Guerrilla marketing (GM) is just another term for ‘smart marketing’. The unofficial credo for civil engineers is: “Do for a dollar what any fool could do for two.” The guerrilla marketer is really similar—someone who uses leverage to efficiently and effectively get the enterprise’s message out there either by way of media attention (aka, ‘earned media’) or through more direct means.
GM is used by SMEEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) because they are in the business of substituting brains for cash in the marketing wars—they want a place at the (economic) table but can not afford to purchase the type of mass marketing available to larger firms. So they resort to GM. Of course, GM is not limited to SMEEs; larger firms, not-for-profits, even charities have been known to engage in this type of promotional marketing.
Taco Bell’s brilliant coup years ago of floating a target in the South Pacific for Mir to hit comes to mind. They stationed a floating rubber target off the coast of Australia which, if any pieces of the decommissioned Mir Space Station were to hit it, would entitle everyone in the continental USA to a free Taco. (Taco Bell took out insurance against this, by the way.) A photo of their floating target was carried by major news outlets across the planet. Even Taco Bell’s NYSE symbol is a bit of GM; their symbol is ‘YUM’. Most companies would perhaps have used ‘TBC’ for Taco Bell Corporation. YUM is so much better for a food company, don’t you think?
GM exists in a grey legal area, which needs careful consideration before attempting any of these types of things. One should never do anything that is illegal or unethical or places any persons or property in danger.
Here we are going to look at some smart guerrilla marketing, some guerrilla marketing research and guerrilla selling. I provide an extensive list of GM techniques below (60 things you can try*) based on simple, proven ideas many of which have been used for generations.
(* If you just want to read the list, skip ahead to ‘Getting a Place at The Table‘.)
Guerrilla Marketing Research
What is Guerrilla Marketing Research? Well, many new products and services don’t easily lend themselves to traditional market research techniques. When we were trying to Bring Back the Senators (a team that hadn’t played in the NHL since 1934), we did some market research in Ottawa. It was a NHL prerequisite for entry into the League.
Our market research consultants asked the question: “Would you purchase season tickets if the NHL were to return to Ottawa?” They followed up with questions about how much people would pay for their season’s tickets. For NHL-starved fans in Ottawa, the answers were astounding. When projected over the whole population from the representative sample they used, the consultants found that the Sens should be able to sell 100,000 season tickets at almost any price.
People when faced with a hypothetical question, answered: “Yes! I would buy season tickets for NHL hockey in this city; in fact, I would pay practically anything to help get the team here.”
We duly sent the study to NHL offices in NYC but, frankly, I had my doubts. The Chicago Blackhawks in a city much larger than Ottawa worked very hard at the time (the early 1990s) to sell 15,000 season tickets and privately I thought that we might be able to sell 12,000. Although, we have less competition for the sports dollar here in Ottawa, we are a smaller city and a high percentage of employees here work for the GOC (Government of Canada) who typically buy fewer tickets than private sector workers.
It turns out that 12,000 season tickets has, in fact, been the ceiling for Sens season tickets over the last 18 seasons. One has to wonder about the reliability of market research in general—can you accurately test for acceptance of a new product or service in the marketplace? Maybe the only way to do that is to convince people that they are actually making a buying decision—one where they will really have to dig into their pockets to pay for the new product or service. That is where GM Research may be of assistance.
In the 1980s, when trying to determine if there was a market and real demand for mini offices in Ottawa, one of our executives (Greg Graham, who later successfully managed the business for us and is now President of Cardel Ontario) ran a series of ads in a local newspaper. When people responded, they were directed to a telephone answering machine (literally in a cupboard at head office) where they were asked to leave their names and phone numbers and someone would get back to them shortly, which Greg did. Sure, Greg was selling ‘vaporware’ but he got a real sense of market demand—a more reliable type of data than perhaps any other marketing survey could have produced.
People were faced with a real buying decision; Greg was asking them to commit to a lease for a mini office for a minimum of three months at a fixed lease rate. The response was so strong that within two weeks we were building out one floor in a west end tower we owned and putting tenants in temporary offices at HQ. The business (TCCL, Terrace Corporate Centres) eventually became the largest mini office provider in eastern Ontario with 164 mini offices in two locations (one downtown and one west end) with an occupancy rate that regularly exceeded 94%. It was profitable in its own right but it also acted as an important source of new lease deals. Apple, when they first came to Ottawa, started in TCCL and when they grew out of their mini offices and needed expansion space, we had already established a good relationship with them.
