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Published in Branding category on (10/04/2016)

Ambush Marketing: the 2016 of Guerrilla Marketing

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How Ambush Marketing Can Establish Brand Equity at Events Like Dreamforce 2016

While I was at Dreamforce, I remembered that when I first started my job as an editor at a New York lifestyle magazine, one of the first questions I was asked by my Editor in Chief was: do you know what guerilla marketing is? This was back in 2008 before ambush marketing was a thing, when blogs were “new,” web design was clunky, and phrases like ‘below the fold’ actually held weight. So, I poured over copies of Adweek, I bought a book on guerilla marketing, and soon, I was that annoying editor adding comments on popular blogs and articles like: “Great post, for more information on top fashion trends, read [Insert my magazine’s article].” Every time I hit the comment button, even if I was providing valuable information or a link to an article that readers might actually enjoy, I felt skeezy. Where was the line between being helpful and being self-promotional? Instead of feeling like I was using an innovative form of social networking, I felt like I was spamming the comments section. It made me wonder, is guerilla marketing for everyone? Where does good personal branding end and bad form begin?

Ann Friedman illustrates this tension between ethics, marketing, “personal branding,” and content creation beautifully in her article called Me, Inc.: The Paradoxical, Pressure-filled Quest to Build a “Personal Brand” that she wrote for The New Republic. She says,

Today, Fortune 500 companies hold seminars to train their employees in the art of personal branding, and an entire industry of coaches is flourishing to teach nonprofit managers and small-business owners how to get a leg up on the competition. By the year 2020, according to software company Intuit, 40 percent of the workforce will consist of freelancers and independent contractors. Whether you’re a financial planner or a fashion blogger, a personal brand has come to seem like a professional requirement—the key to success and fulfillment in an increasingly cutthroat and unstable economy. “Every person is a media company,” said Dan Schawbel, 32, a brand consultant in New York and one of the leading figures in the personal branding industry.”

We can take the same points that Friedman is making about personal branding and apply them to B2B marketing. Fortune 500 companies have the shared goals of consultants and marketers to establish brand equity, become known as leaders in their field, and set, instead of follow, the trends. In many ways, every employee at a company is a “brand ambassador” and how they interact with prospects and customers is a reflection of their company’s brand. So, as Dreamforce 2016 is well underway, while you’re there, how can you take on an industry and present marketing in a way that feels true to your brand, true to you, and paves a direction that customers will want to follow?

In 2016, the answer does not lie in guerilla marketing, but in ambush marketing. What is ambush marketing? One definition of ambush marketing, according to the Wall Street Journal, is “a brand’s attempt to associate itself with a team or event without buying the rights to do so, in order to detract from a rival that paid to be an official sponsor.” But ambush marketing is more than that. Ambush marketing is a tactic for marketers to build upon the brand equity of another established event and shift the attention to your company, services, or product. There are many different types of ambush marketing for events like Dreamforce: you can host parties that are related to an event, create spin-off events, use themes/values of the event during your event marketing activities, or lead street-style promotions during the event, to name a few. Need a more concrete example of creative ambush marketing?

A classic example of ambush marketing was how Nike used their shoe design at the 2012 Olympics to showcase their product, without officially being an event sponsor of the Olympics. Nike’s Volt shoe was neon and purposely contrasted with the athlete’s uniforms to stand out and bring attention to their design. However, since 2012, many event sponsors and hosts have learned the power of ambush marketing and have consolidated efforts to avoid it. So, for example, the Rio Olympics cracked down hard on any brand that was not specifically sponsoring the event from using the phrase “Rio”, “Olympics”, or even “gold” from their promotional materials. So, keep in mind that ambush marketing is often not smiled upon by the hosts of the event, as they are investing in sponsorship of the event for their own branding purposes and frown upon competitors.  

But, now that Dreamforce is here, the ultimate tech conference of the year, how can you use ambush marketing to your advantage at an event that you are attending, but not necessarily exhibiting at or hosting? Here is what you need to do for an effective ambush marketing campaign.

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Research Your Event

You cannot effectively leverage ambush marketing at an event until you have done your research. Understand the culture surrounding the event, and know the community. Earlier, when I referenced commenting on a competitor’s blog or article as an editor, it was because I thought it was an excellent example of not doing my research. If I wanted to successfully comment and direct people towards my website, I should have first, researched the publication and its community first.  

To do this at an event, you need to attend it. Beyond sessions and keynotes, do your best to attend as many parties, lunches, and meetings as possible. Get a feel for the demographic, who is attending, and what their needs are. Attend an event with other colleagues, then divide and conquer and share your learnings. From there, brainstorm on, and ask yourself, “what’s missing?”

Can you host or co-host a concert, comedy hour, or event launch at a venue near the event? Can you find out who will be attending the main event and then book appointments to see your prospect or customer while they’re there? Once you have a strong feel for the event and it’s reputation, you can then start creating strategies for successful ambush marketing.

Know Your Community

Know your audience! For an effective ambush marketing strategy, it’s important to know: who is attending the principal event? Is it an event targeting SMBs or enterprise customers? What’s the age demographic? Are the prospects at the event early, mid, or late-stage in their buyer’s journey?

In the previous section, we focused on the importance of researching the event, and that includes having previous experience networking at the event. What worked well for you in the past and what didn’t? As Christine Hansen, Certain’s VP of Partner Marketing and Alliances recently wrote in her blog post on networking like a boss at Dreamforce, she said, “I’m always interested in knowing what prospects and customers hope to get out of the event. So ask! There are so many elements to major industry events, like Dreamforce, an open-ended question like this is a window into the thought process of your new acquaintance. You will learn something!”

So approaching event attendees and finding out what they’re looking for and honing in on it for your own ambush marketing strategy is key.

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Strike at the Right Moment

Use the buzz generated by an event to boost the visibility of your own event, product, or service. This applies especially to social media, for example, by sharing and liking posts affiliated with the primary event. By doing this, you’re creating brand awareness around your product and industry, while at the same time giving the event even more attention.

If you have a complementary product or service as the event provider, send out posts on social media that tie the two together, that way your brand gets a boost by “brand association.” Doing this can increase your brand’s exposure well after the event, and it can get more eyes and ears on your product.

As for the question of when to strike with your own ambush marketing campaign, you can leverage ambush marketing before, during, or after an event. Some ingenious examples of ambush marketing include referencing or highlighting an ad campaign pre-event and then doing your own successful spin-off. Others include hosting events like Slamdance, that leverage the attention, press, and audience of an established and like-minded event, and hosting an event at the same time.

There are many tactics in order to have a successful ambush marketing campaign that seamlessly attaches to powerhouse events like Dreamforce. So, research your event, get to know the community around it, and then strike while the iron is hot. There are so many inventive ways to do this. Get creative with your ambush marketing campaign, because it’s not necessarily who did an event first, it’s who did an event best.

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