Business Book Reviews – for the Busy Business Owner
Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business By Jay Conrad Levinson, with Jeannie Levinson and Amy Levinson, Houghton Mifflin, Updated and expanded (4th) edition, 2007, 384 pp. (including bibliography and index), $14.95 (Paperback)*
Pluses: A modern marketing classic, without which no marketing library is really complete. Has lots of good general advice about marketing, advertising, and branding for business owners, as well as a generous helping of creative ideas. Levinson shines the most when he is discussing what marketing is (or should be), and when he elaborates on the creative process.
Minuses: In an age where virtually everyone is doing, or claims to be doing, “guerrilla marketing,” the material isn’t so cutting edge as it was when Levinson first introduced the concept in the early 1980s. Despite the book’s subtitle, much of the advice about strategy isn’t really applicable to small businesses or entrepreneurs with small or nonexistent marketing budgets. Covers relatively little about online marketing, even though this edition was published in 2007, and virtually nothing about social media (which hadn’t yet exploded in 2007). The text-heavy and white-space-deficient layout may try the patience (and eyes) of busy and distracted readers.
Details: When Jay Conrad Levinson first introduced the concept of “guerrilla marketing” in the early 1980s, and published his book by the same name in 1984, he started a revolution, if you will, that continues to this day. The notion was, of course, loosely borrowed from warfare, which is arguably an even richer mine than the sports world for pop-marketing and business advice. In actual guerrilla warfare, small, independent, and often underfunded bands of fighters harass and demoralize the enemy through surprise raids, attacks on the infrastructure, and so forth, with the goal of eventually securing permanent footholds. In the case of guerrilla marketing, the “enemy” is the marketer’s competition, with the goal being to capture the largest market share possible. Guerilla marketing involves unconventional promotional strategies that target customers in unexpected places, and these are strategies that, at least in theory, can be accomplished even with severely limited marketing budgets. The idea behind guerrilla marketing is that dedication, energy, and creativity are all more important than monetary resources.
It’s hardly surprising that a marketing book centered on such a bold, in-your-face concept as this would be a hit, particularly in the Reagan-era business world into which the original book emerged. But guerrilla-style marketing wasn’t just for the 1980s; it turned out to have very long and powerful legs. Today Levinson’s brainchild is arguably the best-known marketing brand in history, and his classic book has been named one of the best 100 business books ever written. Over 21 million copies have been sold to date; the book has been translated into more than 60 languages, and it is required reading in MBA programs worldwide. In the years since its initial publication, Guerrilla Marketing has undergone several revisions to reflect the changing times. Levinson has also produced dozens more books in the “Guerrilla Marketing” series (some of which he has co-authored with other marketers such as Seth Godin and Jay Aaron), as well as several other business titles.
It’s an understatement to call Guerrilla Marketing a modern marketing classic, without which no marketing library is really complete. This book is packed with good general advice about marketing, advertising, and branding for business owners and entrepreneurs, as well as a generous helping of creative ideas and illustrative anecdotes.
Levinson shines the most when he is discussing what marketing is (or what it should be).
To Levinson, one definition of effective marketing is “the truth made fascinating.” On a broader scale he notes that marketing encompasses every bit of contact a company has with the outside world. This includes but is not limited to the name of your business, the type of products and/or services you offer, your packaging, your company’s physical location(s) if applicable, all of your advertising, PR, and branding activities, your business plan, the people who work for you or represent you, and even your own personal attitude and passion. In short, Levinson reminds us, any business is a rich mine for endless marketing opportunities.
A guerrilla marketer, says Levinson, understands that marketing is the art of getting people to either change their minds or to maintain their mindsets if they are already prone to doing business with you. “Every little thing you do and show and say — not only your advertising or your Web site — is going to affect people’s perceptions of you,” writes Levinson. And he stresses that marketing must be directed not only to prospects but also to current customers. “More than half your marketing time should be devoted to your existing customers,” he writes. “A cornerstone of guerrilla marketing is customer follow- up. Without it, all that you’ve invested into getting those customers is like dust in the wind.”
In the pages of Guerrilla Marketing, Levinson spends a great deal of time and effort elaborating upon his philosophy of marketing and offering motivational tidbits as well as offering a wealth of helpful hints. Most business owners and entrepreneurs will probably find something they can use in these pages, even if it’s just a bit of encouragement and moral support. Levinson also has some interesting things to say about the creative process, and shares numerous examples of marketing creativity in action.
That said, this not a flawless book, and even though as noted above your marketing library wouldn’t be complete without it, it is probably not the only marketing book you’ll ever need. This book does have its limitations, one of them being that in a sense, the “guerrilla marketing” concept is a victim of its own success. In an age in which so many people claim to be employing “guerrilla” tactics for marketing and other clearly non-combat activities, the material just isn’t as cutting edge as it was when Levinson first introduced the concept in the early 1980s. Guerrilla marketing (or guerrilla anything) is no longer revolutionary and has become a cliché, though admittedly one of which ambitious entrepreneurs never seem to tire. Through books and ancillary products, Internet events, and workshops, Levinson has flogged his brand to within an inch of its life – and his Guerrilla Marketing machine just keeps churning out new stuff.