(We later sold TCCL as part of the effort to raise capital for the purpose of acquiring the Ottawa Senators.)
A more recent example of a use for GM Research came up about three months ago. A developer needed to know what rents he might be able to get for new, two-bedroom units being built in the west end of Ottawa—his property manager was telling him $900 per month and his REALTOR said $1,100 per month. Who was right and how to test it?
The subject property was on a major street which was both good and bad—lots of nearby services for residents to use but also lots of noise and traffic.
The Property Manager had a bias—he felt that lower rents would make it easier for him to fill the new units. (Cautionary note: the reverse may also be true. If rents are set too low, it may scare off main stream renters who fear that the place may be dangerous and that is why you have priced it so low—remember, a price conveys a lot of information beyond just the dollar figure.)
The REALTOR also had a bias—he wanted to sell the units to investors so he wanted to show the highest possible rent and the highest possible cap rate to investors so they would snap up the units.
My suggestion was simple: in today’s Internet age market test it FOR FREE.
Put two free ads on http://ottawa.kijiji.ca/: each ad would describe the place slightly differently and each ad would have a different REALTOR’s name to call.
It turned out that they received about the same number of calls on each ad which happily (from the investor’s POV) meant that a rent of $1,100 per month would work.
They also definitely picked up the sense that people calling for units at the higher rent were associating the higher price with concepts like ‘new’, ‘higher quality building’, ‘higher quality space’ and ‘better class of tenant’.
That is why you do this kind of research.
Think about GM Research like this:
1. It’s not hypothetical market research—it’s guerrilla marketing research for three reasons: a) it’s free or very low cost, b) you are asking about units that don’t yet exist and c) you are not asking a theoretical question (at least as far as the respondent is concerned), you are getting a real call from a real person looking for an apartment.
2. It’s not really ‘vaporware’ either—these units are for sale and for rent and will be built in the next eight months.
3. Typical of GM research, you are leaving out the fact that they are not ready right NOW so you are in a gray ethical area but still, the renter could be looking for later in the year anyway…
Getting a Place at the Table
Let’s face it, most large firms and established players don’t want to give you a place at the trough. They have their snouts in there but don’t want to share it with you. And most entrepreneurs don’t have bucket loads of cash to throw into marketing to get their share of the market. So they are forced to use GM and social marketing.
When I was teaching at Carleton University’s School of Architecture, the Chief Designer of the Students Design Clinic (SDC) came to see me. She wanted to know how the SDC could generate more clients for the Clinic on a limited budget.
The SDC is a wonderful student-run enterprise that allows third and fourth year students (and exceptional second years) to experience what it is like to run their own architecture practices. Each summer about 15 to 20 students are gainfully employed by the Clinic at above market wages; they design basic stuff such as fences, decks, gardens, gazebos, retaining walls, small additions, basement renovations, granny flats, etc. for clients in the local area.
The SDC is passed on from one student generation to the next with junior designers becoming senior designers and the most accomplished senior designer becoming Chief Designer. It is an oral tradition and a very successful one—last time I checked they had generated a surplus (over and above what they pay to the students) of more than $80,000 which no one apparently had any idea what to do with it.
The SDC is itself a guerrilla institution—officially frowned on by the University’s Administration (they are concerned about liability in case there is a dispute over fees or one of the designs is sub-standard). But since all of their designs (above a certain size and complexity) are submitted for building permit and must meet the OBC (Ontario Building Code), liability seems quite manageable.
The GM program we laid out for the Clinic is simple and some of the techniques they use are old but that doesn’t make them less relevant to today’s entrepreneur. Many of my students think GM is this: a) do a stunt, b) get national press, c) send out a mass email, d) put out a tweet on Twitter, e) stand back and watch the traffic meter on their new website spin out of control. Bad news, folks—it isn’t that easy.
