Guerilla marketing: an inexpensive marketing tool for the online print industry?


Unusual approaches, plenty of creativity and judicious use of resources – the appeal of guerilla marketing is high. The barriers to use are not – you just have to know how.

Entry into the world of eCommerce seems easy to many people at first glance. The only thing is that products don’t sell themselves, as they don’t in the bricks-and-mortar retailing trade either. Or to put it a better way, online print providers in particular need to give their offerings visibility first of all, especially if you consider the countless (competitive) offerings and heaps of advertising out there. Small online print providers in particular feel powerless when they see the major players with their huge, well-planned marketing budgets. And therefore investing less in promotion or not investigating the available marketing options is definitely the wrong approach to take. The mistaken assumption that if you just invest enough in social media or Google, “things will go swimmingly” is also more of a risk and hardly conducive to being successful. A multichannel approach is called for.

What does that mean for the online print industry? As a consultant I (unfortunately) know of several market players that are not quite so meticulous about marketing budget and implementation planning as they are about the choice of new technical equipment. And to make people aware of a not so widespread method of gaining marketing visibility as well as providing a general promotion tip, I have taken a closer look at the guerilla version of marketing. This method is not exactly new but it is effective. The term guerilla marketing is not based on one single strategy. In line with its origins it means employing unconventional methods and tools, in fact because of a lack of financial resources. In marketing terms it means the interplay of the options available in an existing arsenal – i.e. at a given budget – and tactical implementation in terms of touchpoints with a product or brand that potential customers would not have expected.

With some smart investment this marketing version can provide some online print market players with a massive opportunity to draw a whole load of attention to their products. If you take a look at the literature on marketing strategy, you will recognize that guerilla marketing is not necessarily actioned just in the form of outdoor promotion, but is usually associated with that. One popular option is well-designed free postcards, for example, which target audiences can experience in their own environments. In this case print is able to reach out to new customers not just by means of skillful layouts but also by means of print finishing. Premium-finish printed cards in unusual formats can have a particularly activating effect – you could virtually call this haptic marketing. But other forms of print can also be positioned in a target audience environment. The key thing here is you shouldn’t focus on (lowest) pricing, but your customer activation trigger needs to be effective. If price, quality and idea all match, you can activate contact with potential customers. Showcasing the product serves to raise or reinvigorate awareness. Here print has a clear “look-and-feel advantage” over digital advertising media that can be used to create a qualitative appreciation of brands and products. The car hire business Sixt (even though it’s not an online print provider) makes very successful use of this method as part of its marketing mix. Who hasn’t seen its eyecatchers at various airports (usually large figures, fascinating posters and the use of aerobridges for advertising purposes) – Sixt has been skillfully mixing various marketing methods for years.

Guerilla marketing involving print can also be incorporated into our everyday lives; Source:

But the questions that print providers need to ask themselves before designing and actioning a guerilla marketing campaign include – is there an everyday object that looks like my product? And especially for online start-ups – where are my potential customers’ touchpoints in real life? Can I therefore position my products in a way that’s geared to my target audience? And last but not least the pinnacle – what are my neighbors, my competitors doing – is there an opportunity to make a (humorous) reference to what they are doing?

“Guerilla marketing campaigns need to be specifically tailored, otherwise it’s not clear who they are aimed at. If the message does not grab the potential customer’s attention, they won’t be receptive to the marketing activity in the first place. And yet this is an inexpensive method of putting your own messages out there.” ­– Bernd Zipper

If you have smart responses to all these questions and get to grips with campaign content, ideally together with somebody with real external communications skills, then the only other thing you need to consider are implementation costs. To ensure that guerilla marketing provides an alternative or complement to “standard advertising activities”, the costs of guerilla marketing need to be acceptable. And as I said before, you first of all need a common-sense, professional assessment – a substantiated analysis of the resources available.

A couple of tips may be helpful here. That’s because all those that want to kick off the New Year by actioning their good intentions and require a grounding in marketing design should heed the following five points.

  1. Identify the weaknesses of all channels used

Guerilla marketing, like other marketing versions, is not only undertaken offline but also increasingly online. A proprietary website, several social media channels, e-mail marketing and banner advertising – don’t lose your focus on your target audience. Who exactly do you still wish to reach out to? In other words it’s better to use three channels properly than play around amateurishly on five channels – with no planning or appropriate tailoring. If you need help here, then go and get it. And if you can combine offline and online channels, so much the better!

  1. Budget, budget, budget!

Adequate resource planning is not feasible without setting a budget. The size of a business is not relevant – I am speaking from experience here. You need to find a common-sense way of budgeting – and don’t make a decision simply on the basis of a gut feeling. There are enough analytical methods for this purpose and although they don’t cost a lot to use, they require a certain amount of know-how. Those businesses that don’t have any marketing professionals within their ranks should invest a portion of their planned budget in the expertise of a service provider. It’s worth it, because these people are very familiar with the relevant techniques and can contribute valuable enhancements above and beyond any planned measures.

  1. Don’t act in a haphazard way

This point is based directly on Point 2. Budgeting is unfortunately not the end of the story. You must not act in a haphazard way – a bit more meticulousness won’t do any harm. Or do you invest as much effort in mapping out your next marketing strategy as you do for your next purchase of equipment to increase your productivity? If yes, then that’s not a bad start. If no, then you need a sounder plan. And please – give some thought in advance to how you can measure the success of a campaign. And it’s better mulling things over twice until you have one (or several) original idea(s). “Awesome ideas” count for much more in guerilla marketing than the common-or-garden showcasing of products or services.

  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Budgeted, soundly planned campaigns usually combine several channels, at least for businesses operating online. If you launch a promotion using guerilla marketing, it can be directly linked to other print activities or continued on the Internet. Several “smaller” campaigns, which have been well thought out and carefully planned, are better than one massive campaign that takes too long and possibly ties up more resources than would be the case if the campaign is split into several consecutive promotions. This is also a question of budgeting and planning.

  1. Observe the competition

Should you discover that another company has already used a strategy similar to the one that you are planning to implement, then don’t be afraid of sticking to your guns. Of course blatant copy-&-paste is a no-no, as at other times too. If, according to the analyses however, the campaign appeals to the target audience, then at more than 300,000 online stores just in Germany the probability that customers will be confronted several times by a campaign, in which many components are identical, is low. Oh yes, gaging your budgeting and planning against that of your direct competitors does not make sense. Or are you aware of your competitors’ detailed marketing plans for the next two years?

My take: ultimately the marketing mix almost always determines the success of the overall strategy. And guerilla marketing can make a valuable contribution to a brand’s “inexpensive” market entry or regeneration – even for online businesses. What’s still important to note with this marketing version is that decision-makers need to be persuaded of the merits of those unconventional solutions provided by creatives and specialists. As long as a particular activity reinforces awareness among the target audience and fits the budget, it should be welcomed. If you don’t budget and plan, you won’t achieve your promotional objectives – that’s a promise. That’s because incoherent marketing campaigns in the wrong place at the wrong time don’t activate potential customers, they are a waste of money.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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