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7 Tips From Beats Electronics' Brilliant Guerilla Marketing

If you want to pull off underground marketing, these are a must.
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The concept of guerrilla marketing has become wrongly synonymous over the years with large companies orchestrating big stunts and putting videos online with the hopes that they'll go viral. That's simply a recorded publicity stunt.

Guerrilla marketing isn't about bankrolling a blitz. It's being smart in how you call attention to yourself. And a company that has done it well is Beats Electronics, according to the London School of Marketing. Some smart moves made the brand a must for its target market and got a $3.2 billion acquisition by Apple. All within five years of its founding by hip-hop artist Dr. Dre and music and film producer Jimmy Iovine.

What Beats did wasn't flashy like what Nike, Snapple, or Cingular (the latter now known at AT&T) did--building giant outdoor structures to catch attention. Instead, it smoothly handed free headphones to high-profile rappers, athletes, DJs, and others and waited for the distinctive design to show up in public at such events as the Olympics and World Cup. Look through the examples and you can see seven principles that made the campaign work so well.

Have the goods

The ultimate guerrilla aspect of Beats was the headset design. It stood out from what everyone else was doing. Of course it would be recognized in passing in a crowd or on a TV screen: The styling and packaging were impeccable and screamed value and cool. And performance was good enough to keep people happy. Remember that good marketing can kill a bad product faster than anything else.

Do no harm

There's a mistaken perception among some that all publicity is good. Nonsense. Good publicity increases awareness and the value of your brand. Bad publicity makes you look foolish, stupid, or nasty. Don't hurt people, cause reasonable concern, or otherwise make a poor name for yourself. What you don't want is perception that your company is run by a bunch of punks who should be out of business.

Show up bigger competitors

It may be that you have something so unusual that you've created a new product category, but that's pretty unlikely. Instead, you likely have established competitors. One reason that Beats worked is that the headsets showed up where others did and stood out by comparison. In fact, Sony, a sponsor of the World Cup, insisted that only its products be used during the competition. So, instead, top players wore Beats to practices and out on the street, making the effective endorsement more credible. Guess who looked really good?

Plan a campaign, not a stunt

Doing something as a once-off may be necessary, but it isn't guerrilla marketing by itself. Everything you do needs to tie in with an ongoing campaign. Every part should help some aspect of marketing--for example, building public awareness, supporting an existing image, or highlighting availability--at the right time. If you pull off one promotional action, who cares? You can't build a business on that. And if you do only one and it fails, you have no way to recover.

Leverage your connections

One reason Beats could get high-profile individuals to even try the headsets is that the founders were well-connected in their industry. But then they went on to build further interest by traveling outside their comfort zones to sports and other areas. See who you know who could help you get going, or plan on getting the time to develop the connections.

Let the media find you

Try too hard to be noticed and people react badly. It's like someone trying to unnaturally fit in with a high school clique. The trick to brilliant guerrilla marketing is to structure it so that people in the media stumble across it and think they're making a discovery. That gets them telling a story that they feel ownership toward. And then the rest follow because they can't allow others to have the story for themselves.

Make it clean

Finally, getting well-known people to use your product in public is an example of a clean strategy. It's simple and works. Avoid overly complex plans that can turn into classic failures. A clean approach also means that you don't become too self-conscious and get in the way of your success, where the mechanism of the marketing upstages the notice the product should get.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Aug 21, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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