Sometimes, there is no substitute for ‘shoe leather’. When getting ready to launch Digg.com, Kevin Rose and his partner decided to populate the site the old fashioned way—by calling people on the telephone. They wanted to start Digg.com with at least 3,000 committed contributors. That’s a large number but when you break it down, it becomes more doable—if Kevin and his partner each made 30 calls a day for 50 days, they could reach 3,000 people in less than two months. That is what they did. They didn’t ‘push on a rope’. They didn’t send out 10,000 emails. If they had, I predict they would each have gotten less than a .3% response rate—that is, they would have launched Digg.com with 60 contributors. And those 60 people wouldn’t have really understood what Digg.com was trying to do. It would have flopped.
To get to where they needed to be, they had to talk to people. You need to hear their voices, the nuances, the emphasis and their explanation of what they are doing and why you are an important part of it.
The result was a runaway hit on the Internet for their news agglomeration site which has probably made a billionaire out of Kevin.
So don’t be lazy.
Here is the program we put together for the SDC:
1. Use lawn signs: if politicians use them, it’s because they work and are cheap. On-site signage is great: pylon signs, lawn signs, sandwich boards, window decals, whatever—they’re cheap and they keep working 24/7. Maybe you want to bring back the walking billboard (a person wearing a sandwich board) or better yet: a person wearing a sandwich board giving out handbills which have a call to action on them. So use lawn signs at all your job sites with your Students Design Clinic logo and telephone number and URL clearly visible.
2. Lawn signs should cost no more than $10.00 each. Leave them up forever or until your client takes it down.
3. Add some type of call to action. How about: “Free One Hour Consultation”
4. Put your tag line and your logo on your lawn signs. You are a design clinic so your marketing stuff has to look sharp otherwise it is reverse marketing (don’t do this!)
5. Create a second web address that points to existing Carleton address (www.arch.carleton.ca/clinic) which is a bit clumsy. Note: check out www.domainsatcost.ca which is one of Canada’s largest domain name registrars. Try for something like: www.studentsdesignclinic.ca or www.designclinic.ca. (Editor’s note: these URLs are not currently active.)
6. Create both private and public spaces on your website. The private password protected space is and will become your ‘institutional memory’ of what works and doesn’t work over a period of years. (The same thing was done for www.kosmic.ca so that students aren’t starting from scratch every year for goodness sake.) Put in things like how to hire and fire; what to pay people; how to monitor performance; how to interview and select team members, what marketing worked and what didn’t—all the hidden keys to success…
7. Use PSAs (Public Service Announcements) addressed to print, TV and radio outlets. Your PSAs should go to local publications too such as the Kanata Kourier Standard not just the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun. Give them visuals as well.
8. Get testimonials for your website and your flyer.
9. Create a logo for the Clinic and a tag line that is on everything. Terrace Corporation (the first parent company of the Ottawa Senators) was in the real estate business; they used “Great Space for Great People”. You’ll want something different—it is much too commercial but you need something that speaks to the core competencies of the clinic and your mission.
10. Keep a customer data base of tel. #s, fax #s and especially email addresses. The best place to look for new clients and new work is from your existing clientele.
11. Every year you should email your past client base with the “news”—what is up with the clinic this year.
12. Do a flyer drop not just around the University but also in Kanata, Nepean and Orleans as well as downtown—anywhere people are doing a lot of renovations. Flyers to the home or office are cheap and cheerful and often effective. But don’t wait too long to get them out. They need to go out in February or March not May or June, that’s far too late. Don’t forget to include your call-to-action like ‘Free Quote’ or ‘Free One Hour Consultation’ or ‘10% off’ or ‘Fill in the attached ballot and return it to win great prizes’ or whatever. You can use a variant of the Flyer—the Handbill. It’s a bit different in the sense that it is exactly what it sounds like: a ‘bill’ that passes from your hand to a potential client’s hand directly. It is an old marketing concept but it can be remarkably cheap and effective. And you know that it got to the recipient for sure. Handbills can be given out at a trade show, for example. Something else to remember: marketing is about consistency and repetition. When our family was a partner in a tool and equipment rental chain, we found that our flyers became more effective over time. People began to expect them and to use them more often when we repeated the drops in the same neighborhoods a second, third or even a fourth time over a period of two years.
13. Do a customer satisfaction survey. This is where you will get testimonials, references and permission to use them. Put them on your website and on your flyers even in your PSAs.
