Don’t Forget the Basics

For the last year my client work has been overwhelmingly digital. Aside from occasional on-site meetings, my day-to-day has consisted of creating content for the web and fostering online community.The content and communities have an offline end in strategy, but my role has been primarily in the digital startup phase.

Over the next few months, though, I’ll be executing a series of offline events, and I ran across a great reminder in the preparation process.

Beyond human-to-human interaction, one of the most powerful tools at offline events is also the most simple: signage.

Admittedly, the churn of producing and distributing digital content, both in volume and in breadth of channels, makes the potential impact of one vinyl sign feel singular (and expensive). Some people interpret such media shifts to mean that marketing is dead (1), but that line of thought flirts with the danger of forgetting the basics. One of those basics is that traditional – offline – signage is really important.

Last year the University of Cincinnati surveyed 100,000 households inquiring about “the usefulness of various media.” (2) Interestingly, “only television was ranked more highly than signage as the most useful source of new product information.” Researcher J. Kellaris continues:

Although television was rated as the most useful source of new-product information, indoor signage (such as those at point-of sale, e.g., signage at the ends of store aisles or at check outs) tied with magazine ads as the second most useful source. And outdoor signage ranked third, followed by radio ads, Internet ads and finally, newspaper ads.

A great reminder that wielding what feels like the most primitive tool in our toolbox is also the most useful. Not surprisingly, marketing spends support this notion in at least one category. We spent a billion dollars more on outdoor advertising last year than we did in 2002. (3)

Kellaris summarizes well:

So, what we found was that signage, a basic form of technology and communication that evolved in antiquity still works even in today’s Internet age.


• (1) – Some people claim that ‘marketing is dead.’
• (2) – You can read more about the University of Cincinnati study here.
• (3) – Facts and Figures on outdoor advertising from the OAAA.

  • http://mariareyesmcdavis.com Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Such a great reminder! I am in a constant cycle of having to remind clients–get back to the basics and get them right or you’re missing opportunities that are right in front of your face.

  • http://twitter.com/ebarbaric Ernest Barbaric

    What a great post! We so often get mired in our own world (I’m also in the digital space), that we often forget to think about the ACTUAL customer experience, and simple signage is a great reminder of that.

    Let me also add that I’ve been a fan of Brains on Fire since I read the book. I share it with my students regularly :)

  • http://twitter.com/schmidtrx Eric Schmidt

    So many places / strategies are combining the digital / traditional outdoor advertising. High Definition monitors at the ends of aisles promoting a continuous stream of products. Electronic billboards that actually make a traffic jam more enjoyable. How does that increase of one billion dollars relate to these improved forms of marketing? Essentially, is there MORE outdoor marketing or is there an increased cost in these exotic forms of outdoor marketing. I love this post. Excellent as usual Eric.