Marketing Lessons from a Street Artist

Tech writer Angelo Fernando says, “Street artists know a lot more about engagement than all of us Facebook-savvy users put together.”

I was going through a pile of papers in my “to file (someday) pile” the other day, and I found Fernando’s fantastic article from the September-October 2009 issue of Communication World magazine.  In it, he describes walking through London’s Trafalgar Square–with its noise, advertising, and crowds–and discovering a silent protester, painstakingly creating a sculpture on the pavement out of coins donated by passersby, hoping to “raise awareness that the global financial crisis was caused by greed.”  Fernando was struck by the fact that “there are some basic [marketing] elements that our man on the street seemed to understand, drawing on a long tradition of connecting, creating, and communicating.”

All of us are competing for attention in a very busy, over-stimulating, technology-enabled marketplace.  It’s easy to be tempted to hop on the latest bandwagon out of fear of being left behind.  But most smart marketers and PR people I know advise developing wise, informed approaches that target your goals, audience, and budget carefully.  I won’t copy the article for you here, but I’d like to comment on Fernando’s essential questions, which I think provide a nice framework for starting to make common-sense decisions about where and how you promote your business:

  • “Do I need to shout to get attention?”
    As many a kindergarten teacher can tell you, sometimes a whisper is far more effective than a shout!
  • “Is my pitch too wordy?  Is my copy too long?” 
    Does anyone really read all that copy anyway?  Sometimes I say (only half-joking) that more than half of what I write never gets read, especially if it’s written for a client’s website.  Web designers’ need to incorporate keywords often has led to Moby Dick-length webpages:  I can’t tell you how often I look at a company’s home page and think, “I can’t even tell who they are or what they are selling!”  I’m seeing a swing back toward simplicity now, and it really helps clarify companies’ messaging.
  • “Is it user-supported?”
    You can show and tell people anything you want to, but getting them directly involved ups their engagement exponentially.
  • “Does it pay?”
    Does your content pay for itself, or is it content for content’s sake?  This question is often asked when the topic of advertising comes up, but it’s no less relevant if you’re developing brochures, white papers, websites, or a Twitter presence.  Everything costs you something…are you getting a return?
  • “Will it drive traffic?” 
    Whether you want to drive traffic to a website or a brick-and-mortar shop, placement of your message is key.  Where do the people you want to attract normally go?  How can you get them to go from there to your location?
  • “Is it in the Creative Commons?” 
    The book Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson talks about this idea in depth; people are reluctant to pay for information they know they can get somewhere else for free.  As Fernando put it, to the artist, “this message belonged to his audience.”
  • “Is the timing relevant?”
    There are all kinds of “rules” about content delivery: “Never issue a press release on Friday.” “Email blasts should be sent Tuesdays or Wednesdays.” All the same, though, there are ways to be creative about timing! Day of the week or time of day may not be the most relevant factor.
  • “Does it start a conversation?” 
    Fernando’s point here is that provocative ads designed to get “buzz” often have short-lived power, and they may provoke negative buzz.  To me, this is one of the key points about marketing in the Internet age.  Conversation is going to happen about your products and services as long as people are buying them.  Why not initiate some of the conversation?  You’ll likely shape positive perception of your company, and you might just learn something from your customers.
  • “Is it adaptable?”
    I’m going to quote Fernando here, because he wrote it best:  “Pavement may seem a boring platform compared with TypePad or YouTube.  But the street artist was not confined to the rules of the place.  He could take his message to the base of Nelson’s column or to Westminster, and change his ‘headline’ as he desired.”  This is especially important if budget is a concern for you!  Be intentional and intelligent about developing core messages that resonate with your audience…no matter what the medium is.
  • “Is it creative enough?”
    This one’s self-explanatory, and I think it wraps up all the others, too.

Re-reading Fernando’s article has obviously inspired me to do some thinking about my own marketing efforts.  I hope it provokes you to look at your marketing and PR efforts in a new way, too.

Unless something else fascinating crosses my desk before then, my next post will be a review of Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? and maybe something else from my reading list.  Stay tuned!




All I want for Christmas is….BOOKS!

I am fortunate enough to have everything I need this holiday season, but there are always books that I want.  So for this post, I thought I would share what’s on my current work-related “to read” list, as well as my “wish list” for the first part of 2012.  Maybe my list will inspire you to check out some of the titles.  If you’ve read any of these yourself, I’d love to hear YOUR reviews.  Happy reading, everyone!

In my “To Read” pile, you’ll find…

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences.

“System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.  Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior.”

Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin.

“There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, by David Brodzinsky, et al.

“Recent studies have shown that being adopted can affect many aspects of adoptees’ lives, from relationships with adoptive parents to bonds with their own children. Using their combined total of 55 years experience in clinical and research work with adoptees and their families, the authors use the voices of adoptees themselves to trace how adoption is experienced over a lifetime.”


And some of the books on my list for Santa are…

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time:  What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You, by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten.

“This collection is more than just a list. Covert and Sattersten highlight important takeaways and put each book in context. Their insights can help anyone cut through the clutter and discover the business books that are truly worth their time and money.”

Too Big to Know:  Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, by David Weinberger.

“This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge—from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts—providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world.”

Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, by William C. Taylor.

Practically Radical goes deep inside twenty-five for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations to find out how they’ve made remarkable strides in tough circumstances. They include IBM, Zappos, Swatch, the Girl Scouts, Interpol, big-city hospitals, fast-growing banks, and high-flying airlines.”

How Remarkable Women Lead:  The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life, by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston.

“Based on five years of proprietary research, How Remarkable Women Lead speaks to you as no other book has, with its hopeful outlook and unique ideas about success. It’s the new “right stuff” of leadership, raising provocative issues such as whether feminine leadership traits (for women and men) are better suited for our fast-changing, hyper-competitive, and increasingly complex world.”

Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you’ll know why [business] plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses.”

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, by the hitRECord collaborative and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“To create The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, [the actor] known within the hitRECord community as RegularJOE—directed thousands of collaborators to tell tiny stories through words and art. With the help of the entire creative collective, Gordon-Levitt culled, edited and curated over 8,500 contributions into this finely tuned collection of original art from 67 contributors.

The Language Instinct:  How the Mind Creates Language, by Steven Pinker.

“In this classic, the world’s expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved. With deft use of examples of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution.”

Demand:  Creating What People Love before They Know They Want It, by Adrian J. Slywotzky with Karl Weber.

“In Demand, Adrian Slywotzky provides a radically new way to think about demand, with a big idea and a host of practical applications—not just for people in business but also for social activists, government leaders, non-profit managers, and other would-be innovators. To succeed in their various missions, all these groups need to master such ground-breaking concepts as the hassle map (and the secrets of fixing it); the curse of the incomplete product (and how to avoid it); why ‘very good’ does not equal ‘magnetic’; how what you don’t see can make or break a product; the art of transforming fence sitters into customers; why there’s no such thing as an average customer; and why real demand comes from a 45-degree angle of improvement (rather than the five degrees most organizations manage).”