14. Let your clients know that you are never too busy for referrals.
15. Avoid expensive advertising and major media like radio, television and daily newspapers.
16. Use word of mouth, flyer drops, PSAs and lawn signs.
17. Your website is just a support tool but an important one.
18. Put photos of finished work on your web site—create a Design Clinic portfolio.
19. Everyone is in sales—Chief Designer, Assistant Manager, Senior Table Leaders, Table Leaders, Senior Designers and Designers.
20. Make sure you have 24/7 telephone messaging and design clinic email accounts.
21. DON’T call your Junior Designers ‘Junior Designers’; just call them ‘Designers’.
22. Your next level up is Senior Designer. And so forth—yes, it’s title inflation but it works well in marketing your services. No one likes to be called ‘junior’ and no one wants to hire anyone called ‘junior’.
23. Put ‘Free One Hour Consultation’ everywhere—on your website, on your brochure and on your lawn signs. People love FS (Free Stuff).
24. Put on your website a few simple to understand reasons why people should choose the Clinic like supporting students, like the exceptional quality of your work, like getting really top notch people to work for them at a fraction of the price they will command just a few years down the road.
25. Your flyer should use colour—it is more costly but you are in the design business. Last year 1,000s of good quality colour flyers (8.5 x 11) were printed (one side) for less than 25 cents each.
26. Put a copy of your flyer on bulletin boards in stores like IGA, Loblaws, Canadian Tire, Walmart, Home Depot, Home Hardware, building supply stores, etc.
27. Coroplast signs are very inexpensive (about $5 to $10 each for 18 inch by 32 inch signs with either two-colour or full colour decals). With the SDC URL, logo and tag line, they make good posters which can be put up with a stapler or plastic ties on hydro poles or city owned fences. (Note you should probably ask for permission from the municipality but in guerrilla marketing people often don’t.) If you put them up high (use a ladder for this), your signs tend to stay up longer. City workers don’t like to get out of their vehicles to unload a ladder, carry it, erect it and climb up the pole to tear down your signs. They’ll call you and you can volunteer to take them down yourself. Perhaps they may reappear somewhere else in the City.
28. You can offer to do a few free design jobs using your trainees and the local media can be invited to review the work. Better yet, do a few free designs for high profile persons in the community and get them to talk about it on their shows, blogs, what have you. Get a free endorsement or plug from a local celebrity.
29. You can offer to let people buy ‘gift certificates’ for design services for friends and family.
30. You can run a contest on your website. The winner receives, say, $200 of design services with first, second and third runners up receiving $75, $50 and $25. The winners always end up spending more.
31. Contests could be something like: putting a piece of a famous structure (the Roman Coliseum, the Acropolis, Scotiabank Place, for example) on your website, add to it every day and the first person to email you with the correct identity, wins.
32. You can develop a $20 coupon program and give out the coupons to clients and to others to give to their friends. You can also print the $20 SDC coupons in local newspaper ads and folks can clip them out and bring them to the clinic.
33. You need to visit established architecture firms to co-opt them into your business ecosystem. Many architecture firms don’t have time for gazebos, decks, fencing, basement renovations or small additions. They would prefer to refer these clients to the SDC.
34. Faces are very important in marketing and that includes GM. You need to put a picture of yourself and your team on your marketing materials (web, flyer, maybe even your lawn signs). That way people can see the faces of all your happy, smiling, enthusiastic designers. If there is one ad with a face in it and another without one, the former will get a lot more attention.
35. Because this is a design studio, you should probably also have a watermark in addition to your logo. The watermark reflects the underlying principles of your work and is used as a half tone (or a sidebar) on all your drawings, contracts, marketing materials.
36. Can you accept Visa? You should probably ask your bank for that service—folks love paying by Visa and even though you have to actually pay a fee (probably 2.75 to 3.25% of each transaction) it will save you a huge amount of time and frustration actually getting paid and the amounts people will spend on design services will also go up! This is a double whammy on your bottom line—collect faster and collect more.
37. Don’t forget to ask for a retainer up front. It should be around 45%. Try to get another 45% when the drawings are submitted for building permit. Get the last 10% when you actually get the permit.
38. You can set up a referral system—for each client referred to the Clinic that signs a contract, you can offer a premium like a really fantastic SDC t-shirt. This is more promotion for the Clinic—people walking around wearing your logo (and URL)!