One obvious problem with wide-scale adoption of the guerrilla marketing mindset is that as more companies hop on to the “creative/unconventional” bandwagon, it can become ever more challenging to carve out new frontiers and make oneself stand out from the crowd. In other words, the formerly “unexpected” becomes yawningly commonplace, and the public grows quickly weary of what was once an intriguing variety of come-on. (Marketers and ad agencies do love to copycat each other, and this can sometimes get annoying.) On the other hand, human creativity knows no bounds, and it seems there’s always some game changer – a technological breakthrough, a new Internet avenue, or something completely different – that no one could have predicted. So perhaps the cliché aspect of the whole guerrilla-marketing shtick is a moot point in the end.
In any case Guerrilla Marketing has other limitations, perhaps the most important one being that despite its subtitle that promises easy and inexpensive strategies for small businesses, quite a lot of the advice about strategy isn’t really applicable to small business owners or individual entrepreneurs with small (or nonexistent) marketing budgets. There’s no denying that, due in large part to the Internet – and particularly to social media – cleverness, creativity, and high energy can take an individual entrepreneur or small business owner much further today than was possible in past years. But in the end, the large companies with the enormous budgets will end up grabbing the lion’s share of public attention, as well as the largest market share and, of course, the premium retail shelf space. And as long as there are brick-and-mortar stores, that latter point matters.
Still, the Internet does give the smaller players a fighting chance, which is why it is somewhat distressing that Guerrilla Marketing covers relatively little about online marketing, even though this edition was published in 2007. And it has virtually nothing about social media, which, admittedly, hadn’t yet exploded in 2007. Not to worry, though; there’s always Guerrilla Social Media Marketing: 100+ Weapons to Grow Your Online Influence, Attract Customers, and Drive Profits, the cover of which cleverly sports a pair of camo-patterned Twitter-ish looking birds. And to the author’s credit, he does have a rather extensive chapter in Guerrilla Marketing on e-marketing, and he acknowledges elsewhere in the book that the Internet is becoming an increasingly vital part of any marketing campaign. As any savvy business owner knows, marketing sans the Internet has become a thing of the past.
In all fairness to Levinson, his collaborators, and the publisher, the rapidly changing world we live in today has made it much more difficult for a print book about the “latest and greatest” marketing ideas to stay up to date. That’s why there are numerous little snippets of advice throughout this book that aren’t quite relevant anymore, and some that even seem a little quaint, such as Levinson’s discussion of gift certificates, or his inclusion of faxing as a viable “Minimedia” marketing strategy. Apropos of the latter, there are also a few broader concepts with which one could easily take issue. For instance, the book’s division of marketing media categories into “Minimedia,” (e.g., writing letters and canvassing local neighborhoods), “Maximedia” (traditional broadcast and print media) and “New media” (including the Internet) seems a little outdated by now. More and more, the Internet is king, particularly as broadcast and many print media expand their online presence.
There seems to be an underlying contradiction in this book too. Levinson repeatedly insists that guerrilla marketing is as simple as can be, and at the same time cautions that you can’t just jump into it, the strong implication being that you need to read every word in this long book before you can truly be a guerrilla marketer.
And then there are a few minor quibbles. Some readers might be a little put off by the author’s excessive self-promotion, and some might take issue with his endorsement of some colleagues whose business practices (particularly their online marketing strategies) have come under fire in recent years. Another negligible problem is that the text-heavy and white-space-deficient layout may try the patience (and eyes) of busy and distracted readers. As noted, though, those are minor and have more to do with individual reader preferences than with the merit of the advice in the book. Perhaps these are points that the author and publisher can keep in mind for subsequent editions of Guerrilla Marketing, which are almost certainly in the offing.
Despite the book’s flaws, it would be a mistake to dismiss it, as much of the information in it remains useful – if for no reason other than its value as a study of the evolution of marketing over the past twenty-plus years. Levinson has been around a long time, since the days of old-school marketing and advertising, and he has a pretty good grasp of these industries’ history and methods. For this and many other reasons, Guerrilla Marketing is a worthwhile addition to your business bookshelf.
* Guerrilla Marketing is currently available in paperback and on Kindle.
Amazon link for paperback print edition reviewed here: http://www.amazon.com/Guerrilla-Marketing-4th-Inexpensive-Strategies/dp/0618785914
Visit the author’s official Guerrilla Marketing Web site at http://www.gmarketing.com.
Based on this review, would you read this book?
The author of this review was provided the book by Capital Access Network, Inc. The views expressed represent those of the author and do not reflect those of Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries. Any opinions and/or advice expressed by the author do not imply endorsement by Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries.