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!




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