The Lingo Ledger

How to Conduct Guerilla Warfare... I Mean Marketing

che This is not you.

warfare (n.) \ˈwȯr-ˌfer\: a struggle between competing entities; the waging of war against an enemy.

Entrepreneurs relish the idea of guerilla marketing. Stories about "cojones" and "getting your name out at all costs" are typically heralded as the hallmark of an entrepreneur's journey. The courage and boldness it conveys paints a sexy picture of Che Guevara.

Despite the ludicrous metaphor, guerilla marketing really is warfare. You have an event of some kind, a tradeshow or otherwise, that serves as a fixed arena for accomplishing a goal in a limited amount of time. There are clear winners and losers (just look at the desperate faces behind "lame booths" on the last day of a conference). Each move you make could put you exponentially closer or farther away from your goal of attaining new clients.

Guerilla marketing is war against the three I's: Irrelevance, Impertinence, and Ignorance. You're battling these three concepts in real-time, trying to seize the day by getting your company in front of real buyers who are ready to sign up for your product (e.g. "the conquered"). We've attempted various forms of creative guerilla marketing over the past year and a half, including regaling morning arrivals at a trade show with a mariachi band this week. Often times, despite the creativity of our efforts, we find ourselves caught up in the trap of the three I's.


The absolute worst way to lose the war is to get mired in irrelevance. You've found a cheeky way to get in front of your customers and you're elated at the reception you're getting! You're talking to someone about the great product that's behind these fantastically creative individuals but your product just isn't their bag,'s not my bag baby

Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your solution should be simple and should only solve one to two major problems that a certain subset (of people or organizations) has. You've always known that but the adrenaline of engaging someone through creative means makes you lose sight of reality. You've got their attention and they're digging your style. Your strategy worked!

While you're convincing these bozos who are really just more intrigued in you than in your company, real buyers are subtly poking around through your marketing materials. You're the bozo, because you're irrelevant and you don't even know it.

You should have an idea in your head for what % of people in a given forum are going to truly care about the problem you solve because its their problem. This is great for two reasons. First, you have a hypothesis on a need within your industry that can be tested in reality. Secondly, you have a mental barometer that allows you to let the irrelevant freeloaders take your swag and go, keeping your eyes and ears out for that busy buyer for whom you've been sharpening your machete. Be gentle.


Being impertinent means being disrespectful or brash. There's a fine line between grabbing someone's attention and physically spamming them. People can't unsubscribe from your intrusive engagements. Take note of the visual clues. If they're walking briskly by or frantically reaching for their phone, let 'em pass.

A lot of people have the boldness to guerilla market. You approach someone with something creative and try to sell them something without even an ounce of hesitation in your voice. Most people are nice enough to smile and maybe even exchange pleasantries. Successful guerilla marketers can tell if the person's not in the mood. Imagine a girl being hit on by a guy in cargo shorts... are you that guy?!no

At worst, it can be intrusive and rude. At best, you come off like a used-car salesman. Avoid the Impertinence pitfall. Creativity and "right-place-right-time" only get you so far. Even if you saw something that made you think there's no question you have a solution for this person and have vaulted the "Irrelevance" hurdle, don't soil your cargo shorts by being flat out rude. Simple visual clues and a little southern hospitality will ensure the worst-case scenario means you have a quick pleasant greeting and get out of their way without trying to "sell".

After our mariachi presentation at the aforementioned conference, we brought our 5+ gallons of leftover Starbucks up to the cafe in the Convention Center, offering it up for free to the 150+ people waiting in line. Half the crowd was not the least bit interested since they were waiting in line for something fancier than what we could offer. We gave them a smile, wished them well, and started filling up cups for the other dozens of people in line who were chatting us up, lauding our creativity.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some of those "disinterested people" stealthily grab some of our materials off our table. Our service became more credible due to the positive buzz it had created with nearby people who were more receptive. They weren't in the mood to engage, simple as that, but the reaction we had garnered made them curious enough to remember us. One of those people feigning disinterest stopped me later in the day and we exchanged business cards and laughed about how mornings don't start for him until he gets his latte!


I don't mean ignorance in the traditional sense of being stupid or simple-minded, but rather uneducated. You absolutely have to prepare for your audience. As Jason Cohen points out, there are things you should be doing as many as 6 months from a conference to prepare. You have passed the Impertinence and Irrelevance barriers and are in the final hours of war... only to lose because you clearly don't understand your customer. You're unfamiliar with regulations in their industry or focus on product features that are of no matter to them and lose their interest. So close, yet so far.

Remember the simple circumstances: they have a problem and you have a solution. Just because your marketing effort has been spontaneous, doesn't mean your research efforts need to be. You should already know the specific problem of your customer and what the implications of that problem are for his or her business.

In our industry, for example, we are promoting our Spanish language learning solution to medical professionals who rely on translators. These translators are often thinly spread across hospitals and are reserved primarily for critical situations. With medical institutions, we know to focus on this problem and also on how we can help them engage non-English speaking patients with basic Spanish dialogue upon arrival (a consequential problem). And don't forget to note how health care reform is only going to make this problem worse, hence the reason we've been finalizing so many partnerships with medical care providers recently!

Legitimate knowledge of their problem and the establishment of a sense of urgency has not only allowed us to overcome the Ignorance barrier, but has also strengthened our beat down of the Irrelevance and Impertinence barriers, leading to a final death knell in all three I's.

There's no formula for guerilla marketing. You can't draw it up and you certainly can't know what to expect. You need a great team and a tactic no one's seen before to truly get people engaged and smiling. But getting their attention is only half the battle. When you prepare to battle the three I's of guerilla marketing, only then will your efforts be worthwhile.

Have comments, thoughts or ideas for us at Lingo Live? We would love to hear from you!

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