39. Let people buy your branded promotional stuff. You are, after all, a design shop. Why just limit yourselves to designing real property? Why not use those skills in your marketing as well to create really insanely great branded clothing and promotional items?
40. Put out media releases every time you do something newsworthy and feed the press regularly. Make the title catchy: how about Third Wall Theatre Group in Ottawa who put out a press release with the title: “Directors Stab CEO in Boardroom Uprising” to promote Julius Caesar. They got attention in a hurry from the media.
Today, we would add a few new things to the above list including:
41. Use social media—start your own Facebook group and use Twitter to develop a following; use these as tools for CRM (Customer Relationship Management) as well.
42. Start a blog for the SDC highlighting interesting and challenging jobs you have tackled.
43. SEO, Search Engine optimization can do wonders for your website. By increasing your profile in search engine results, you can turn your website into a big lead generator for da nada. SEO includes things like link trading with all your friends’ websites so that more sites link to you. Search engine algorithms look for how many sites link to you as an indicator of how important you are.
44. Give your company or organization a name and a website address that are identical so you don’t waste any effort branding different names.
45. Go to trade shows like the Ottawa Home and Garden Show and use giveaways (promo items) that are branded with your logo, name, tag line, contact info and some type of call-to-action.
46. Network like crazy and use your employees’ and suppliers’ networks too.
47. Try to sell to people you buy from (reverse selling). Your AP, Accounts Payable can be a good source of leads. At the Sens, if we needed a plumber he or she was certainly going to be a season tickets holder.
48. Volunteer for worthwhile causes in your local community.
49. See if you can create an event that’s fun and helps promote your business and doesn’t cost you anything or maybe even generates revenue for you.
50. Do some polling: people love to be asked their opinion on just about anything.
51. Create a market survey: people like to be asked for their views. They’ll answer your survey, which will also generate information and leads for you.
52. Create some type of scoring test on a subject of interest like when to know when it is time to replace your roof or windows…
53. Follow the trail of really bad marketing to see who needs your help in your industry. Maybe a local builder needs the SDC’s help with one of their design issues.
54. Make sure you can explain your value proposition in three to five separate points to give people a few simple, compelling reasons to buy from you.
55. Find sponsors or patrons for your business or organization. Create something that they can sponsor and benefit by.
56. Bid on jobs even if you know you might lose: you end up knowing everyone involved with the process; you can build up your network this way for next time. It’s a kind of win-by-losing strategy.
57. See if you can get volunteers to help you.
58. Don’t forget the Yellow Pages and its related website. Yellow Pages ads are expensive but I have found that even a three line ad can be effective. This give you enough room to have your name, tel. #, URL and tag line. If you can afford it, add one or two more lines for a call to action like ‘Free Quote’ or ‘One Hour Free Consultation’. Your logo would be nice too. You can also sometimes place your ad in a non traditional category where you can stand out. Maybe sneak your design shop into the building supplies category by asking one of the big advertisers there to add your design shop to their ad. Perhaps you could convince them to do that for free…
59. Try negative cost selling: it’s huge and works really well. Show the client (preferably with a spreadsheet) how he or she either makes money from buying your products or services, or reduces costs or both. This requires a level of understanding about your client’s situation, which you should have anyway. For example, show them how a basement renovation or adding a granny flat is a negative cost when compared to, say, putting your mother-in-law in one of the those vertical warehouses called a retirement home. (To read more about Negative Cost Selling, please refer to: http://www.eqjournalblog.com/?p=482.)
60. Use co-branding. Who is in your business ecosystem? Would they want to pay some (or all or more than all!) of the costs of your marketing? For example, maybe there is a building supplies retailer who provides lumber and other construction materials. Or a builder or landscaper who is winning lots of work designed by the Clinic. Perhaps they want to co-market with the SDC and pay some of your marketing costs. (For more on co-branding and cross-selling, see: http://www.eqjournalblog.com/?p=571 and http://www.eqjournalblog.com/?p=571.)
There are so many ways to use GM, the list really is endless and today, through the Internet, a small enterprise can leave big tracks.
Marketing is a bit of a mystery. Maybe we think we now have evidence that shows us that we don’t need our Yellow Pages ads any longer or our fliers aren’t working like they once used to do. Everyone we ask about where they heard about us or how they found us seems to be saying: ‘on the Internet using Google’. So, as a result, we get rid of our Yellow Pages ad for next year and stop putting out flyers. Lo and behold, our volumes drop. How is that possible? Maybe what your customers are really saying is that their last stop before they called you was Google but forgot to mention that they first heard of you by picking up a flyer or looking in the Yellow Pages. Marketing works in subtle ways and GM is no different.
