The Purpose Of A Billboard

The purpose of a billboard is to interrupt as many people as possible, to create awareness not necessarily impact, to broadcast instead of engage.

I’ve passed a lot of forgettable billboards, pleading from the side of highways on my travels this week—maybe you have too. The only ones that left any kind of impact were part of Apple’s stunning user created ‘Shot on iPhone 6′ campaign. The marketing works despite the medium, because the billboard doesn’t tell us what the product can do, the images show us who we might become in its presence. We are moved by them because they tell the user’s, and not the company’s story. No description of features and benefits required.

Powerful marketing is both smart and generous, we know it when we experience it, because it changes how we feel and gives us a story to tell. Weak marketing is obvious and selfish, we know that when we see or hear it, because it screams ‘LOOK AT ME!’ and leaves us cold.

We might not be Apple, but we each have more power to connect with and impact people than a billboard can, how we use it is a choice.

When our marketing changes how people feel and holds a mirror up to the customer—telling their story, not ours, we’re on the right track.

Image by kind permission of gifted photographer Julian Bialowas. His photo is featured here in the iPhone 6 campaign.

Traditional Marketing Vs. New Marketing

We recoil from the traditional marketing tactics that we are exposed to every day. We install ad blockers and put up barriers that help us to keep interruptions at bay. We recognise poorly thought out marketing strategies in a heartbeat, and yet when it comes to marketing our own products and services we often fall into the trap of using those terrible tactics (or some version of them) ourselves.

We have two choices:




It seems easier in the moment to adopt a ‘traditional marketing’ mindset—to create, run on ahead and talk about ourselves instead of first understanding the customer’s worldview. Listening is hard. Knowing what to pay attention to is harder. It takes both commitment and practice, but when you choose ‘new marketing’ you’ll find you’ve created something worth paying attention to.

Image by Spyros Papaspyropoulos.

Amplify The Good

As soon as she handed the keycard for the upgraded room to the formerly disgruntled (now beaming) guest, the receptionist smiled and handed her a second card. Her eyes held those of the woman who had been complaining loudly only five minutes before.

Would you please consider giving us a review on Trip Advisor, the website details are on this card?
Thanks so much, it means a lot to us.”

We spend a lot of resources fighting fires, dealing with unrealistic or unfulfilled expectations and yet we do virtually nothing to help cement the great experiences we deliver to customers all the time.

When we begin enabling and amplifying the good we create an environment that facilitates customer delight. When proactively nurture post positive interactions our posture shifts—instead of looking for ways to fight fires we seek out opportunities to fill our buckets with water.

It’s far easier to fight fires if the water buckets are half full before you start.

Image by Georgette Tan.

Reasons To Choose

Reasons are at the heart of all marketing.

Our marketing aims to give people reasons to choose—an explanation or a nudge about why they should buy. The biggest mistake we make is failing to match our reasons with the potential customer’s motivations.

Your most important job as a marketer isn’t to tell people why they should buy—it’s to find out where they want to go and to take them there.

Image by Vern.

Betting On Maybe

There are many reasons why Melbourne has been crowned World’s Most Liveable City four years running—great coffee is just one. It’s impossible to walk a hundred metres in any direction without stumbling on a place to grab a ‘good enough’ macchiato, so there’s a lot of competition in the coffee business and no shortage of new operators entering the fray.

In the suburb where I live cafes line both sides of the street—some so close they literally touch each other. So I was surprised to see two new white tables and a set of blue stools appear unannounced on the pavement, beyond where the shopping strip ends last Monday morning. Unused cups, stacked high on the pristine coffee machine were visible from gleaming windows, as were the two business owners who peered out hopefully at every passer by willing them to come in and give the cafe a try. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. It’s only a maybe because these passers by don’t have a coffee problem. There is no reason to switch from the Albert Park Deli that’s been going for forty years, or the place on the corner with more room inside and out, complete with shade, heaters and blankets for frigid winter days.

The new cafe owners have fallen into the ‘build first, sell later’ trap and now they are forced to come up with a marketing plan to attract people— a story that makes more people want what they sell. This strategy might work well if you’re creating a minimum viable product like an app that requires a small bet to test and then refine, but the Lean Startup methodology is harder to apply to a business like a cafe where there’s a significant investment up front. A two year lease isn’t easy to pivot.

Contrast this shiny, new, empty cafe story to the one of the vegetarian, organic wholefood, (only raw treats sold here) cafe that opened a couple of months before. They don’t just sell fair trade coffee, they sell a story to people with a particular worldview.

So what should the blue stool owners do now beyond stand there looking terrified and hopeful in spotless aprons? They must start thinking less about ‘what’ they sell, and more ‘who for’. Then they need to give that specific person (not everyone) a reason to want to come inside and a story to believe in and share. Because freshly roasted coffee beans do not make or break a cafe in a world where good is a given.

