Like many business-to-business technology companies, San Francisco's Performance Horizon Group has typically advertised its offerings on websites and in trade publications. But last June, after closing a big funding round, the company decided to market itself in a decidedly non-techie way: it bought several weeks of billboard space along the Bay Area's 101 freeway.
It may seem like an unusual move for the company, which creates software-as-a-service solutions that enable brands to connect with online marketing partners, but to Erik Mikisch, Performance Horizon's vice-president of marketing, it made perfect sense.
For one, Performance Horizon has a number of Silicon Valley companies as clients, including Google and Hewlett-Packard, and many more potential customers operating in the area. The stretch of highway between the San Francisco Airport and the San Jose Airport, where the billboards reside, has also been named one of the worst commutes in all of the Bay Area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission found that in 2014 commuters on that stretch of highway lost a combined 6,550 hours per day due to traffic.
“People spend a lot of time in traffic," says Mikisch. “So we thought of an interesting and creative way to to target our audience."
While the company was hoping to generate some calls from the billboards — it started with two in July that ran for a month and one that's running from mid-July until October — it also chose this tactic to tell other technology companies that it had arrived.
“It was kind of a coming out party (after the funding round closed)," he says. “It's to say we are here to be taken seriously."
Finding The Right Messaging
Billboard advertising is not like other, more digital forms of marketing. Your message has to be succinct and it has to be catchy enough to grab the frustrated commuter's attention.
Mikisch and his team talked through a number of different ideas, but they decided to focus on the company's main value proposition — its software can help companies that spend a little money on affiliate marketing dramatically boost sales.
He thought that narrowing down on return on investment would resonate best with its target audience of marketers, sales people and C-suite executives.
“We wanted to re-educate people on the greater market value of partner marketing," says Mikisch. The final result? A snappy ROI-focused message that said: “Which marketing channel drives $14 in sales for every $1 spent? Online partner and affiliate marketing."
One drawback to this type of advertising is that it's expensive. Performance Horizon is renting space on a digital billboard that rotates between eight different companies. Each ad shows for 8 seconds every 64 seconds. If it bought all 64 seconds of space — space is sold in four week blocks — it would have to spend $128,000. By buying an eight second spot, it only has to pay $16,000.
“That's more doable, but not on an ongoing basis," he says.
The company will have to evaluate the costs versus benefits before deciding whether or not to continue the ads past October, but so far he thinks it's working. They've received a few serious inquiries from potential clients, plus it's also helped the company in another, unexpected way: it's boosted morale among staff, he says.
“There's an enormous amount of positive pride for every employee when they see these ads," he says. “I've even been going out of my way to take a look."
For others who want to do some outside-of-the-box marketing, Mikisch has this advice: "Set aside your assumptions about what should work and instead examine your marketing efforts through the lens of your customers," he says. "Look at marketing initiatives with fresh eyes and target your customers where they are with content that matters to them, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem to standard marketing practices."