Guerilla marketing is an excellent and unconventional way to promote your app. The app market is a crowded place, and breaking through isn’t easy. Guerilla marketing offers a cost-effective way to burst through the noise using humour, shock, or wit.
That said, guerilla marketing isn’t easy. You need original, exciting ideas if you want to make an impact. This article will share some guerilla marketing tips to help promote your app and talk about different techniques and approaches you can use to get your product in front of people in a non-traditional way.
But first, let’s explain what guerilla marketing is.
What is guerilla marketing?
The term guerilla marketing stems from the concept of guerilla warfare. This conflict tactic was known for using non-army personnel with loose organisational structures to fight against larger establishment forces like police or armies.
While guerilla marketing doesn’t mean you need to band together a ragtag bunch of pals and strap on the Kalashnikovs, it does involve you waging war against established competitors with substantial marketing budgets. It’s basically a David vs Goliath approach to help you promote your app.
At its heart, guerilla marketing is about the little guy fighting back and finding a way to turn the tables.
While this type of app marketing doesn’t always demand a big budget to promote your app, you need to compensate for the lack of resources with hard work, originality, and ingenuity if you want to break through the noise.
Guerilla app marketing is about unusual, creative, and unconventional ways to promote your product. When done well, it can:
- Boost brand awareness and visibility
- Generate lots of buzz for your app
- Help you stand out from your competitors
- Position your brand as a unique voice
- Help you target a broad audience
- Save marketing and advertising costs
Why do you need guerilla marketing to promote your app?
People are targeted with a lot of ads. Some estimates suggest we see as many as 10 000 ads a day. Close your eyes and think about how many of them even registered with you.
Because we’re so overwhelmed with ads, our mind ends up tuning them out in a few different ways, such as:
Banner blindness: Where web users unconsciously block out the areas where ads appear on a website or platform.
Ad fatigue: Where users see an ad so much they unconsciously block it out of their mind
And then there are the conscious actions we take to avoid ads.
Ad blockers: About 42% of internet users employ ad blockers. This figure can go up much higher in tech-savvy segments.
Consciously tuning out: More than half of all consumers tune out when ads come on TV.
It’s clear that users are a bit overwhelmed when it comes to messaging. But that’s bad news when you’re trying to promote your app.
Guerilla app marketing offers a way to cut through the noise. It’s surprising, non-traditional, and a solid example of how pattern-breaking can smash through the tedium and grab your audience’s attention.
OK, so enough of all that. Let’s get on to what you came for, tips to help you promote your app.
Should you use guerrilla app marketing?
Guerrilla app marketing is a great tactic, but it won’t work for every brand or app.
Benefits of guerilla marketing to promote your app
Before we get into our ten guerilla app marketing ideas and tips, we should establish some of the benefits you can unlock by embracing this type of marketing.
It’s cost-effective: For brands without monster budgets, guerilla app marketing is a cost-effective way of getting the word out about your app.
It’s memorable: Pick the right guerilla app marketing ideas, and people will remember your brand for a long time.
Virality: The right idea can go viral and reach a considerable audience and boost brand awareness
Emotional resonance: Guerilla marketing campaigns can help people connect with your app on an emotional level.
It’s fun: Guerilla campaigns are fun. They are creative, interesting, and different and a break from the norm when it comes to marketing campaigns.
Times when guerilla marketing is not the right choice
Time-consuming: While you can put together a guerrilla campaign on a budget, it requires a lot of work. It could be cheaper to use traditional tactics if you place a price on those hours.
Admin & permissions: If you want to do certain campaigns in public, you might need to get permits which can take time and require some negotiation.
Might not suit your app: The thing that makes guerilla app marketing interesting and memorable can also be a disadvantage in some ways. Certain professions require a lot of seriousness. If your campaign is too wild, it could put off your target audience.
Tip #1. Use local ambient guerilla marketing to go viral
Ambient marketing is a type of guerilla marketing. It leans on the element of surprise by placing an advertisement in an unlikely spot.
