It’s inexpensive and totally eye-catching, and, moreover, it’s fun! Guerrilla marketing is literally an endless resource for startup companies of any kind, and it gives marketers a chance to flex their creative muscles.

Whether you are starting a lawn mowing company and need to build a customer base, or you are trying to create buzz for your new super-app, guerrilla marketing is a unique and groundbreaking way to advertise without spending a million dollars, or anything close to a million dollars, if it is done right.

The lowdown is this: Guerrilla marketing strategies are actionable, valuable tactics that can be used for any startup to create buzz, a brand and a customer base.

What Is Guerrilla Marketing?

Guerrilla marketing might prompt visions of a more frightening scenario; however, this form of advertising is in fact a more friendly, positive strategy. The term guerrilla really means “improvised.” Guerrilla marketing tactics are improvised from the tools you already possess. It could be a chalkboard, $50 in cash or a billboard you’re already using along the highway.

McDonald’s used these tactics and developed a giant, iconic package of french fries painted on a busy crosswalk, using the yellow crosswalk stripes as fries. Coca-Cola installed advertisements in bus shelters that stuck to people’s clothing. As they removed their errant scarves and jackets from the ad, they found themselves reading about the Coke bottle’s new, extra-grippy exterior. The movie The Fourth Kind sold itself as a true story, which scared the crap out of people but compelled them watch the film. These tactics work because they are memorable and kind of cool.

How Can a Startup Get, Well, Started?

Successful startup marketing needs to be clever. It’s all well and good to pass out flyers and get a quick spot on the local radio, but try to be innovative about the way you use these resources. Think about the product or service you are offering to people, and consider what the most important part of that is. Is it beer? Is it the chance for a great meal? Is it a way to keep your favorite music downloads despite computer failure? If so, then tell people. And better yet, show them.

The point of guerrilla marketing is to take that one special thing you can offer customers and present it in a fun, in-your-face way that will be remembered. For startups, marketers can be disheartened by the lack of a million-dollar budget; but really, this is just the chance to come up with an unforgettable campaign.

For example, let’s say you are selling a new line of bottled drinks, and your key marketing point is the fact that the plastic bottles are completely biodegradable. A clever guerrilla marketing tactic would be to design the label to reflect that characteristic. Make the bottle look as if it is already breaking up or growing into a tree. The design will stand out from other bottle designs and strike an important chord with consumers. It would speak to conscientious buyers, and that’s what you want to do-speak to them and find a place in their hearts.

Basically, the most important marketing tactic for any startup is to find that one unique and loveable characteristic of the product and use available resources, such as the product and packaging itself, to speak to potential customers. The way you put your product together is your very first chance to implement a guerrilla marketing strategy, so use it! Be different, but with purpose.

Being different doesn’t mean throwing jelly beans into your bottled drink to catch attention. It means finding a creative way to show consumers what is already there-the healthy drink in a biodegradable bottle. Jelly beans do nothing to underline that point, so they won’t work as a guerrilla marketing tactic.

How Can I Think of an Idea That’s Good Enough?

Step away from the basic marketing campaign for a bit and get some fresh air and a new perspective on things. Look at what other successful startups have done to draw attention to themselves and create a strong brand. Can you make any of those ideas work for your own business? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Brand your company.
  • Focus on what the consumer needs and wants from you.
  • Capitalize on marketing tactics that have already worked for you.
  • Throw out the rules.

Branding is important, because it keeps you on-message, and it helps consumers understand what your company is. Be bold, be imaginative and don’t be afraid to say what you really mean. People respond to blatant honesty, as long as they see truth in what you are saying.

Secondly, focus on what your customers need from you, really. It’s not a trinket, or a sales pitch, but a real thing, or just a real feeling. Zone in on that concept and bring it to the forefront. A startup bar or lounge shouldn’t focus on the fact that it is a bar but on the fact that cold refreshing drinks are served. Put an empty, branded beer mug on the bus bench across the street, and write a message on it, “Long day? Stop by for a drink before you head home.” It will make an impact.

To get your brain working on great ideas, take one small step, or more literally, one small piece of chalk. Find a nice piece of clean sidewalk in a medium-to-high traffic area and write down your web address. If that doesn’t say it all, add a quick descriptive line beneath the address:
Keep Your Music Safe in Our Cloud

People will see this ad, and it didn’t cost you anything except for a bit of chalk! That is the beautiful essence of guerrilla marketing. Once you take the first step, more and more opportunities will reveal themselves to you.

Ideas to Get the Startup Ball Rolling

Besides the chalk website routine, there are dozens of inexpensive but high-profile ways to promote your brand and product. Try some of these strategies:

Reverse Graffiti: Find a wall, building or other public surface that is covered in graffiti and “paint” your own logo or message on it using soap or paint remover.

Location Bombs: Not actual bombs, obviously, but location-specific ads that make an impact on the people in that particular place, such as the aforementioned beer mug on the bus bench.

Public Artwork: It doesn’t have to be amazing; it just has to be recognizable and attention-grabbing. The way McDonald’s did with its crosswalk fries, but with colored chalk. If your product is new and relatively unknown, relate it to a recognizable image that sends the same message.

Get on Board with Local Events: Office supply stores could donate placards to an environmental protest, with “this sign made with 100% recycled paper from My Store” written on the back. Keep an eye on what’s happening on the streets and be a part of it whenever you can.

Yarn Bomb!: Yarn bombing is a cute way to call attention to a public object. It can be intricate or simple-the only rule is to cover the object completely with crocheted yarn so that people want to know why. Yarn bombing an old, defunct public telephone is a great way for a new cellphone provider or repair shop to advertise.

Hack your Product: Does your product have a million uses? Can it be turned into something fun but still functional? Do it, and set it up where people can see and appreciate it.

The Bulk of the Matter

Creativity, visibility and innovation are the most important elements of a guerrilla marketing campaign. As a startup marketer, make public spaces your playground. Where the people are-that’s where you want your logo, your website, your product or your one-liner ads to be seen. You’re a startup, and that means you have a strict, small budget. So forget TV time in Times Square or advertisements in high-end magazines. Take it to the streets.

You know on Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, how Chef Gordon Ramsey always makes someone go outside to lure customers by offering free samples of meatballs or something yummy? That’s exactly the job of a fine guerrilla marketer. Be spontaneous and ready to pounce on any opportunity with a free sticker, a clever sandwich board or even a funny Twitter account. People love to have their minds tickled, and they’ll remember whoever was responsible for their giggle or sudden happy thought. Make that person you and that company yours.

Marketing-any kind of marketing-is about showing people why they want and need your product. Guerrilla marketing? It’s about doing the same thing with the contents of a junk drawer. Get to it!