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Guerrilla Marketing in the Real World

Innovative, creative, low-cost marketing tips you can use

Many consider a mailer not delivered by mail--placed on the hood of a car or on a doorknob of a house--to be guerrilla marketing. This is like comparing a paint-by-number portrait to the Mona Lisa.

True guerrilla marketing is much more bold, creative, and, most important, surprising. In fact, all successful examples of this type of marketing feature unexpected placement, timing, or messaging.

Apples on trees in the middle of winter, a carton of undamaged eggs on a baggage claim carousel, a crushed car in the middle of a valet parking lot--you must understand what is expected in a situation and then do the opposite.

It's not a marketing medium for those who prefer to play it safe. And it's not something you can do just halfway. If you do, your guerrilla marketing will be little more than a postcard without postage.

So if you're ready to take on guerrilla marketing, let your creativity run wild and don't be afraid to break some rules. And remember: Have fun, too!
Melinda Caughill, partner, strategic marketing, Third Person, Inc.

When things get quiet at Carla Fryar's Great Clips salons in Northfield and New Prague, Minn., she tells her employees to hit the road--dressed as the brand's mascot, Sudz, a life-sized blue shampoo bottle.

"Rather than sending home an employee when it's quiet, we go out on a and hold a sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes for 3 hours, depending on what we want to get across," she says. Participants include the managers, Fryar or her husband, or the employees or their children.

Fryar, a Great Clips franchisee since 1992, has two salons now, down from the 10 she once operated with different partners. "We do a lot of local things that would not necessarily in most peoples' minds be considered advertising," she says. Some examples of her outside-the-box thinking:

  • Get an "air guy"--one of those big inflatable wiggly creatures. "Mine says 'Great Clips' on one side and 'Haircuts' on the other, so we can use it any time," she says. "We bought it and drag it between our two stores. It's not a very expensive investment for the attention it attracts."
  • Have your employees paint their car with "Go Tigers" or "Win State" or with other timely, locally oriented slogans. "I give employees a free when it's done--and paint is cheap."
  • Use an old reliable auto dealer's tactic: hang colorful triangular banners, in this case from their outdoor signage, to the light pole in the parking lot. It actually works, says Fryar.
  • Hand out free beads with a coupon stapled to them. She buys them in bulk at stores.
  • Get a permit to put signs out along the boulevard saying "I ♥ Great Clips" or "$2 Off Haircut" or "No Waiting." Others trumpet a special reduced price. "We might put that out all day, or just a few hours when it's slow. If someone comes in and says they saw it, we give them that price."
  • Approach a local Boy Scout group, team, etc. and say, "I'll donate $100 if you can get someone to hold a for these hours on these days." She says it's an to get help, a good cause, and gets the wider community involved.

"Getting the whole staff involved is the key--not just me or the manager," she says. However, since everyone has a different comfort level, be sure to check with each employee. Some may love dressing up in a costume and standing and waving on the corner, while others may not.

Beneath the flurry of activity, Fryar has a slow-and-steady approach to increasing her clientele. "It's about getting one more each day, which is 7 more per week times 52 weeks times the average person gets haircuts every 6 to 7 weeks," she says. "They've been putting off a haircut, see this, and come in"--and, she hopes, come back.

Does she track and measure the results of all these marketing maneuvers? "Definitely. When I had the 10 salons and started to do more of this--and Great Clips was involved in getting us started--we saw how much it increased business, versus the same period of not doing the guerilla marketing," she says.

The first time she tried it was during back-to-school season. "Sales increased 18 to 30 percent over those same weeks from the year before," she says. "I continue to see these same types of results. Just this past month during our haircut sale with the marketing things my staff, managers, and we did, my two salons had a customer count increase of 78 percent and 90 percent over last year's same week."

From folding rags to marketing whiz

Twenty-year-old Michael Silva-Nash's family bought the Greater Little Rock Molly Maid franchise in 2005. "If you were part of the family, you had to come to work at Molly Maid, folding rags, filing, weekends," he says. Soon he was making customer phone calls and beginning to take on marketing-related activities. Now he's appearing on a local television station sharing cleaning tips on the air.

About a year ago, they revamped their marketing. "We started doing radio with a local personality we enjoy listening to and who spoke to our clients, the women we were trying to reach. She's almost a personal endorsement, like a friend," he says.

For someone so young, he seems to have his fingers on all the right marketing buttons. "You have to adapt your marketing to the local area and tie all your marketing together," he says. That currently includes Twitter, Facebook, radio, ads, TV, and more.

