My experience in guerrilla marketing predates my tenure at Hawke Media. While I was still an undergraduate student in college, my childhood friend started a business with his life savings—and I decided to become his business partner in this endeavor. He crafted a delicacy that would have been considered “niche” in a place like Central Illinois: he bought a food truck and launched his company, with the intention of developing a brand that he could sell to the students on campus.
There was a lot of interest in the product, and we were hoping to tap into the student body, local grocery stores, local festivals and events, graduation parties and other catering opportunities, and university-run organizations to grow and scale the business. After we developed our initial marketing strategy and MVP and not experiencing the success we were hoping for in the first couple of months, we decided to pivot and develop new and exciting methods of reaching and connecting with local residents and the university community.
Our plan was to create a “mascot,” or a “persona” of sorts that potential customers, clients, and partners 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, foreign, cross-country skier named “Maximillian,” or “Max” for short (played by yours truly). Our strategy was to intercept users at high-traffic locations in the city, give them free products to sample, and have Maximillian interview them about their opinions on the product. Then, we’d post the video content on our company’s social media pages, in the hope that we would go viral and our product would sell itself by more people wanting to meet and interact with Max.
The interviews were meant to be awkward, funny, and, at times, edgy. Since it only cost about $0.50 to produce one unit and we would sell the unit at $3 (or at bundle and bulk prices), our team figured that the costs we would incur in our guerrilla marketing campaign would be priceless in the long-run. We believed that we could drive customer loyalty through a delicious and unique product that was promoted by a hip and memorable persona.
The Maximillian campaign gained some traction. We got some buzz on social media within the local community, but it didn’t last long. The only people who really seemed to re-engage with us were our friends and classmates.
The following is what I learned from my first run at guerrilla marketing:
1. 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 so that online viewers would focus more on the taste and quality. They would have validated how great the product was, instead of the banter and humorous aspects of the interview.
Most of the interviews that we had previously published on our social media pages actually cut out most of the dialogue that showed potential customers talking about how flavorful and unique the product was. We learned that by focusing so much on the “mascot” of the campaign and not putting enough attention on the product and how differentiated and novel it was, most of our followers and engagements completely avoided the product itself. They would often find “Max” to meet him and hear some jokes, instead of taking an interest in the product—and buying it.
2. We did not follow-through or execute a solid marketing strategy.
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 also did not use any other form of marketing and advertising outside of social media.
We should have done more videos that featured Max, in character, demonstrating how we made the product and what the inputs were. Since our audience was a niche, early adopter/first-mover lifestyle of health and sustainability (LOHAS) target who was very interested in the integrity of the food, product, and cause attached to our marketing efforts, we had a philanthropic tag as a part of our mission.
We also could have leveraged some of the customer reviews more strategically on our social media and website and produced content designed to educate, inspire, and convert as opposed to only entertain. Since most of what we did was designed for brand awareness, we had a very nascent funnel that did not encourage or inspire potential customers to want to re-engage. More remarketing efforts after that initial laughter and shock value would have benefitted us greatly.
3. We did not build relationships.
While locals who sampled the product would often take photos and interact with “Maximillian,” the relationships always died after the interviews were conducted and that first handshake or hug. We were so focused on B2B, event partnerships, and “thinking big” that we missed a huge opportunity right in front of us: we didn’t connect with and maintain relationships with the people who mattered most. Those people were the ones who actually sampled the product and engaged with Max in person, and they would have bought the product and potentially became lifetime customers if we had focused more on #2 (above).
On top of relationships with the direct consumers of our products, we could have leveraged the community and press more to help us get picked up in more stories that would have told themselves. Being so young, our negotiation abilities weren’t stellar, so developing big partnerships with local grocery stores and retailers was always a challenge.
We should have been more community and customer-driven, but, we were young and naive. I hope you can learn from my missteps and own your guerilla marketing campaigns using these tips. Ten years of marketing and life experience later, you learn a thing or two.