As noted above, Guerrilla Marketing often involves entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in gray areas—things that are either ethically questionable or legally questionable. Obviously, you should never do anything illegal or unethical but if you are a small business, a startup, a new skunk works (often part of a large company but separate from it—either spatially or managerially or both), how do you get noticed, how do you earn media attention instead of buying it and how do you get a place at the table with the big boys?
You use GM.
Promoting your new video game with packages lashed to bridges with flashing lights on them is probably not a good way to promote yourself in the US post 9/11 unless getting arrested is on your list of to dos for next year.
One of my former colleagues had a cute idea for the brokerage we were both working at the time. He wanted to mount commercial real estate signs (FOR SALE signs or FOR LEASE signs) with most of the information upside down except for the phone number and a slogan—“We turn the market upside down for you!” Like I said, it was a cute idea but too radical for that brokerage.
But clearly it meets the test of what is acceptable.
Years ago, we got annoyed with the major newspaper in our city—their only competitor had gone OOB (look it up, it’s in urbandictionary.com)—and they decided to jack up their advertising rates. So, what the heck, I had seen the Boston Business Journal on one of my trips to that city, let’s start one of our own—Ottawa Business News (now Ottawa Business Journal) was born.
Let’s ask the three questions again:
• how do you get noticed,
• how do you earn media attention instead of buying it, and
• how do you get a place at the table with the big boys?
We decided to bring 150 paper boxes to Ottawa. At that time there were no paper boxes here. The Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail dominated the newspaper scene. Now what would you do: ask for permission or just do it?
If you decide to ask the City of Ottawa for permission, they were likely to do the following:
1. Say ‘No’. That is the bureaucrats’ answer to almost everything.
2. If they don’t say ‘No’, they will use their second best answer: ‘We’ll study it.’ Cities and bureaucracies know that they can make you do studies, attend meetings, consult with the community, fill in forms and do endless, mind numbing things until either you go away or die, whichever comes first.
Now you also know that entrepreneurs would rather ask for forgiveness than beg for permission so we planned to drop 150 boxes on streets all over Ottawa without asking permission. We had a tractor trailer load of those paper boxes waiting at the Canada/US border.
But before we dropped them, we needed what is called political cover.
So for about a week before we dropped the paper boxes, we had one of our employees (in a cape and mask no less, looking like Hanna-Barbera’s Quick Draw McGraw dressed as El Kabong) go around Ottawa and drop 25 cents into parking meters that were about to expire. That got us some decent media attention and positive attention—we were seen as good guys saving drivers from the Green Hornets and City parking tickets.
(Note: when we did this, it was a new stunt. Soon after we did it, others copied us but we may have been the first to try it. The City of Ottawa wasn’t impressed though—they soon passed a spoil-sport By-law making it illegal to put money in a parking meter being used by a third party, i.e., not your own car.)
Paper boxes are a powerful way to promote your brand—they are inexpensive and sit at crowded intersections and tirelessly work for you 24/7. If you bought billboards, you would pay (in Ottawa) around $1,500 per side per location per month. So buying a paper box for $150 (a one-time cost) and dropping it on a sidewalk and chaining it to a post is pretty good signage at a very, very low CPM (cost per thousand pairs of eyeballs per month).
What entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs must do is be like the North Vietnamese—cause your enemy to expend a lot more resources than you to put a soldier in the field with bullets and this gives you leverage. If you have 50 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong facing 250 million Americans, you might think that the Americans will win given a simple power ratio of 5:1 (250 million divided by 50 million). But if the Viet Minh have a supply line of 300 miles and the Americans have one that is 10,000 miles long, this means the correct power ratio is (250 x 300)/(50 x 10,000) or 1:6.667, practically the inverse!
If entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can’t use leverage in their fight with their elephant-sized competitors, their enterprises will soon be dead anyway.
Paper boxes were that kind of leverage for OBN.