Silva-Nash says he loves coming up with marketing ideas and seeing their effect on the growth of the business--which has one location, employs about 40 people, and cleans an average of 50 to 60 homes per week. Here are some of them.

  • Text messaging, he says, is "a great way to get to the customer's pocket." And they've made it easy for people to sign on. "You text a word to a number and you're enrolled. Then we send you a text message with a special deal or reminder," he says. "With technology advancing so much, the best way to get a customer is to make them feel like you're right next to them, not like a distant corporate office."
  • E-marketing. Using Constant Contact, they send an email newsletter once a quarter to customers who have opted in. "We talk as little about housecleaning as possible," he says. Instead, they focus on local events, their community participation, and simply keeping their name in customers' minds. They also post tips on Facebook, such as how to clean old headlights using toothpaste.
  • Networking. For Silva-Nash, it's all about building relationships with people in the community. They've teamed up with a local television host, appearing once a month to talk about cleaning. "We don't push, we just remind them that we're there," he says.
  • Internet. "It's a growing place to be, an important place to be. If you're not on it, you're missing a lot of potential business," he says. "Not many housecleaning companies around here are doing Facebook and Twitter yet. Starting early gave us a strong advantage."

Google Adwords drives traffic to their local website, and they're building relationships with "mommy bloggers." One such blogger, who has about 5,000 unique views per month, gets her house cleaned once a month in exchange for reviewing the service online. Gift certificates for Mother's Day, he says, boosted their SEO results, and corporate assists in boosting it further by posting his TV appearances on Youtube.

Their Facebook page is packed with customer testimonials, housecleaning tips, local news, links to corporate sites, discount offers, tons of photos, and an upbeat, fun-loving tone (e.g., the debate about which way to hang toilet paper). It's worth a look.

They've also hired a company through the corporate office to generate customer reviews of their services. He says the reviews are short (about 2 minutes), drive up their SEO results, and provide local endorsements that build trust with potential customers. If a negative review comes in, he says, "We give them an immediate callback to see what happened."

Then there's the economy. "This is a time when people are looking for the best deal," he says. And while they can't lower costs without cutting into profitability, they will offer a freebie once in a while through contests on television, Facebook, or Twitter on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and at back-to-school time, for example.

"We get them enrolled through incentives. Even if they don't win, they get updates, allowing us to have some space in their mind." The goal is to have people who need housecleaning to think of Molly Maid automatically. And with all the optimism of youth, he adds, "Just because it doesn't work one time, you have to keep going at it again and again."

Rennick-dotal evidence

The optimism, and creativity of youth are valuable assets in guerilla marketing. So is the real-world experience of a franchising veteran. We asked Dick Rennick--founder of American Leak Detection (more than 360 franchises in 44 states and 13 foreign countries when he sold it in 2007) and now founder and CEO of Team Rennick, a franchise consultant, mentor, and coach for service brands--what he's learned over the years about effective, low-cost marketing.

"In my early days I spent every penny I had on marketing, and 90 percent of the time it was wrong," he says. Rennick says he was very fortunate in those years to meet Ray Kroc and to spend time with Dave Thomas and Bill Rosenberg. "I learned from some of the best. I call them silver-haired foxes, with battle scars. Education is okay, but I looked for people who got beat up."

When he was working to grow American Leak Detection, Rennick says he watched and drain cleaning businesses and saw that when they did a job they'd go to 10 houses on either side of the street. "I talked to one of the guys and asked, 'How has this helped you?'" It was the owner, who told Rennick that he couldn't afford the Yellow Pages any more, and had to cut his spending there by 75 or 80 percent.

"I see your trucks parked over at the shopping centers," said Rennick.
"Yup, I sit there for several hours. It's a billboard."
"How's that working?"
"I used to run 50 percent of the company's business and that was all me. Now, a year later, I have three trucks. It's all about doing the job and getting people to know who I am."

Looking back, says Rennick, "He said he never sat there more than an hour before people would approach him, and he got a ton of jobs from that." Later, when the owner got hurt on the job, Rennick bought the company. His advice from that experience? "Get your name out there, big bright and bold," he says.

"One of best tips I've learned is to watch what your competitors are doing to get their name out. Are they spending big money online? For SEO? Social media? Going door-to-door and dropping things on doorknobs?" Here are some more he recommends.

