporate bystanders into your event promotion, is to give away branded merchandise at the end of the event. Use stickers, hats, and T-shirts that say “I was there” and have your event and brand prominently displayed.  

Brand Advocates – Have your brand advocates sufficiently in the loop and primed once the event ends to share the video and praise. They should tout the event for its inventiveness and creativity.

Don’t Focus on Going Viral – It is the hope and dream that your event will go off without a hitch and become the next viral sensation, but it should never be the focus of your efforts. What elements will combine to create lightning in a bottle is not something you can plan. The best you can do is come up with a creative and unique idea, follow best practices, and execute it. If you have done all of it 100% correctly, there is no guarantee you will see your event streaming across all social platforms. You just need to put it out there and hope. Trying to force something to go viral often results in cutting corners, taking chances, or being seen as trying too hard. It can backfire, and your event may be panned rather than exalted.

Measure and Adapt - As with any marketing strategy, it is important to measure the effectiveness of your guerrilla marketing campaigns. Track key metrics such as brand awareness, engagement, and conversions to evaluate the impact of your efforts. Use the insights gained to refine your approach and make data-driven decisions for future campaigns. To measure the success of your guerrilla marketing campaign, take a look at both quantitative and qualitative metrics. Look at KPIs, such as engagement, website traffic, social media mentions, sales,  brand sentiment, and share of voice.