Americans commute—a lot. Catch their attention now.
The average American spent 25.5 minutes a day commuting each way to work in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—not to mention the nearly 600,000 “megacommuters” who travel for 90 minutes or 50 miles. On a long commute or road trip, a funny, quirky or memorable billboard is a welcome sight for drivers and a powerful advertising medium for small business owners.
Before launching a consulting firm, Jennifer Martin, founder and owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco and Ojai, California, worked for Clear Channel Communication’s outdoor advertising division for 11 years. As the company’s Southern California Real Estate Manager, she helped businesses create effective billboards, and she shares her advice here.
1. Consider your purpose
Billboards can work well as directional signs to a brick-and-mortar location if displayed over a long time period, or for shorter-term showings in high traffic areas to promote a product to a broad market, Martin says. To get the biggest return on your investment, take the same approach as with any print advertising: Make a 3 to 6 month commitment to promote your product or service in areas where potential clients will see them.
If you can afford only one sign for one month, another advertising medium will most likely be more effective for your small business. “Generally, billboards on their own aren’t the best use of marketing dollars if a small business only has a limited amount of money to spend on marketing,” Martin says. “They’re great for consumables or companies that want to round out their marketing buy—think TV, radio, print and online—as well as introduce a new product to a broad-based market and expand brand awareness.”
2. Find the right location
Ideally, if a sign is being used to promote a local business (such as a dry cleaner, restaurant or accounting firm), the location of a billboard should be close to your business and on a busy street where prospective clients will be traveling. That said, different businesses have different geographical reaches: Customers may be willing to drive an hour away to enjoy a day of paintball, but they might not travel as far to eat at a new restaurant if there’s a similar one closer to them.
3. Less is more
It may be a cliché that a picture says 1,000 words, but when it comes to billboards, it’s true, Martin says. For instance, a Tylenol billboard featured a wrecking ball smashing into a man’s head. The sensation is familiar for those who suffer from headaches, and through the image, Tylenol suggests that their product is the answer to the problem.
Martin suggests getting your message across in as few words as possible—seven words, maximum. “You want to be clever, interesting and catchy in a way that will entice your potential clients to take action and feel good about your product or service,” she says.
4. Call to action
A billboard’s photo and text must inspire viewers to do something: call, visit your website or stop by your business. Common terms include “call today,” “buy one today” or “visit our website.” Phone numbers and website addresses are OK to include on a billboard, Martin says, “as long as they’re huge and easy to read.” One successful example is Geico’s “A 15-minute call could save you 15 percent.”