Digital Billboards – The future of advertising?

Billboard marketing is something that just about everyone is familiar with, they line major highways and high traffic streets, busy intersections not to mention sports stadiums from minor league hockey to Major League baseball and National football. We can barely turn a corner without seeing some billboard advertising some product or company or promoting an event whether it be a concert, a sports team or a nonprofit event, they are everywhere and have been for some time. The most popular method of billboard advertising is aimed at drivers thus the reason we see them on busy highways and streets and they can be useful , letting you know what’s up ahead or how far to the next hotel or restaurant and are aimed at allowing a driver to quickly view and grasp the message being broadcast. Anyone who has ever driven across the United States is familiar with billboards advertising truck stops, restaurants, motels and hotels. I recall seeing billboards advertising the “Waffle House” across several states and starting in Kansas seeing billboards for “Stuckeys” all the way to Philadelphia.


The history of billboards goes back thousands of years starting with the Egyptians who used a large tall stone obelisk to publicize laws and treaties. This was one of the first methods of broadcasting a message to a large In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press known as the Gutenberg press, and while this was a revolution in the production of books it also was the start of a technology that allowed and made it possible to cheaply disseminate information to the masses ( This invention made it possible and led to the creation of the handbill, which was an advertisement intended for wide distribution ( In early America we saw some of the first billboards as roadside advertising for local businesses. In 1835 Jared Bell starting printing posters for the circus and in New York is where the first large American poster was born and around the turn of the 20th century a national billboard advertising boom started with big advertisers mass producing billboards for the national market ( advertising everything from toothpaste to cigarettes to tequila, coca-cola, and Disneyland  Modern billboards are still going strong and cost anywhere from $500 to $2500 a month, depending on location, location, location.

Let’s fast forward to today and discuss a relatively new form of advertising which is Digital Billboards which is based on the traditional platform of billboard advertising using a digital format. While this is fairly new, some form of digital signage started being used in the 1970’s using in-store VCR’s and T.V.’s as a way to attract customers, but unlike modern digital signage this was always a closed circuit and

Today digital billboards are popping up everywhere all over the country. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas for the weekend will see a myriad of digital billboards splattered across the Las Vegas Strip from the famous MGM Grand billboard to a smaller but very visible one at Circus Circus and of course anyone going to Times Square in New York has seen the giant digital billboard that encompasses that building.


There are hundreds of  digital billboards popping up in metropolitan areas all over the U.S. which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of traditional billboards seen all over America, but these numbers are expected to grow and rapidly So what is all the hullabaloo about? While digital is sexier and is the all dressed up ready to party version of billboard advertising, but from the advertiser’s perspective, what’s the difference? Does it really make a difference? The difference is they are backlit, easier to read, advertising can be changed frequently and on the fly and from the marketing companies perspective they can rotate through several clients ads instead of just one being there, so that each time a driver passes by they can potentially see a different ad. These billboards can rotate ads every few seconds and they can change the ad from miles away, and clients can change ads anytime, without having to wait a month for the redesign to be applied. Want to change the dates, or add a location? No problem, it will be changed this afternoon Paul Meyers the CEO of Clear Channel says this technology is not limited to just large billboards, it can be applied to anywhere there is a flat surface such as buses, bus stops, taxi cabs, mall kiosks and more.

Okay so you want to cut to the chase, how much does it cost? The cost varies depending on the size and the location but the average cost is anywhere from $1200 to $10,000 a month, a huge lead from $500 to $2500 a month. Is it worth it? Only time will tell but according to Magic Media Jimmy McAndrew within a few years all billboards will be digital

Unfortunately the news on digital billboards is not all good; some cities are banning this new technology due to safety issues. In March, the city of Denver has outright banned them and other cities have temporarily suspended them pending a federal study on whether or not they distract drivers. In Los Angeles a one year moratorium was placed which was challenged in federal court by Liberty Media Corp. but U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins tentatively upheld the band for the time being

“The digital billboards are a distraction,” says Fred Wessels, an alderman in St. Louis, which just approved a one-year moratorium on new signs in that city. (Copeland, L., 2010, “There’s no doubt in my mind that they are not a driving distraction,” says Bryan Parker, an executive vice president for Clear Channel Outdoor (Copeland, L., 2010, So the jury is still out on the legal future of digital billboards… Stay tuned.