We talked about pattern disruption earlier. And ambient guerilla marketing uses that technique by placing your ad within an unusual context. Because people don’t expect to see it there, it jolts their brains and engages them with your ad. When done right, it could make your app or brand very memorable.
Some good examples of ambient guerilla marketing are:
- Interactive displays
The idea here is that you blend your ad into the ambient environment using the available materials.
The key to ambient marketing that people remember is to make it relate to your product. If you sell accounting software, there’s no point in turning a sidewalk into a portal to another dimension. Instead, it needs to resonate with your brand and your app. Otherwise, it’s just a disconnected piece of art.
So consider your app’s unique selling point. What pain point does it solve? What does it help your users to do quicker, cheaper, or better?
If you’re developing a product, the answers to these questions should always be at the top of your mind. The trick here is to find a way to use ambient marketing to highlight these qualities in your audience’s mind. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s the only way to produce an ad that will have the desired impact.
How important is the location for guerilla marketing?
The location for your ambient guerilla marketing is essential. But it’s also crucial that you work within the environment. So think about what you are placing and where it will look best.
Location is something that you should think about for several reasons. For example, foot traffic is an essential aspect of ambient guerilla marketing.
It’s not just important that people see your marketing but that you get the right type of people too. Now, of course, your audience targeting will never be as precise as digital marketing. However, it would help if you still found a way to reach some of the people who are the target for your product.
Provide photo opportunities
People love taking photos for social media. So give them what they want, but also include some link, reference, or QR code for your app. Creating conditions for memorable photos isn’t easy, but if you want your ambient guerilla marketing app to grab people’s attention, you’ll need to think outside the box and do something that stops people in their tracks.
Tip #2. Be original
There are lots of cool examples of great guerilla marketing. Quite often, the reasons for their success were that:
- The marketing was relevant
- The marketing was original.
Once an idea has been done once, any further iterations of the idea won’t have as much impact.
Of course, as the old saying goes, “there is nothing original under the sun.” Even totally fresh ideas are inspired by other things. But at a minimum, you need to put a new spin on your ad.
Publicity stunts are a huge part of guerilla marketing. Finding stunts that match your brand is key. If your industry is traditional and professional, wild publicity stunts won’t do the trick.
Using your app to attempt a world record is an example of something wholesome that can generate excitement.
While the buzz around escape rooms is dying down, they’re still a lot of fun. One way that you can promote your app is by creating an escape room experience and offering free access to people who download your app and post about the event.
Bonus points if you can match the experience to the theme of your app.
Make it interactive
Slightly following on from the escape room idea, making your guerrilla marketing interactive is an excellent way to engage your audience. If you can create memorable, shareable experiences, you can count on getting some online promotion.
People love controversy and drama. If you can find a way to whip up some online outrage to get people talking, it can help your brand gain awareness. It’s a tightrope, though. The wrong step could tank your reputation.
Tip #3. Use smartphone features to your advantage
If you are trying to promote your app, no matter how diverse your target audience is, you can guarantee they have one thing in common: they own a smartphone! So why not use some of the features and functions of a smartphone to promote your app.
QR and Snapcodes
If you’re running any event out in the wild, make sure you have a simple way for your targets to download your app. If you use stickers, graffiti, or some kind of ambient installation, make sure you include a QR code or a Snapchat Snapcode to direct your audience to:
- Your App Store or Play Store Listing
- Landing page or website
If your target audience skews young, choose Snapchat. About 50% of its users are between 15 and 25.
Geo-fencing is a way to create exclusive content that can only be unlocked by a smartphone’s GPS being in a particular location. This technique forces people to go somewhere if they want to engage with the content.
If you have a gaming app, you could use this to give away in-app items. People need to go somewhere to get the item, so maybe they’ll turn it into an Insta story.
Augmented reality (AR)
While street art and ambient guerilla marketing involve physically changing an environment to promote your app, augmented reality allows you to do the same thing virtually. Again, it’s about tying your app to the environment.
Tip #4. Provide value
Providing value should always be at the forefront of your mind when you’re thinking about app marketing. That means the value your product offers, but it also relates to your overall app marketing strategy.
