Taking it to the Streets

Successful guerilla marketing requires wit and enthusiasm.

When combatants engage in guerrilla warfare, they use strategies that rely heavily on raids, ambushes and the element of surprise. The same tactics are at the heart of guerrilla marketing, which, like its namesake, focuses on low-cost, unconventional maneuvers that generate effective results.

If you’ve ever been a target of a guerrilla marketing campaign, it’s not likely you’ve forgotten the experience. Just ask those beach strollers who stumbled upon promotions for Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” emblazoned on a surfboard bearing an enormous, “Jaws”-like bite mark. Ask pedestrians on a big city street who encountered a Bounty Paper Towel campaign featuring car-sized overturned coffee cups and equally huge dripping popsicles. Or ask those who, approaching a building entrance, reached for the door handle and found themselves instead gripping the handle of a giant Tyskie beer stein.

Marketers of apartments aren’t likely to use surfboards or steins. But their guerrilla marketing campaigns can be just as memorable and effective.

“I would define guerrilla marketing as a way to engage with your customer in creative and unconventional ways,” says Tiffany Walters, senior marketing manager with Austin, Texas-based Greystar. “We would also define guerrilla marketing as engaging in networking with businesses in our immediate area.”

The term gets a bit different interpretation from Kim Cory, director of student media, ForRent Media Solutions in Columbus, Ohio. “Guerrilla marketing is basically taking strategic approaches in marketing, and giving your consumers, customers and prospects more personal, more memorable marketing,”
she says.

“Guerrilla marketing is used more often by small businesses that want to reach a larger audience. The purpose of guerrilla marketing is to get your brand out in front of audiences in a different way. How do you reach 60,000 students without breaking the bank? The answer is guerrilla marketing.”

Cost effective and more

As Cory suggests, affordability is one of the chief advantages of guerrilla marketing. Beyond cost effectiveness, another benefit is being able to build relationships that provide an ongoing positive impact on the business.

At Greystar, Walters says, guerrilla marketing fosters brand ambassadors. “Our team members get excited when out representing the communities, and residents get excited when recognizing the brand in the community,” she says.

“We have been able to sponsor races here in Austin like the Austin Heart Walk and Race for the Cure. We had a resident come up to our tent space and say, ‘I live in a Greystar community and it’s so great to see you guys out here.’”

Another guerrilla marketing effort involved a Greystar community called Elan Redmond Town Center partnering with an eatery called Tipsy Cow Burger Bar. A co-branded marketing piece was created, offering prospects a $10-off coupon for their next visit to the restaurant just for touring the community.

At Austin’s popular South By Southwest convention, Greystar was among the sponsors of an Austin Chronicle event, the Austin Music Awards.

Greystar rented a lounge space where its representatives could meet and greet awards show attendees. “We were very conscious of what the attendees might want to carry away with them,” Walters says. “We came up with a packaged ear buds takeaway that featured the Greystar brand.” The company also framed three event posters, which were used as prizes in a drawing.

The right fit

Before joining ForRent, Cory handled guerrilla marketing campaigns during her eight-year stint at University Village, a student housing community at The Ohio State University. She frequently assembled “street teams” to work on behalf of the property. “Sometimes we’d put someone in the costume of a mascot, and take that viral, using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media to extend the reach of that street marketing campaign,” she recalls.

This strategy works best for those properties or communities that have forged a strong social media presence with target audiences. If staging a scavenger hunt, for instance, clues might be posted on the property’s Facebook walls, and be offered in short video clips uploaded to YouTube.

“We would also get students to come to us, then stage dance-off contests, post those to YouTube, and let students vote the winner,” Cory says. “It creates a buzz factor. Word of mouth in our industry is powerful. The objective was to get them talking about University Village as an off-campus housing option.”

Whether the street team was passing out T-shirts, gift cards to Chipotle, or pizza, the goal was getting the target audience out to meet that street team. Campaigns often cross promoted with independent merchants in the area.

Greystar believes guerrilla marketing makes sense when the goal is to connect with a broad audience cutting across a wide demographic swath. In some instances, its campaigns have sought to entertain the audience and provide a memorable experience. In other cases, guerrilla marketing is “an opportunity to network, connect and share your brand,” Walters says.

Measuring results

Guerrilla marketing campaigns can be structured in ways that allow success to be measured. Calls to action are critical components, Walters says. Greystar has measured success by counting promo items exchanged for incentives in its leasing offices, and by tallying Facebook fans before and after events.

“We also have an ability to look at Google Analytics and determine if there’s a spike in visitors to Greystar properties after an event,” she says.

At University Village, metrics have been tracked in various ways. Students who interact with the property’s street teams are sometimes given coupons, and exchange the coupons for gift cards when taking a property tour. “In this way, we could track success, like getting maybe a 15 percent response,” Cory says.

The community also used a “mobile club,” in which students were asked to text in to a specific text number, and received a return text about an incentive. That incentive might have involved receiving a gift card in return for a visit. “You can easily get students to opt in to a mobile club to win something,” Cory says.

Key considerations

Before launching a guerrilla marketing campaign, keep a couple of considerations in mind. The strategy must be accompanied by fire and intensity. “It doesn’t work if you don’t have the right passion,” Cory says.

“You have to recruit the right people to make this effective. You have to have the right street team in place … You have to set goals, you have to get them excited and enthusiastic. They have to be outgoing by nature, and they have to incorporate this campaign in their own peer-to-peer networks.”

Also ensure guerrilla marketing efforts will be supported at the individual community level, and won’t be viewed as unwanted solicitations, Walters says.

“We want to build relationships and become a valued partner in the community, and we don’t want our efforts viewed as a negative,” she says. “Being mindful of legalities, such as securing the proper permits, is crucial.”

At Greystar, the ultimate goal is to create buzz and excitement by clearly representing the brand and its identity, and being willing to stop and talk. Says Walters, “We want to be transparent.”