  • Free stuff. "Give departing customers a takeaway," says Rennick, such as a key chain holder or a phone sticker for emergency numbers. "It's very cheap but it gets your name out there."
  • PR, he says, is a very good way to increase sales." I never spent a dollar advertising, though I did hire a PR firm," he says. Examples include newspaper articles, getting behind local boys and girls clubs, sports teams, etc. "You'd be surprised how that little bit of press gets people to recognize that you're there and have an interest in the community. The key is giving back to the community. People will start coming back."
  • Uniforms. At American Leak Detection, his UFOC required franchisees to wear company shirts and always take business cards with them. "I have had franchisees who've met people on cross-country flights. I sold three franchises because people saw the shirts."
  • Keep it fresh. Look for new ways to get customers interested in your business, he says. If you have a service concept, find ways to market yourself at a reasonable cost. "Use door hangers whenever you do a job, saying 'I just did your neighbor's house.'" Use inserts into local papers because direct mailing is too costly. The goal is "neighborhood TOMA" (top-of-mind awareness). "You want everybody to remember who you are."

Just be sure to get your fabulous new plans approved by corporate before you hit the streets. Rennick says 90 percent of the time the response will be well-received. "You're the one in the trenches. The franchisor will want to pass it on to other franchisees."

"Everything we do is free"

Nick Frantz, 24, is another young marketing whiz. According to Chris Jackson, director of marketing and branding at College Hunks Hauling Junk, "He lives College Hunks. If he is in the store, it's a marketing opportunity."

Frantz worked at the brand's Washington, D.C., flagship franchise for 3 years, followed by a summer with the brand's Tennessee franchisees before becoming a franchisee in Northern Virginia in late 2010. So far he has just one territory, Loudon County and a few neighboring areas in Fairfax County, where he's exercising his marketing talents.

"You can spend a lot of money on It adds up fast," he says. "Everything we do is free or a team cost."

One example: an online video of a day in the life of a College Hunk--100 percent employee created and edited. The videographer, a crew member's girlfriend, spent a day in the truck recording what the crew did, where they went, how they found new jobs, etc. (youtube.com/watch?v=o9UC1P17rF8).

"They nailed it, hit all the bullet points. It's awesome. We sent it to Chris last summer, who told all the employees to put it on their own Facebook page," says Frantz. "There's no way of showing a direct return on it," but at this stage of his business, he says, "I'd rather do it cheap."

Innovative, creative marketing initiatives are part of the culture at College Hunks. "Our whole company does a lot of guerilla marketing. They had it set up when I came along," says Frantz. "It's definitely an advantage to be part of a franchise system so we can see what others are doing, what's working."

One popular, low-cost activity across the brand is standing on the side of a busy street in their uniforms, waving a big orange foam hand. They also park their trucks at busy intersections to "get in front of anyone that we can," he says.

Frantz and his team often come up with their own ideas, or with creative, low-cost variations on existing marketing activities. These include a drive at a Loudon County public school. "We left the truck there. As long as it's visible, it's free for very little cost."

He and his crew also participate in community events, making the truck available for river cleanups, or showing up at neighborhood yard sales to cart away anything unsold--"as long as we can park the truck at the entrance," he says. "It's not really to drive revenue, but to drive community awareness."

They also are busy taking advantage of any and all online and social media marketing opportunities. "Facebook and Twitter have connected us to community events, tag sales, and Chamber of Commerce events," he says. They also work with nonprofits who either have volunteers and need a truck or the opposite. "We do it for free and they do it for free," he says.

"We've struggled with referrals in the past. We're not like a service. Our customers need to have junk, or some other need for us," he says. To help, they contact bankers, people with foreclosures, and anyone else who can point them to new customers.

And with corporate approval, they've redesigned their business cards into what Frantz describes as "social media business cards." They're slightly larger than a traditional card, and instead of an 800 number and local phone number, they list Facebook and Twitter contacts to drive customers to their social media sites. "Because everybody's on social media," he says.

When his crew stops for lunch, he tells them to park their truck near a corner for maximum visibility (as in free advertising) while they chow down. The crew, who always wear their uniforms during their work hours, are encouraged to tell Facebook followers where they are and to wave if they see them.

At first, he planned to pay someone to update their Facebook page. "After one day of trying that, it didn't really work," he says. Instead, he has his crew text him about what they're doing, or if they had a "Wow experience." Or it could be something as simple as the crew removing their shoes on a rainy day when moving a refrigerator. It's not a problem finding time to update their local landing page or their Facebook page. "It takes 2 minutes for me. I do it throughout the day," he says.

Blogging is also turning out to be an effective, no-cost strategy for Frantz. Finding people who, as he puts it, "simply blog about stuff," he's worked out swap-for-services deals where they'll do a job in trade for the customer writing about it on their blog. Says Frantz, "The cost of paying for advertising is more than if you swap your services."

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