When people think about guerilla marketing, typically they think of a specific example—one stunt that made national headlines and became thereafter notorious. Like that time actors rushed a crowded train station to perform a song-and-dance number about the product they were hired to promote. That’s guerilla marketing. This tendency to define the concept by its example perfectly elucidates the nature of guerilla marketing. That’s because the term isn’t any one thing—in fact, it’s pretty much everything that falls outside the realm of traditional marketing (such as television commercials, print advertising, digital marketing).

So what is guerilla marketing? Can we define it on its own, other than by what it’s not? Well, we can certainly try to clarify the concept. Here are a few defining characteristics of guerilla marketing:

1. Guerilla marketing is…a low-budget way to spread the word about products or services by arranging an unusual stunt in an unexpected public space. These kinds of stunts are apt to stick in viewers’ minds, create conversation, and generate buzz. Recent examples include the increasingly popular crowd stunts (such as the one mentioned above) which occur in train stations, shopping malls, and airports. Less extreme variants include marketing in quads at college campuses or advertising on street vendors—simply putting your message in an unpredicted spot to make the public take notice.

2. Guerilla marketing is…also called viral marketing, nontraditional marketing, unconventional marketing, and modern marketing. So there’s a good chance you already know what it is, just by a different name. Don’t worry, it still smells as sweet—and works just as well.

3. Guerilla marketing is…being used more and more as marketing agencies, both large and small, discover the monetary benefits of thinking outside the box. Especially in this downturn economy, guerilla marketing proves itself to be as cost-effective as it is efficient—if you know how to do it right. Helpful hint: research what hasn’t worked in guerilla marketing before you research how to do it. That will keep you from many pitfalls along the way as you plan your strategy.

4. Guerilla marketing…can be used as part of a larger campaign, or independently. Often, when guerilla marketing is used alongside other means of advertising, it’s being used to familiarize a product or service with its customers, so that when they encounter the opportunity to buy, they already feel familiar with the brand or concept. Alternately, when guerilla marketing is being used as a sole marketing outlet, its purpose is to create intrigue and generate hype—this is often done when introducing a new concept. Clever marketers can make consumers want something before they even know what it is!

5. Guerilla marketing is…as addressable as you want it to be. Large-scale guerilla marketing endeavors can be geo-targeted—it creates a lot of noise and notice in whatever location it takes place, but without the ability to accurately target demographics (that is, it hits its key audience in addition to a lot of viewers that won’t translate into customers). However, careful, clever, smaller campaigns can target a more niche audience. For example, a walking, talking teddy bear outside of a kid’s carnival can specifically target parents and children.

6. Guerilla marketing is…exposure, for better or worse. On one hand, it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and come up with unique, risqué, off-the-wall concepts that have never been done. On the other hand, it requires a lot of brainstorming, troubleshooting, and research to come up with a truly unique idea—and to calculate the receptiveness and responsiveness that will be gained. How safe is it to invest client’s cash and base a campaign on an idea that’s never been tried or measured? Guerilla marketing is a highly inspired method that’s at its best when it’s big, daring, and bold. But remember: the bigger they are, the harder they fall—and the most striking and creative ideas may expose agencies to a lot of liability. Once launched, there’s often no going back—so make sure the payoff is worth the added risk.

Mad 4 Marketing has been creating buzz for its clients through alternative means since well before it became the trendy thing to do. We know how to market businesses of all sizes and shapes—creatively, at a low cost, and for the largest possible ROI. We like to combine guerilla marketing strategies with public relations and traditional advertising to create all-out, custom-made campaigns that hit the right marks at the right time to create a lasting impression on our clients’ future consumers.

Interested in hearing stories about some of the successful and not-so-successful guerilla marketing stunts which have recently caused a stir? Check back with the Mad 4 Marketing blog for outlandish, impressive anecdotes of guerilla marketing stunts from across the globe.