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Frank Remarks: Guerrillas in the Mist

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Frank Fiore has been to Africa twice on safari. That was before the onset of e-commerce, but it taught him a lesson about selling on the Net that he teaches his clients today.
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My first trip to Africa was on a Kenyan safari with my nine-year-old son. He was just old enough to find it thrilling but not scared enough to care. We were flying from camp to camp every few days, crisscrossing the equator several times. Our last stop on our weeklong expedition was the Mount Kenya Safari Club, sort of the Four Seasons Resort of Africa. Once our plane landed, we were led to buses, waiting to take us to a well-deserved two-day luxury retreat to wash off a week's worth of "living in the bush."

The driver informed us that we would be driving right over the Equator on our way to the Safari Club. Of course, we asked how we'd know when we were at the Equator—we all wanted pictures of us standing on that famous meridian. He nodded and said he'd let us know when we were there.

And sure enough, about 30 minutes from the airport, we saw a billboard up ahead that read "The Equator"—with the obligatory gift shop and tourist trap just behind it. We were all anxious to have our picture taken in front of the billboard and were dismayed when our driver failed to slow down. We brought this to his attention and asked him to stop. But he just drove right on past. Incredulous, we asked why he didn't stop at the Equator. His reply? "There's a better Equator further up the road." And sure enough, there was. In fact, there were several!

Finally, we stopped at one of the Equators that our driver said was the "real" Equator (complete with gift shop, probably his brother-in-law's), and stepped off the bus to take pictures. After we were relieved of some our Kenyan shillings in exchange for local trinkets, we continued on our way to the Safari Club, having learned that sales and marketing techniques are the same the world over—even "in the bush." Why pay to advertise when you know where the watering holes are and have the drinker's attention?

One term for this technique is guerrilla marketing—a not-often-used but still powerful sales and marketing strategy.

Guerrilla Behaviors

One of the main tenets of guerrilla marketing is to promote your product or service by spending as little money as possible. In other words, find out who your customers are and what watering holes they congregate around. Once you know that, you can attempt to get their attention and hopefully make a sale. When my clients ask me what's the first thing they should do to promote and market their business, I strongly suggest that they put their checkbooks away and don't do a thing until they discover the watering holes where their customers hang out—like the Kenya tourists who arrive in the area looking to "hang out" at the equator—and be there to sell to them.

How do you define a watering hole? That's the person, place, or thing that already has the potential customer's "attention" as well as credibility in their eyes. Find these sources and you not only find your potential customers but also a partner that may market your product for you—for free!

I recently counseled a potential client looking to market a B2B product—telephone equipment for apartment complexes and small businesses. The marketing strategies they were using—cold calling and buying lists of companies who just received business licenses—were not working. The telemarketing calls were inefficient and largely ineffective. And by the time a company had its business license, in most cases, it had already purchased a phone system.

In this client's case, I recommended talking to title companies. Any commercial building or apartment complex that's being constructed needs to have a title search. Title companies guarantee that the title to the property being built on is free and clear of any and all liens. Since this search has to be done on any property before a bank will extend a construction loan, this puts the title company in the position of being a watering hole for businesses that could need a new phone system for the building, or even for their future tenants. It also positions the title company as a credible source of information and one that has the attention of those at the watering hole. I suggested that my clients approach one specific title company in their area and offer an exclusive program to commercial property developers and businesses. Perhaps a discount on a phone system, or a free extended warranty on the system. The title insurance business is very competitive, so title companies love these kind of deals—they differentiate a business from its competition. And since the major title companies are nationwide, throwing in with one of them would give my client national coverage for their product.

This is a good example of guerrilla marketing. Here are some others—none of which will cost your business one shilling.

Establishing Relationships

Think about creating strategic relationships with other web sites. This technique is a very powerful and cost-free way to promote your product or service, and can be done in several ways. First, start by finding web sites that might be linking to you already. It goes without saying that if they link to you now, they might be interested in deepening a business relationship with your company. And how do you find out if they're linking to you? Simple. Go to AltaVista, Yahoo!, and Google and enter in the search box the search command link:domain name of your web site (such as link:yourdomain.com). The search results will list sites that are linking to yours. These are the first people that you should contact for a strategic relationship. Ideally, these sites will be content or community sites that reflect the interests of your potential customers.

After you've found out who links to you, use the search engines to look for other compatible content and community sites, using keywords that reflect your business.

And what form could this relationship take? It could include reciprocal linking or even a banner ad exchange. If you go for a reciprocal link, you need to set up a "recommended resources" page on your site to list your linking partners. But reciprocal linking can go much further. Instead of a simple link on your resource page, you can add copy to a partner's link and place it strategically around your web site if the partner will do so in turn. You might even make it part of your navigation structure, framing the partner's page with your navigation when their link is clicked. (That, by the way, is the only practical use of frames.)

Finally, if you're a creative type, you can syndicate your own content to your partner sites. Think about this. You sell a product or a service. You not only know your product or service but also a lot of other information about the jungle it inhabits.

Let's take my client as an example. They sell phone systems. Writing a weekly feature on how to choose a system, or the ins and outs of servicing, selling, or trading phone systems would be of value to content and community sites that focus on telephony. Refreshable content is a desired commodity of any web site. If my client would provide that content for free, they would have a good chance of lining up some valuable partners who have the attention of their potential customers. In addition, the partner's credibility with visitors could pass to my client's company and its products. Regular visitors to a site trust what they see when they get there, or else they wouldn't go there. That trust can rub off on my client and their product.

And of course, included in each weekly column, my client could put in a plug for their company and products. In addition, they could invite the reader to subscribe to a telephony newsletter, thus building up an in-house database of prospects to market in the future.

Here are some other guerrilla marketing ideas to consider.

Finding More Watering Holes

Suppose you own a photography company and specialize in taking quality pictures of pets. Where's the waterhole where pet owners congregate? Veterinarian practices, for one. Put sample photos in the vet's waiting room with your company's logo, telephone number, and web address.

One of the best ways to get the attention of prospective customers is through your email's "signature." A sig file is easy to create and costs you nothing to produce. Attach it to every email you send and every post you make to newsgroups, discussion lists, and discussion forums. There are three elements of a signature file that can pack the punch of a promotional ad:

  • A good tag line that conveys your value proposition, summarizes the benefit of your product, and answers the question, "Why should I care?"

  • A direct link to your offer.

  • Multiple ways to contact you.

If you put your mind to it, you can come up with others guerrilla ideas that apply to your business.

So before you reach for that checkbook to buy ads, rent email lists, pay for search engine placement, or invest in sponsorships, think of being a "guerrilla in the mist" and apply marketing techniques that cost you nothing but your time.

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