The Downside of Guerrilla Marketing-Four Things You Need to Know

If you have ever seen a group of people suddenly start dancing in the mall, noticed a barrage of bumper stickers covering surfaces downtown, or been attracted to an unusual display in a shop window or on a street corner, you have experienced guerilla marketing.  This strategy, which is touted as a low-cost, high-impact alternative to standard campaigns, uses unconventional methods and unusual or creative approaches to create buzz for a product or service.   The goal of a guerrilla marketing campaign is to attract enough attention to go viral, thereby spreading the word like wildfire without any additional marketing expenditure.   Because guerrilla marketing is intended to reach a lot of people without spending a lot of money, it can look like a great fit for small business marketing strategies.

But there is a downside to going guerrilla. Guerrilla marketing strategies can easily backfire, leading to negative press for your company, fines, and the loss of both new business and existing clients.  Shifting your focus to attention getting stunts takes away from time spent building the customer relationships that make small business sustainable.   When you start using guerrilla tactics, you compromise the cohesion of your marketing strategy.   The end result for some small businesses is that going guerilla turns your sound marketing strategy into what I call “spaghetti marketing” where you are just throwing your marketing dollars (or spaghetti) at the wall just to see if they will stick.  Here are four reasons guerilla marketing can make spaghetti out of your marketing strategy.

1. What Happens After the Blast

Guerrilla marketing tactics focus on getting the word out in a creative, in-your-face way.  But you also need a plan to reconcile that with your day to day marketing campaigns.  If you cannot successfully tie the two together in a meaningful way and continue the messaging of the guerilla campaign in a more traditional marketing format, you risk losing any momentum gained by going gorilla.

2. Measuring Success

Spaghetti strategies are hard to measure.  The variety of tactics can make it difficult to determine which ones are working and which ones are not.  If your sales go up, was it because of the traditional ad in the Sunday paper or the sticker bombing of two downtown streets over the weekend.  Some might think, sales are up, why do I need to know which tactic worked, but knowing what lead to the increase is critical to understanding where to focus future marketing money.

3. Diluting the Message

One reason guerilla tactics can turn your marketing strategy into spaghetti is that it can dilute, mishandle, or otherwise mess with your message.  You might sacrifice sophistication to create a guerrilla campaign that is guaranteed to appeal to the younger generation in the hopes that they will take it viral.  But if they aren’t your demographic, it won’t matter how much of their attention you gain, especially if the message reaches your ideal customer base for which the sophistication your company offers was a serious selling point.

4. Cost Effectiveness

Although a guerilla campaign can be inexpensive, spaghetti marketing is not.  As soon as you start marketing in multiple mediums with multiple messages, you run the risk of skyrocketing costs whose impact on customer acquisition is difficult to measure.

While guerilla marketing campaigns can be integrated into a comprehensive and cohesive marketing strategy, small business owners need to understand this and do the work required so that they ensure the success of the overall plan.  Otherwise, even the best guerilla campaign will only end up as more spaghetti stuck to the wall.

Want to get more inexpensive and practical small business marketing ideas, grab a free e-book called “Build Buzz for Your Biz, 23 Creative and Inexpensive Marketing Strategies That Will Get You Noticed” at

Wendy Kenney is the bestselling author of How to Build Buzz for Your Business available on, and has been featured in the Wall Street JournalUSA Today, and Newsday.

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