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Three Guerilla Tactics for Colleges and Community Colleges

August 20, 2013

Next year, we will mark the 30th anniversary of the term “guerilla marketing.” Yet, three decades after Levinson published his seminal book on the subject (Guerilla Marketing, Houghton Mifflin), many business people – even those in marketing – are hard pressed to clearly explain what the term means, much less apply it to something as narrowly focused as a community college. The concept is simple: If you’re not a BIG business, Madison Avenue doesn’t care about you. What’s more, the marketing practices they prescribe for their BIG business clients won’t work for you. If you want to be successful in an increasingly competitive marketplace, you’re going to have to stop fighting in an arena you can’t afford: traditional advertising. You’re going to have to fight your fight in the trenches. Unglamorously. And that may mean swallowing your pride.

You’ve probably seen, on your way out of the grocery store, tacked to the community bulletin board, a photocopied sheet of paper, reading: “Maid Service.” And at the bottom of the page, you’ll find carefully torn strips, each of which has a telephone number you can call to hire the poster. That’s one example of guerilla marketing. Fortunately, it’s also the least glamorous.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find viral marketing videos. Often hosted on sites like YouTube, these infectiously funny (or poignant) low-budget videos tell a story so compellingly, that viewers feel a need to share them with friends.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all this,” you’re thinking; “Let’s get to the part about tactics for community colleges!” Here you go…

Coffee Sleeves: Check out the coffee shops in your area – not Starbucks, but the homespun ones. Get a sample of what they use for coffee sleeves (you’ll need the dimensions). And ask them if they would use free printed sleeves from the college, if you supplied them. Then come up with a clever tease and print both sides of the sleeve (the finger side and the thumb side, not the inside!). Here are a few ideas:

  • Would you be happier with a different career? // [Name of College] can help!
  • Don’t let time slip through your fingers. // Enrich your life with [Name of College]
  • The world is constantly changing. // Prepare yourself at [Name of College]

Graduating Mascot: Create a junior-sized version of your school mascot. In coordination with a local high school, have the younger mascot “graduate” from high school. Then, when the mascot receives his diploma, announce a scholarship winner for one of the high school students who is graduating from that high school. Consider a tuition-free semester at your community college (less than $2k at many community colleges). It could become a tradition! And the cost of the scholarship would be well offset by the publicity with students’ parents and younger siblings.

Dollar Bill Labels: Print small, removable adhesive labels and stick them to dollar bills. The labels could say something like, “Tuition dollars go farther at [Name of College].” Run a hot-dog stand at community events or local high school sporting events, and hand out the stickered dollar bills in people’s change. Recruit local businesses to participate in your campaign, and exchange your “marked” bills with theirs.

You get the idea. Guerilla campaigns don’t have to be elaborate, but they should be clever and fun.

“Wait! Is this all you got?” you ask… Of course not. For the really good stuff, you’ll have to call. :)

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