By Chris West

I’m not sure where the term ‘Guerrilla Marketing’ came from. The American marketer Jay Conrad Levinson writes well on the subject — maybe the name was his. Wherever it came from, the idea has taken root. But is it useful to entrepreneurs and small business owners?

I like the ‘guerrilla’ message that marketing is about people. This is what start-ups and small businesses need — real contact with real customers, not expensive branding and unfocused advertising. This contact must be lasting, too. Guerrilla marketing is about building customer relationships, about always looking to find more ways of helping your customers solve ‘pain’. This is also the Beermat way, of course.

As part of this relationship-building, guerrillas are advised to embrace any technology that enables them to communicate with their customers more easily and more personally. Their PDA is never far away. The techno-savvy guerrilla uses the internet well, tweeting and blogging for all he or she is worth. He or she understands how to harness the power of email, not as horrible spam but as a way of maintaining and developing contact with customers, potential customers or evangelists who will tell others about that business (or, of course, those wonderful people who are both customers and evangelists).

Within the company, guerrillas insist that ‘everybody is a marketer’. This doesn’t mean everyone sits around pondering strategy — heaven forbid! — but that everyone is responsible for getting word of mouth going about the business. Clearly the natural networkers will be better than the shyer types, but everybody in the business has a role to play in activating this most valuable marketing tool. (I actually think an even better motto for the small business is that ‘everybody is a sales person’.)

‘Spend time, not money,’ say the guerrillas. Absolutely, especially for the start-up.

I also like the guerrilla focus on action. Guerrilla marketers get things done, rather than sitting around discussing the minutiae of strategic planning. At the same time, there is a strong message that once a plan is drawn up, it should be adhered to. This is something that entrepreneurs particularly need to hear. Entrepreneurs will get bored with marketing materials far, far sooner than the public, and be trying to get them changed while the public is still getting to know them. Guerrilla wars tend to be long, drawn-out affairs, and guerrilla marketing is similarly a long slog.

Unlike guerrilla warfare, which I guess isn’t a lot of fun, guerrilla marketing is supposed to be enjoyable. Imagination and spontaneity are important. However at this point, the guerrilla message gets a bit muddled. If you want to hand out leaflets on Epping High Road dressed as a carrot — is this imaginative, spontaneous guerrilla marketing or a dangerous deviation from the plan?

Actually, I wonder if the guerrilla message isn’t as radical as is sometimes claimed. Much of it actually sounds plain old-fashioned good marketing practice. Guerrillas, we’re told, do their research well. I should hope so! They focus on the customer rather than just blowing their trumpet about how wonderful their business is. Glad to hear it: I dislike companies that just brag about themselves, and have always done so, long before I heard the term ‘guerrilla marketing’. Guerrillas follow up sales. Great, but so should any business, especially ones that sell in large chunks.

Still, the guerrilla message is a powerful and valuable one. Above all, it has wrested the notion of marketing away from the corporate world and placed it fairly and squarely in the world of start-ups and SMEs. As someone who has spent most of my working life in this world, I find some of what the guerrillas say to be obvious. Maybe to someone from Megacorp, used to enormous budgets, to complex, pored-over strategy documents and to rigid processes, the message would still be new.

So should you throw away your suit, don a bandana and join the guerrillas? Yes, definitely — but don’t be fooled by the bandana. A lot of what you will hear is traditional common sense. Not as revolutionary as the guerrilla metaphor implies, but excellent stuff none the less. The revolution has already happened, and the guerrillas are actually the ones in power.

Freshbusinessthinking.com has teamed up with Sales and Marketing experts Mike Southon and Chris West – ‘The Beermat Entrepreneurs’ to produce a high impact one-day ‘Sales and Marketing Workshop’. If you don’t consider yourself a salesperson and hate to sell, but you have to sell to make a living, then this course is for you!
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