One popular type of promotion that advertisers use to drum up interest in their product is giving away free things. For example, some guerilla marketing tactics involve going somewhere with a high concentration of your target audience and giving them baseball caps, t-shirts, mugs, stickers, etc. The idea here is that they can become a kind of walking advertisement for your brand.
People love free things, but obviously, that requires having an advertising budget. However, digital products are easy to replicate. So, you don’t run into the same investment issues.
Offering free subscriptions or in-app items can be an excellent way to open your product to a broader audience.
Run a competition
Competitions are a terrific way to motivate people to engage with your brand. You can do something simple like make downloading your app qualify for a raffle to win a prize. That’s tried and tested and usually gets results. But if you want to go that extra step, try to connect the prize with your brand’s purpose.
User-generated content (UGC) is an amazing way to promote your brand. It can help boost your followers on social media, and it also helps you take advantage of your followers’ reach.
Some simple tactics that work are asking users to make content that shows what your product helps them achieve. If you get them to upload a photo and tag your Instagram or Twitter, they are automatically entered into a draw for the prize.
The plus points here are that their friends and family will see the content. Some of them might even get involved themselves. It’s all good promotion for your app. Additionally, it can double up as proof of what can be achieved with your app. So it’s a win-win.
Burst campaigns aren’t exactly cheap. But they can be super effective. Basically, it involves aggressively marketing your app for 24 to 72 hours and then hoping the momentum carries through with enough organic downloads. Some people directly pay users for installs, while others spend a load of money on highly targeted PPV ads.
If you have a great prize to give away, do a treasure hunt within your city. Clues and riddles can be posted around, and you can even leave some QR code stickers in spots around the city. It’s a great way to get people engaged and involved and spread the word about your app. Just make sure that the prize is relevant to your app.
Support a great cause
Supporting a good cause is an excellent way to generate publicity. Getting the balance right is hard. You don’t want your altruism to appear ghoulish and opportunistic. But if you find the right cause that synergises with your product, it could be a fantastic partnership. Promising a donation for each app purchase or download could be an effective way to promote your app and the cause.
Tip #5. Ambush your audience, but don’t annoy them
Ambush marketing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a practice where you use a pre-existing event to “ambush” the audience with your message. The concept also goes by the name coat-tail marketing or predatory marketing.
I don’t love the term predatory marketing because it sounds like you are waiting for someone on a dark street, ready to pounce. This gets to the heart of how this approach can backfire if you don’t judge it properly.
However, it also reveals another element of ambush marketing that refers to using a rival or an event’s momentum to promote your product. Now, we see examples of this all the time. For instance, brands use significant cultural events, like the football World Cup, to attach themselves to the buzz surrounding a big occasion.
Ambush other campaigns, including your rivals
Another way to do an ambush campaign is to target your rivals or the brands you are disrupting. You can rent ad space near their billboards or even take shots at them in your own advertisement. Wit is crucial here; you don’t want to appear bitter or get into any legal trouble.
There are lots of examples of brands using this approach. It’s wild and a bit risky, but it can be an excellent way to show why your app is a better, cheaper, quicker, or better alternative. It’s cheeky, so judge the tone right and don’t say anything libelous.
Flash mobs were a thing for a while. Paying actors or singers to pull off a big, coordinated publicity stunt in a public space was a great way to grab attention and hopefully get lots of shares and likes.
The novelty of the approach has probably worn off, but that’s not to say that you can’t do it if you find a fresh spin.
Stealth marketing is deceptive. It’s also really fun and cool. You can take it to the extreme and basically put it on an attention-grabbing display in public. The crazier it is, the more attention, but also the more risk.
Sure, you could engineer an armed standoff to get the camera on your app, but it could go wrong in so many ways.
Product placement is another good example of stealth marketing. But it is pretty expensive and can easily look inauthentic.
Put business cards or QR codes in relevant places
There are a lot of things you can do here, like pop your business cards into relevant library books or products. But you’ve got to be careful here; some people won’t be wild about you doing this.