The Small Business and Digital Marketing – Interview with Best Selling Author Dave Chaffey

Digital and Internet marketing is growing by leaps and bounds and over the past year or so the marketing world around us has become very dynamic and is evolving and changing before our very eyes. It is an exciting time to be in business and also a bit scary as well, everything that we have known is either becoming obsolete or changing on such a scale that we no longer recognize it. For example, the traditional billboard that lines highways across the globe is something that has been around for many years, they are used to promote products and services or businesses themselves such as restaraunts, casino’s, hotels and more and are placed in high traffic areas and we are starting to see them splattered across highways all across the U.S. (Stay tuned for our next article on Digital Billboards). The marketing arena is changing and most large companies are changing right along with it, but how about smaller businesses that do not have the manpower not to mention the budget to keep up with all of these changes are they just being left in the dust or is there hope for them?  The big question on everyone’s mind is can the small business utilize new Internet technologies such as a blog and social media.  I have noticed that many small mom and pop type businesses do not even have a website, do they need one?  Does the small business truly need all this technology, it is within their budget and does it make sense for their businesses to evolve along with the technologies of this modern age we are living in?

You have read my thoughts on many if not most of these subjects in previous articles so I thought I’d get the opinion of another professional.  Dave Chaffey is a best selling author, consultant and speaker who specializes in digital marketing. I sat down with Dave around three weeks ago and asked him a series of questions on the viability of the small business utizlizing digital marketing.

Joe Melle: The use of Digital Marketing is hitting the marketing spectrum like a storm and like most things the small business isn’t always able to utilize many of the applications due to them being cost prohibitive. In your opinion are small businesses able to effectively use Digital Marketing?

Dave Chaffey:  Absolutely! Digital marketing “levels the playing field” as we say in the UK, which helps smaller businesses use many of the same techniques that larger business can use. Small businesses also have the advantage that their more agile than larger businesses which means they can adapt the latest techniques to get an edge. Of course, every business has to make priorities and decide what will work best for them. In my books I outline the key digital marketing techniques that all companies should review. Here’s my take on their relevance for growing new business for SMEs with scores out of 10 for cost-effectiveness: 

1. Search Engine Marketing (Search Engine Optimisation, SEO, 9/10 and PPC or Google Adwords, 6/10). But remember to go niche – don’t focus on the most commonly search 2 to 3 word keywords, instead try to attract more qualified traffic on the longer-tail terms of 4 words or longer.

 2. Online PR (8/10 for article marketing and press releases which help with your SEO) and Social media (4/10 which can help if you can build a viral buzz around your posts). Both of these are effectively free, so rank right up there, they take a lot of time though and I see social media often workig better for gaining repeat visitors and sales.

 3. Affiliate and partner marketing (5/10) – you need to be bigger to make it worth the while of affiliates promoting you. Still some smaller affiliates such as specialist bloggers may promote you to get a return. Affiliate marketing uses a paid commission, but all online businesses have the option to partner with businesses targeting a similar audience but not directly competing. Contra-deal marketing is one of the biggest opportunities for swapping content, links and contacts to name but some.

 4. Display advertising (banners) (3/10). Forget it – banner blindness rules! Not generally cost-effective at generating click-throughs or branding. The Google network may be worth exploring though for targeting visitors on related sites.

 5. Email marketing (4/10). Still one of the best techniques for marketing to existing customers, it’s less strong for gaining new customers since response is low and you can look like a spammer. The best option is advertising in someone elses Enewsletter.

 6. Viral marketing (6/10). I’ve pulled out this one separately since to show it can be built into all the other techniques. Always build in viral agent to your online campaigns, thinking what will encourage others to promote you whether it’s humour or a great coupon offer.

 Joe Melle: It is common for medium and large size businesses to engage in multichannel marketing, is this a viable method for the small business and can it be cost-effective?