Now if we had asked the City of Ottawa for permission, they probably would have convened a committee of stakeholders. Who do you think would be on that committee? Well, the Mop and Pail (G+M) and the Ottawa Citizen for starters. Do you think they would be inclined to give a new competitor that kind of leverage? How about Joe and Jane Q. Busybody? People from the community who volunteer for these types of committees tend to have too little to do in their lives. They undoubtedly would have cried foul—paper boxes would have been compared to billboards and ‘visual pollution’.
Plus how long would the Committee have taken to make a decision? A year? Two years? And then it would have been ‘no’ anyway.
Entrepreneurs don’t have time for this.
So we dropped them overnight and chained them.
Entrenched competitors howled.
But we were ready. Under the then new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we wrote to the Mayor and made it an issue of freedom of the press. If the City touched one of our paper boxes, they were going to get sued for breaching our rights under the Charter.
Now politicians like two things—money and power and they are of course related to one another. We had another strategy ready as well.
After the first commotion died down a bit, we suggested to the City: “Why, wait here a sec. Instead of forcing OBN to remove its paper boxes and face a lawsuit, why don’t you charge a fee for paper boxes? We suggest $50 per box per year!”
The G+M and the Ottawa Citizen did, of course, put out their own paper boxes. But they put out thousands. OBN was just fine with 150 in strategic locations. So we made them spend a ton of money on paper boxes, filling them each day (we only came out weekly) plus pay a fee for each box to the City (the City accepted our idea but they upped the license fee to $75.)
So there it is—creating leverage through GM while using political cover and learning from the success of others.
One of the keys to success in any enterprise is to become an accepted part of your business ecosystem. Once you are embedded in a business ecosystem, you are very hard to dislodge. How hard would it be to duplicate Digg.com’s site? Not hard at all. How hard would it be to duplicate Digg.com’s community of more than 45 million monthly readers and contributors? Really hard.
The reason for that is that Digg.com has become an important part of that community (a largely male demographic aged 15 to 55 with an interest in technology, science, politics and odd ball stuff). It is way for that community to talk amongst itself, to express itself and to compete to see who can get their stories on the front page.
Digg.com works for these reasons and for another reason—Digg.com readers and contributors trust the site. They trust Digg.com to produce interesting material that they could not themselves find on their own (to, in effect, curate the stories that matter to its community*). They also trust Digg.com not to change its algorithm to favour its own material.
(* I wrote that one of the professions to watch out for in the 21st Century is (surprisingly) the curator. See: http://www.eqjournalblog.com/?p=487.)
At the end of the day, trust is the most important quality any of us has. So while GM is essential for the success of most new enterprises, you can take it too far. This means you need to use sound judgment on when it’s OK to use GM and GM research and when it isn’t.
Postscript: here are a few examples of some successful GM campaigns:
• A local high tech company doesn’t have the marketing budget to put inserts into the local newspaper for distribution to their target market. So early one morning, the founders go out with abundant pocket change and they open the paper boxes and insert their marketing brochure; then close up the boxes and wait for the phone to ring. Student note: this is probably illegal. Don’t do this but it is an example of clever thinking nonetheless.
• Another tech company, looking to recruit top talent, put up hundreds of $2 placards along the main drag where techies working for their competitors tended to drive. They put them up on a Thursday night after city workers had gone home and they remained up for six days before the City had the (illegal) signs removed. The campaign was cheap, cheerful and successful.
• A local Subway franchisee takes over a loser of a location. Every day at 10:30 am, he ‘sneaks’ over to the megamall parking lot across the street and puts $1 off coupons under the windshield wipers of 500 cars. He runs back to his shop and waits for the traffic to come in the door. He also visited every local office within five kilometres of his location between 11:00 am and noon each weekday over an 18 month period. He brings in a huge platter of finely cut subs and a bunch of $1 off coupons. He talks his way past the receptionists and security people and gets into even the most highly secure buildings to hand out free food and coupons by the bucket load. Within two years that location alone is making over 120 grand for him and his family.
• What type of car do you drive? If it is relatively new and if you keep it clean, then you could consider adding your corporate logo and web address to the passenger side, driver’s side, rear and front (in mirror image). This is free advertising for you that works 7 days per week. But is has to be done well. DO NOT USE THOSE HORRIBLE RUBBER MAGNETIZED MATS THAT STICK TO THE CAR. This would be reverse marketing. Bill Renaud, one of Ottawa’s most successful real estate agents, uses his vehicles this way. If you do it, it has to be done well and depending on what type of business you are in, it can be done in an understated kind of way.
