What I Learned From My First Guerrilla Marketing Campaign

By March 30, 2017Strategy

My experience with a guerrilla marketing campaign predates my tenure at Hawke Media. While I was still an undergraduate student at The University of Illinois, my best friend from childhood started a business with his life savings. He crafted artisan fruit-pops ( a pretentious name for a “popsicle”), bought a food truck and launched his company with the intention of developing a brand that he could sell to the students on campus. After experiencing little success during the first year of operations, he brought me in as his new head of branding and operations so that we could develop new and exciting ways to reach and connect with locals and college students.

Our plan was to create a “mascot” or “persona” of sorts that people could easily identify and also attach to the brand (think Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man In The World”). The best idea that we could come up with was a flamboyant Austrian cross-country skier named “Maximillian,” played by yours truly. Our strategy was to intercept users at high-traffic locations in the city, give them free artisan fruit pops to sample, and have Maximillian interview them about their opinions on the product.

The interviews were meant to be awkward, funny, and at times crude. Since it only cost about $0.20 to produce one unit, our team figured that the sunk costs we would incur in “guerrilla marketing” would be priceless in the long-run, with the belief that we could drive customer loyalty through a delicious and unique product that was promoted by a hip and memorable persona. We also (moronically) believed that some of our online videos would go viral and we would reach many more prospective customers at little-to-no cost.

The whole Maximillian thing gained some traction, and we got some buzz on social media within the local community, but it didn’t last long. The following is what I learned from my first run at a guerrilla marketing campaign:

We didn’t focus on the product enough.

People really enjoyed interacting with Maximillian and hearing his jokes and goofy one-liners, but during the interviews, people were more focused on him than the actual product. We should have scripted the interviews and asked more questions that were related to the quality of the product, instead of sexual innuendos and wildly inappropriate banter.

We did not follow-through.

After our ideas had been implemented and our interviews concluded, we relied on others to promote and share the video content on social media when we should have posted on the company’s Facebook page, Twitter, website, etc.

We did not build relationships.

While locals who sampled the product would often take photos and interact with “Maximillian” after the interviews were conducted, the relationships always died after that first handshake or hug. We were so focused on B2B, event partnerships, and “thinking big” that we missed a huge opportunity that was right in front of us: We didn’t connect with and maintain relationships with the people who mattered most. Those were the people who actually sampled the product and engaged with Max in person.

We took risks, but we weren’t controversial enough.

(Some) people say that “any press is good press.” While our interviews typically implemented shock-value and wildly inappropriate jokes, there were opportunities where we really could have pulled off huge stunts that would have gained massive traction in the community and would have spread our company’s name like wildfire. But that’s the problem—“could have, would have, blah blah blah.” When you are selling a product like popsicles, no matter how great they taste, there will always be a substitute that is either differentiated or priced lower. Looking back, we had so many opportunities to be “that brand,” but we didn’t capitalize out of fear and going astray of the status quo of other local food trucks and businesses who played things by the book.

Launching a guerrilla marketing campaign can be scary because there’s a huge amount of risk and a potential for failure; however, you never know unless you try it out. Hopefully sharing what I learned from my first guerrilla marketing campaign will help you better prep for yours.

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