by Omar Kasim
I do not think there has been a single student-entrepreneur that hasn’t asked me: “How did you market your company when you were first trying to get the word out?” As a startup, it can be intimidating at times competing against larger companies, especially when it comes to marketing. Business cards, ads, signage. It all costs money – money you don’t have. Although it’s every startup’s dream to devise a marketing strategy that requires $0 in spending, like Tesla, it’s not easy to accomplish. And copying a brilliant strategy isn’t a solution, either – what works for Supreme may not work for you. However, there are some common characteristics I think every guerilla marketing campaign has, which I will discuss shortly. Implement these tactics into your strategy and you may be well on your way to a budget baller marketing campaign.
Guerrilla marketing is not a substitute for investing in your business.
As I said, how to market without spending money is a topic that I frequently get asked about. I have learned that there are only two types of people who ask this question: entrepreneurs who want to build their brand, but don’t have the means to do it the orthodox way, and wantrepreneurs who like the idea of starting a company, but don’t want to actually spend any money in starting it. The first type are people like Damon John, who spray-painted the FUBU logo on over 300 storm gates from New York City to Philadelphia. The latter are those who have “Entrepreneur” in their social media bio, but aren’t invested enough to even pay $5 for a website domain (i.e. AcmeCompany.weebly.com). Guerilla marketing is cheaper, but it is definitely not easier or less time-consuming. If you aren’t prepared to invest time, effort and the money you do have into your business, this is not going to help you much.
Before you even interact with your audience, it is crucial that you ensure your message makes sense. As I mentioned in a previous post about brand alignment, captivating an audience cannot occur if they aren’t buying into the story you are telling. The reason why Supreme is so sought after isn’t because of their fashion, it’s because of the culture the brand represents. They refuse to sell out to big box retailers and sell to the masses, and that’s what make them special –their devotion to authenticity. Establish core values, a credible value proposition and a strategy that aligns with what your message is going to be. If you can do this right, you will not need to worry much about marketing. Your customers will be doing it for you.
One of the biggest reasons why social media has become such an effective platform for marketing isn’t because it’s another avenue to place an ad; it’s because social media offers a platform to interact with your audience. Engaging with customers builds a stronger relationship, as well as the opportunity to showcase your product. Producing high-resolution content for social media nowadays is as easy as a phone picture and a filter. Just make sure the content is 1) relevant and 2) not just an ad.
Providing samples of a product is another great way to engage customers with your product. Business owners are always reluctant to give away product. But think of it this way: if you were walking down the street and were approached by a musician asking you to buy their CD without having listened to it, what would your response be? Probably no, because you don’t know what you’re getting. Customers want to know what they’re buying into, which means sometimes you have to give a little sample with hopes that it converts to a sale. I remember once the founder of Pedal Pops came through the restaurant looking to set us up as a retailer. He left me with about 4 popsicles to try. We ended up not becoming a retailer, mainly because it did not make sense for us to sell popsicles, but he did get a return. I gave the popsicles to 4 employees, now buy some myself anytime I go to the Farmer’s Market, and am telling you about the story here. In summary, by giving away a couple popsicles, Pedal Pops was able to engage with multiple potential customers and convert those engagements into sales. Identify ways to interact and engage with your audience and you will be able to convert as well.
The cheapest and most effective guerilla marketing campaigns are the ones that customers drive themselves. Aesthetics, a prevalent message and a quality story are just a couple reasons why guests share their experiences with their friends. While I was in New York for Disrupting Fast-Casual, the term “instagrammable” was thrown around a lot. And it wasn’t just a couple college kids saying this; people like the Culinary Director of Torchy’s Tacos and the Co-Founder of Tendergreens both take into consideration the likelihood someone will share pictures of entrees on social media to show their friends. A unique message such as Tom’s “the one for one” is highly effective when the message aligns with a customer’s personal values. Telling a story that guests can resonate with is also a great way to build credibility and induce sharing. Holly Thomas, aka the @Doughmestichousewife , does an amazing job of this. Although her Instagram account content is primarily made up of her cookies, Holly frequently shares content of her family. For an audience that is primarily made up of housewives and aspiring mothers, the combination of Holly’s content has created a cult-like following.
Offering customers an incentive to spread your message is an efficient and effective tactic to running a lean marketing campaign. Customer acquisition can be quite expensive, and incentive programs like a referral bonus helps bring these costs down and usually boasts higher conversion rates. Key elements of a strong referral program are ones that are 1) lucrative and 2) benefits both the referrer and the person they referred. Whenever I was in Washington D.C., we had an Uber driver who talked to us about Uber’s referral program. He said when someone uses his referral code to lease a car and drive with Uber, both parties receive a $1,000 bonus. I was pretty impressed by it, but it makes sense why Uber offers such a substantial bonus. The $1,000 is paid out after the new driver reaches 6 months of consistent work. For Uber, they get 6 months of work of the new driver before they have to pay out the $2,000. That’s more than enough time to make their money back on the drivers, assuming they’re driving full time.
There are also companies like OnePlus that provide an incentive to share through exclusivity. The “invite-only” campaign is brilliant –customers feel privileged to receive an invitation and are mindful about who they invite to join. The VIP status also empowers customers and encourages them to spread the word.
Unlike conventional marketing, such as direct mail and radio ads that market to the masses, guerilla marketing does not have the luxury of endless ammunition. Startups only have a few shots, so it is important that we make those shots count. Rather than spraying and praying, guerilla marketing campaigns hone in on a very particular target market. The strategy is to attract a small audience that will truly buy into your message and empower those people to spread the word to their friends, who will spread the word to their friends. This strategy works extremely well in environments where people are very interconnected: hospitals, universities and niche communities like the vegan community are great examples of interconnected markets. If executed correctly, the small target audience will spark a flame, and you will soon begin to see your message spread like wildfire.
As you can see, you do not always need to spend a lot of money on marketing and advertising in order to get your message to spread. Understanding these tactics combined with an in-depth analysis of your audience should give you the capability to achieve an efficient marketing campaign. Spend when you need to. Save where you can. Never assume the company with the biggest marketing budget will be the most successful. When innovation is absent, no amount of money is of use; when innovation is present, money is of no need.
Omar Kasim is an Arkansas restaurateur and 2015 Walton College of Business graduate. Upon graduation, Omar made a wild decision to forego law school and dive right into the restaurant world with the goal of igniting Fayetteville’s culinary scene – with no experience whatsoever. Determined to succeed, Omar’s first concept, Con Quesos, won numerous accolades in less than a year. His latest venture, Juice Palm, is an organic juice bar and has already received recognition among local publications for its commitment to providing health-conscious and flavorful options to the area.
In addition to his own ventures, Omar has assisted in opening numerous restaurants around Northwest Arkansas and has used his story as a platform to motivate and empower students at various universities, high schools and aspiring entrepreneurs across the state. In addition to speaking events, Omar will be teaching an upper-level entrepreneurship class at the Walton College in the Fall of 2018.