• How can you collect email addresses with the permission of and indeed the willing participation of your target market? This is a campaign Labatt Brewery undertook a few years ago. They looked good as a result and were able to direct people to their beer.com site where they collected e-mail and contact information—the campaign spread fast on the net. Al at almost no cost.
‘Subject: Another Long Weekend!
Labatt Blue Light is petitioning the Ontario government for a new long weekend in June. This is serious…they’re really doing it.
The petition comes on the heels of a national survey that says about HALF of Canadians don’t have enough free time and that they have less free time than they did five years ago.
Make your voice heard now. Go to http://www.enlist.com/cgi-bin/re/freeyourtime and sign the petition. And pass this along!’
(Editor’s Note: This is an example of guerrilla marketing by Labatt that uses a supposedly third party to promote Labatt Blue and it uses the power of the web for geometric growth.)
• When cruising down the Queensway in Ottawa, I took a picture out my front windshield of a Napa Auto Parts vehicle. It was not a very good picture—kids don’t do this at home. Driving at 100 kph while looking through a 5 mm aperture is not a good idea. It’s like driving while using a periscope. Anyway, the bumper sticker on this Napa Auto Parts vehicle, read: “How’s my driving?” and gives a 1-888 phone number. One could imagine that, if you were to actually call that number, they might try to market something to you?
• The Canadian Taxpayers Federation put 82 lawn signs (pig figures, one for each member presumably) on the lawn outside the Alberta Legislature to protest against the ‘obscene’ increases in Alberta politicians’ pay. The cost for this stunt was about ten bucks a lawn sign. They got national exposure for their story, as a result.
• Many companies have entered into litigation with registrants of the ‘acmecompanysucks.com’ domain name. This automatic knee-jerk response is that the (insert your company name here)sucks.com holder is infringing on your company trade mark right? The www.sucks.com people (Dan Parisi) have maintained that these sites are places and spaces where people can go to vent their sometimes legitimate complaints—that the right to freedom of expression will, in effect, outrank the right of the trademark holder, a rather persuasive argument. Some companies like Intel and American Express are a lot smarter; rather than sue, they say the sites are o.k. They provide management with feedback that they probably couldn’t get any other way. Middle managers usually aren’t as forthcoming as, say, an irate customer. It is a form of inexpensive, independent product research—another example of guerrilla marketing research, if you will.
• You can turn cost centres into profit centres by seeing assets where before there were only liabilities. For example, Roger has a small real estate company in Ottawa. He is budgeting $50,000 for marketing in the upcoming fiscal year. His accountant, Claire, notes that many of the ads they run and a lot of their marketing mention partners; people like home builders, framers, landscapers, lawyers, well drillers and other suppliers. Claire goes on to point out: “This is like the ‘mini-office’ concept applied to our newspaper ads, our on-site signage, our website and marketing generally. We now own valuable marketing and advertising space which we bought at basically a wholesale price. Perhaps we can lay off some of our costs on our partners so that we can market our company at a reduced cost or possibly even a negative cost.
• Bain Capital made an offer in 2005 to buy all 30 NHL teams. Was this a serious offer or a bit of GM? I think this was a form of Guerrilla Marketing for Bain Capital. They are a reputable Boston-based private equity firm but they must have known that this would not go anywhere. From time to time, these kinds of offers circulate. There was a similar one for the CFL about ten years before this. They never go anywhere because there is a concern (rightly, I believe) about competitiveness. If one firm owned all 30 NHL teams as Bain suggested and operated each NHL team as a company-owned franchise, then it would be mighty tempting to pre-select the Stanley Cup winner every year for heightened dramatic or commercial effect much as, say, the WWE does with wrestling matches. They pre-determine the winner for maximum drama and ratings. It would be relatively easy to do if, for example, one team decided to trade all its top stars to another just before the playoffs and then somehow got them all back at the start of the next season… Also, buying the teams without their buildings would be incredibly stupid and the people at Bain Capital are really smart people so I am pretty sure this was just a stunt. They got mainstream media coverage: huge television, radio, newspaper and Internet exposure and buzz. It was all free ‘earned media’ attention.