Why Old-Fashioned Billboards Should Be Part of Startup Marketing
When it comes to making a splash, startups tend to think only of modern marketing tactics like paid social media and search advertising it will be fine. However, there is a unique opportunity for startups and scale-ups to adopt an old-school marketing strategy in particular: billboards.
Plastering something on an outdoor board might seem like an idea from the stone age of marketing. But online channels like Facebook and Instagram are crowded and not like as profitable as they once were. Anyone’s competitors can access the same targeting data and ad buying dashboards.
Here’s how we took on Microsoft and Google with €1,300 and a billboard – and how other startups can leverage this tactic.
From San Francisco to Europe
Startups across the Atlantic have been aware of the power of billboards for quite some time now. Venture capital-backed companies including Eaze, Airbnb and Brex have posted huge billboards across San Francisco to grab attention. Given the huge concentration of tech talent in San Francisco, you even see B2B companies like MongoDB using billboards to telegraph highly technical messages that would go over most consumers’ heads.
Fun to see our #MongoDB live billboard on 101! ~Friends don’t let REAL friends use relational databases pic.twitter.com/CppDAJa3oC
— Meagen Eisenberg (@meisenberg) September 6, 2018
In Europe, it is mainly companies in direct contact with consumers that have taken advantage of billboards. In London, ota put up massive billboards to convince companies to be more transparent about salaries, while the digital mortgage broker habitat caught the attention of city commuters with a outspoken Tube advertising campaign. On the mainland, fast grocery app Gorillas complemented funding announcements with billboards dotted around Berlin.
We’ve put up massive billboards in London to try to convince companies to be more transparent.
Only 5% of job postings have salaries. We think that needs to change!
Posters alone won’t be enough – we have many more planned to try to make pay transparency a reality. Watch this place pic.twitter.com/Ky0S9gejBi
—Otta (@OttaHQ) November 9, 2021
We recently succeeded in using this tactic when we plastered two billboards outside Microsoft and Google headquarters. The goal was to challenge the dominance of these gigantic incumbents by drawing attention to their outdated spreadsheet software, positioning our company as the best alternative to Excel and Google Sheets. We thought using billboards would be a humorous and slightly provocative way to position ourselves — David and Goliath style — and build on our recent brand marketing initiatives.
Lasting two weeks, the campaign generated over 2,000 new signups and cost just €1,300 including photography – a fraction of some of the costs associated with other online marketing tactics and of public relations. Not only did we see sign-ups increase, but the posts also spread organically on social media. the tweet we posted days before the billboards received over 100,000 impressions.
So really, what’s so great about billboards?
Think about it: billboards allow your brand to present itself to a large number of people in a specific geographic area. It could be perfect for a rising startup that no one knows about. Outdoor advertising can be a great way to reach large numbers of people, making startups look bigger than they really are and building consumer trust. Moreover, this dynamic not only stimulates sales, but can also help attract investors.
As startups become scale-ups, the focus of outdoor advertising shifts towards increasing brand frequency. That’s why some of the best outdoor ads are aimed at commuters (as seen with Habito). How often a person sees an ad helps build the brand in that person’s mind.
Moreover, the beauty of billboards in the digital age is that through social media, the message can reach many more people than those who pass through a physical billboard. In our experience, if the post is catchy and adventurous enough, people will photograph it and share it on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and more. From there, this kind of digital traction can help support PR campaigns for editorial coverage.
Of course, that doesn’t mean startups looking for a new way to tell their story should rely on billboards alone. This method is a great way to build brand awareness, but as part of a larger integrated campaign to capture and drive demand. Another way to think about it is to avoid Batman’s loneliness for an Avengers-style approach. Ultimately, founders who make billboards a central part of an integrated marketing campaign will be rewarded with tangible results and feel like their brand is everywhere – an opportunity too good to resist.
Humberto Ayres Pereira is CEO and co-founder of Lines.
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