Advertise near big events
If there is a big local event happening in your city that will attract the interest of your target audience, show up or put some promotion in the streets, transport, or shop windows nearby. Set up a street popup, whatever it takes to show your presence.
For example, if your app sells insurance, you can hand out plastic raincoats to show how you help people prepare for the unexpected.
Tip #6. Throw a launch party with a difference
Lots of apps throw launch parties. They’re a great way to get a buzz out about your app and reward your team’s hard work. Here are a few ideas that you can use to make them produce good results.
Make sure guests can’t enter unless they download your app
If your app has messaging capabilities, send the invite app only. Otherwise, check for apps installed at the door.
Make the app the centerpiece of your launch party
Everyone is there for the app — in theory. But too many launch parties could be for any app because they look and feel the same. So go further.
Think about onboarding flows within your app. Quite often, they are related to aha moments. Aha moments are the sequence of events your user needs to do to realise your app’s value or how it makes their life easier.
That could be something like sending a photo or performing a task. So why not link some of these events with small prizes. For example, if someone connects with 10 people on the app, they get a cocktail.
Use a Snapchat geofilter
Use a Snapchat Geofilter for your event so your guests can take exclusive photos. Make it something that people will want to share, and you can use it to boost awareness.
Tip #7. Use astroturfing to build a buzz
There are lots of ways to create a buzz around your product.
Influencers & astroturfing
Astroturfing is controversial. However, it can be hugely effective. Essentially, it involves creating what seems like a “grassroots” buzz around your product or service, but it’s fake grass, hence astroturf.
Now, we’re not advocating hiring actors pretending to be regular people to promote your app. Or even paying people to go around forums suggesting that their app changed their life. These tactics are skeezy and obvious, and those aren’t qualities you want to associate with your app.
However, influencer marketing does use elements of astroturfing to promote products. So, it can be seen as a type of guerilla marketing. We’re not saying you should pay Kim Kardashian $1m to promote your app. That’s just not going to be possible for most people. Instead, you should consider the world of micro and macro influencers.
The good thing about the influencer industry is that it has been regulated to some extent. Influencers need to declare that their post is promotional now. Which is positive overall.
However, when some people see that disclaimer, it undercuts the authenticity of the ad. People think the influencers are promoting something they don’t like just for the sake of a check. And that’s not unreasonable to think because it’s true a lot of the time.
One solution here is to not let money change hands. There are influencer marketplaces that connect brands and individuals around an authentic love of products. If you find these sorts of partnerships, they can get more results because the influencer’s brand hasn’t been diluted, and their audience trusts them.
Tip #8. Street art
Street art is one of the best types of guerrilla marketing. It’s a way to promote your app without paying for expensive billboards.
Using street art or graffiti to promote your brand is a controversial move. It can work and give your brand a lot of publicity, but you don’t want it to go wrong.
In 2022, the UK drill artist Aitch caught a lot of flack when an advertising company painted over a mural of Ian Curtis from the iconic ’70s and 80’s Manchester act Joy Division. The fallout wasn’t great.
Additionally, before you graffiti something, you should get permission from your local council, government, or building owner. If the art does its job, they’ll know who commissioned it and where to send any clean-up bills. So that’s something to keep in mind.
But if you do get permission, then graffiti could be a great way to promote your app. Again, you need to consider how it chimes with your app. If it’s youth-oriented and a bit alternative, then it makes an excellent mix for street art. If it’s a financial services app, maybe not.
That said, there are lots of challenger brands that can benefit from a street art aesthetic.
Placement is important here. Let’s say you’re a challenger FinTech brand. Think about the trains that approach the financial district. Is there a wall near the final stop? A big piece of graffiti showcasing your app could ensure you boost your visibility to the sort of people who might use your app. Again, this comes down to understanding your audience.
Alternatively, you want to make it so that it’s easy for people to take selfies with your artwork. So, you can position it in a location that is easy to access and take photos with. Come up with something iconic and exciting enough, and you’ll have people lining up to generate content for their social media accounts that will be seen by their friends and followers.
