Making Word-of-Mouth Sense, Part I: Guerilla Marketing

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PR agencies spend so much time talking about PR 2.0, bloggers, online media, social media and the like, as marketers we forget that we live in the real world, too.  And often, what we do in the real world is the very fire that fuels success in online marketing and spurs word-of-mouth across it all.  

To this end, I overheard a conversation at lunch where two marketing execs were talking about what they could do to drive Word of Mouth.  Aside from the fact that they shouldn’t talk about plans in an Au Bon Pain, it was clear that these guys were confused on some of the basic tools, such as guerilla marketing, publicity stunts and grassroots programs.  The terms were jumbled together in a mashup of craziness and swag, seemingly with very little direction.  Never mind they seemed to be clueless how to translate their ideas to online or social media marketing.

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d take a shot at providing some context to the conversation.   Hey, I may be completely full of s**t; talk to 50 marketers and you may get 50 different definitions for these same words. But defining these tactical kissing cousins is the key to having a good reference point to begin a plan.

Overall is the concept of word of mouth.  It’s about all people talk about these days.  Influence the influencers.  Social networking.  It’s as if the mere act of people talking to one another is a new concept.  Hate to burst your Web 2.0 bubble, but this is anything but new. It’s just that as marketers, we’re coming to terms with the fact that people don’t have to listen to our work anymore.  With DVR, Tivo and exploding content on the Internet, campaigns are forced to be engaging enough that our targets not only listen, they may actually be moved to tell a friend.

When it’s working, word-of-mouth is a thing of beauty. Hard to define, and almost harder to plan, the word-of-mouth phenomenon spreads like a wild fire in the Santa Anita Mountains in July.  And it can burn itself out almost as quickly as it spread.

There are a least three major tools in your word of mouth mix. If done right, these should live both on and off line.  To keep this from getting too long, we’ll do one each day this week: Guerilla Marketing, Publicity Stunt, Grassroots Marketing:

First up is one of my personal favorites, guerilla marketing. 

Best characterized as “an unexpected encounter with a brand,” guerilla marketing travels light, strikes quickly and can have great impact in defined areas. Programs appear at just the right place, at just the right time, to capture your imagination. In an instant, a good guerilla campaign conveys the most basic elements of your brand with surprising ease.

Perhaps one of the best success stories of guerilla marketing campaign is During the mid-90s, Red Bull made their bones one mixed drink at a time.  Wherever adrenaline junkies gathered to boast about big lines, they were there to serve up a rush of their own. Unlike most beverage companies, they didn’t set up sampling tables in supermarkets. Not Red Bull. They got out there were their target not only lived, but were they celebrated their lives, hand by hand, mouth by mouth, until their beverage became an emblem of the extreme.  A hard-earned badge of the adventurer.  Courageous and fun. Now it’s firmly a part of GenY culture, with scores of imitators clamoring for the market they invented.

The most important part of a guerilla campaign is the encounter must resonate well beyond the one-on-one meeting.  The number of folks that you can touch with street teams is pretty low.  Your job is to not just touch them, but also create evangelists.  Drive them to a website, make the experience unforgettable.  

Too many times I see attractive young people handing out handfuls of Dentyne to half asleep commuters. There’s no brand experience.

By contrast, a simple campaign by Delta worked: I was at the Patriots game with a buddy (the 2004 AFC Championship win over the Colts!) when a Delta-clad photographer approached me.  “Want me to take a free picture of you and you buddy?”  Sure.  Snap.  She handed me a card with a URL and access code, and later that night I was seeing my mug shot, along with some pretty great specials on Super Bowl travel. Slick.

So for guerilla, follow these rules:


  1. Make it memorable!  No more weak sampling campaigns
  2. Make the unique value of the brand intrinsic to the encounter
  3. Choose locations were people are open to the encounter. It’s better to push lip balm on a beach than at the commuter rail station (unless it’s as cold as it was last week!)
  4. Extend you reach by driving consumers online