A cafe is not just a place to sit, where drinks are served. It’s more than tables and chairs, croissants and raspberry chocolate chip muffins. A cafe is a feeling we want to experience. Whatever we spend our money on, from a song to a donation tells us something about who we are and what matters to us, and even a $4 coffee needs a story about ritual or community, sustainability or quality, convenience or indulgence, that we can buy into.

Image by Dorte.

What Does This Advertising Do?

It’s easy to erect a billboard that broadcasts to everyone—far harder to build a bridge to meaningful engagement with the people who matter.

If it’s not helping you to get closer to your customers then it’s not worth doing.

Image by Daniel.

Two Ways To Market

Which marketing is more effective?

“Let me tell you about our best ever chocolate cake. All of the ingredients are sourced locally.
The butter is hand churned from the milk of Brown Swiss cows and the eggs were freshly laid this morning. We use fair trade organic cacao and the finest quality Belgian dark chocolate.
Our signature cake takes longer to make because of the triple sifting process we use, that creates a moist, melt-in-the-mouth sponge. It is finished with a rich chocolate ganache and hand shaved white chocolate and is guaranteed to change the way you think about chocolate cake forever.
You’ll love it!”


“Tell me more about your birthday party guests…”

We can talk about our excellence and hope that people will listen, or we can simply be excellent and give them a story to tell. Our best marketing is in the listening and doing, not the telling.

Image by Guillermo Fdez.

Questioning The Questions—The Truth About Your Data

You’ve probably been on one of those calls to a service provider where having pressed, one, then two, then one again and being on hold for fifteen minutes you finally get to speak to a human being. Sadly, the undervalued team member at the call centre is charged with doing his best to troubleshoot his way off this call and on to the next in the minimum amount of time, while trying to avoid escalating your enquiry to a call out.

Eventually with the appointment time booked (without written confirmation as there is no template in his system that allows him to send an email or text) the operator asks if you can, ‘hang on the line to answer a two question survey to rate his service today, which was hopefully ten out of ten.’

And the questions are as follows:

A. Did we solve your problem today?
Yes or no.

B. On a scale of 1–10 how likely are you to recommend us to family and friends?
10 being the, ‘without a doubt because you are so awesome score.’

This kind of quantitative data gathering is flawed on so many levels. The framing of the questions is designed to get the answer you’re hoping for, and not necessarily the right answer or the most useful answer—the one that’s going to help your business to improve and make customers rave about your service.

12 Questions To Help You Gather More Useful Data

1. What are we really measuring here?

2. Are we willing to be more wrong than right?

3. Does what we are measuring actually help us to serve the customer better?

4. Who is this data trying to please?

5. Why does this matter to the customer?

6. What does the customer want us to obsess about?

7. How does what we measure change the posture of our team for better or worse?

8. Are we asking the right questions in the right way?

9. How to we know that we’re asking the most useful questions?

10. Are we trying to get at the truth so we can fix something or are we trying to confound it.

11. If we could only measure one thing what would that be?

12. Why aren’t we already measuring that?

The most useful questions we can ask are often the ones that prove us wrong rather than right.

Image by IMF.

The Secrets To Consistent Marketing

Consistent marketing…

Demonstrates a clear understanding about who the product (and thus the marketing) is for.

Focuses on the change being created for the customer rather than on what is being sold.

Aligns with and reinforces the company’s purpose beyond a single bottom line.

Communicates love for and to the customer.

Doesn’t feel like marketing.

Image by Robert Neff.

Your Best Offer Advantage

While working on my next book I was considering commissioning some independent research. Following a Skype conversation with a representative from a global research firm, where the investment seemed way outside my budget I received “some great news for in the form of a quote!”

The consultant had spoken to a colleague and had called in a “personal favour”. I could now access an all caps, FREE trial license and gather up to the 800 responses needed for statistical significance. The cost to me— just $5,000 (significantly less than the verbal quote), the caveat being we needed to bill the project by the end of the month.

Nine days after the end of month deadline I got another email saying that he wasn’t sure we actually needed 800 responses after all, and that with just 385 completed surveys we could gather data with a 95% CI and .05 margin of error. This would cut the cost of the project in half.
I could be done and dusted for $2526.

By now it was very obvious how the sales consultant was motivated and rewarded. He must close the sale by any means possible, but not by bringing the highest value the company had to offer to the table until he had no choice. It must be hard to get up and bring yourself to work every day if your job is to convince people to pay the most possible for the least amount of effort.

Maybe this is what it takes to survive in the 21 billion dollar market research industry? But when you reach the point where you’ll do almost anything to close the deal then it shows.

There isn’t a single customer on the planet who wants to feel like they were closed, and another 7.3 billion and counting who want to be made to feel like they matter—that we did our best by them in every sense of the word.

Image by Daniel Weir.

Get free articles & a brand strategy workbook in your inbox.