Graffiti is all well and good. But it probably has to be cleaned up at some stage. Wall projections, on the other hand, don’t. Again, this is something you’ll need to get permission for, but it does open up the type of content that you can produce. For example, you can have a variety of moving images.
Some marketing teams have used drones to promote their message. However, sending out a coordinated message like this is expensive, so it’s only an option for people with massive budgets.
You know those photo stands that people pop their heads through? Well, you can use them to drum up some interest in your app. Again, it’s all about choosing something that chimes with your product.
Let’s say that your app helps people solve some issues in their life. Think about what life looks like when the pain point has been removed. If it’s a clothing retailer, they have better style; if it’s a dating app, they have their dream partner; if it’s a fitness app, they’re in great shape, etc.
So, make your stand represent that new, ideal state. Let them pop their head through the stand, take a photo, and share it. Your brand (and QR or website) gets promoted, and everyone knows what you do. It’s simple, interactive, and effective.
Tip #9. Understand your audience
You can’t make an app without knowing your audience. Well, you can, but you can’t expect it to resonate with anyone unless you have some target market whose problems you are trying to solve.
Knowing your audience is essential for app development. And it’s also a crucial part of an app marketing strategy. You need to know the following:
- How your audience feels about the problem you’re solving
- What tone and language will resonate with them
- What channels and platforms you can find them on
When it comes to guerrilla marketing, you need to understand what your audience will respond to and figure out a campaign that suits your app. That’s not easy, but it starts with using the audience research you’ve compiled.
Delve into demographics, preferences, and even psychographics. Find out who these people are, what publications they read, how they feel about social and environmental issues — whatever it takes.
When you have all of this information, you’ll start to form a picture of what types of content will work for them. Youth audiences won’t get subtle references to 80s pop songs or TV shows, no matter how witty they are. So play to who your audience is and what they care about.
Tip #10. Don’t forget your call to action (CTA)
While guerrilla marketing is about driving awareness, that doesn’t mean it should be disconnected from your revenue goals. Including the next step is vital, whether that’s a QR code to your app, a link to your landing page, or an action to take inside the app.
Drumming up publicity is great, but it will go to waste if you don’t have a clearly defined goal for your audience to take. Remember, the time after your guerrilla app marketing campaign is when your targets are most likely to have positive feelings. Capitalise on that by telling them what action they need to take to solve their pain points.
Don’t stop measuring
In terms of marketing strategies, guerilla marketing definitely falls into top-of-funnel activity. The idea is to boost brand awareness, word of mouth, and the visibility of your brand. While these goals are not impossible to measure, they are more challenging to quantify than downloads or installs.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t find a way to understand the impact and ROI of your guerilla app marketing efforts. In fact, there are several guerilla marketing metrics and KPIs that you can track to give you an idea about how your marketing ideas have been received.
While a lot will depend on the particularities of the campaign, here are a few things you can measure.
Social or traditional media mentions: If your guerilla app marketing creates a buzz, you should see a spike in your media mentions.
Landing page: Set up a unique landing page for your campaign and track visits and conversions.
Sales: See if your downloads or install rise after your campaign
Surveys: If your goal was to raise brand awareness, run surveys both before and after your campaigns to see if they had an effect.
Guerilla app marketing is a great way to create a buzz without a huge budget. While this type of marketing isn’t just for plucky upstart developers, you can do it cheaply and achieve outsized results.
Cutting through the noise is one of guerrilla marketing’s main benefits. However, you need to use good judgement to ensure you:
- Reach your target market
- Have a positive effect on your brand
- Make your ad relevant to your product
Remember, any marketing you do will reflect on your app. If you go with something edgy and controversial, be prepared to be associated with that kind of thing forever.
Mostly, guerrilla marketing is a fun opportunity to use your wit, creativity, and ingenuity. So get out there and experiment.
About the Author
Joseph Russell is an award-winning app designer, app strategist and founder of DreamWalk. Over his 11 year career, Joseph has helped hundreds of businesses and startup founders plan, design, develop and launch successful apps.
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