Dave Chaffey:  Unless you’re addicted to Second Life or World of Warcraft we all still spend more time in the real world than the virtual world. This means there are many offline opportunities to influence your prospects. I think some small business owners have blinkers to multichannel marketing. I know some online pureplays who spend 100% of their budget online, but would never consider a print, radio or TV ad to drive visitors to their website. To me, this is plain stubborn. Yes offline media costs and if you’re a startup with little or no budget for advertising then it’s not an option.

But if you’re an established business and can reinvest your profits to grow the business then you should at least test it. Web response is the name of the game. Use powerful multichannel offers to encourage visitors to go through to your site. Use a strong call to action, not just “visit our website”, but “don’t miss out on our unique online exclusive”. Look at the way Dell does this “Order online by 24/10 to Double your memory”

Joe Melle:  Some small businesses claim that it serves no purpose for them to have a web presence, in your opinion is there any small business vertical in which a web presence would not be beneficial?

Dave Chaffey: Well I can’t think of a sector where zero percent of the target audience uses the web. Can you? Maybe in some sectors you don’t use the web to look for a provider – local businesses like a hairdresser is an example. You will know what’s available – you don’t look online unless you’re new in town.  So in this case, maybe it’s not worth running and maintaining a website. But the website is only one form of web presence and today some of the other forms of online presence are more important. Keeping with our example of a hairdresser, these are all viable options, maybe all more cost-effective than a web presence:

* Facebook or Twitter page for updating existing customers on offers and news

* Listing in a Yellow pages local business directory

* A simple blog updating customers on new developments and pulling in some search traffic hopefully

* A local search listing in Google Places (formerly Google Local Business Center) if you have any premises

How broad is your online representation?

Joe Melle: Is social media important to the small business?

Dave Chaffey: Well, I’m not sure about “important” – I think it’s relatively unimportant compared with other techniques I mentioned above like Online PR, SEO or if relevant, affiliate and partner marketing.  But it depends what you’re looking to achieve. I see social media as most important as a way of keeping in touch with past customers – these are the guys who are most likely to follow you on Twitter or Like you on Facebook. But past customers will also recommend new customers and the social networks are most powerful for their viral effect. If a member of your network likes what you’re offering whether its a humorous gag, a piece of good advice or a great deal, then they’ll thank you for it or recommend it to others in your network and for something outstanding it will ripple out further to friends of friends of friends of.

Joe Melle: Many small businesses have claimed they do not have the manpower to dedicate any one employee to social media full time, what is your advice to them in terms of making social media effective while using the limited resources that they have?

Dave Chaffey: The great thing about social media for the small business is that it’s relatively low cost and lends itself to quick experimentation. I’d argue that it’s a lot cheaper and less time intensive to run a Twitter account or a Facebook page than a blog. So experiment. I’d recommend starting with a Facebook account for most businesses since many more of your customers, I’d say 10 times, will use it than Twitter. But social media can be a time sink or a serious distraction if you’re not serious about it. It probably works best with a bigger business publisher mentality. To avoid wasting your time you need a plan where you think through:

* Goals – what are you trying to achieve through social media – new sales, repeat sales or customer service?

* Targeting – each social network tends to appeal to different types of people, so think what your priorities are for targeting these different audiences

* Value proposition and content strategy – what type of content and offers are you offering through each of the social channels. If you want to sign up people to different social channels, then you should think about the exclusive benefits for each – so if you have someone on your email already, they’re more likely to Like you on Facebook if you offer them a great exclusive on Facebook

* Editorial calendar – make a virtual or physical folder of all the different types of content you will offer and add them to the folder when you think of them and then schedule them so you already have something to publish it when you get the time to publish it

* Integration – how can you link together your social content with other content which you may have on your. How can you reuse your content across the different options?

Just to show it’s possible, my social media strategy uses Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and social media all integrated with a blog and good old email newsletter. And I also write books, train and consult. I say that feeding the content monster takes a long day a week though.

Remember that the main social networks are just part of your social network options. I’d recommend reviewing all the tools listed here – and the book by Tamar Weinberg.

I would like to thank Dave for taking the time to discuss these issues with me so that I could share his insights and knowledge with our readers.

How good are the leads that call centers are purchasing?

At Throttle Media we provide a lot of data leads for call centers all over the world from investment leads to payday leads and whether these call centers are in India, the U.K., Canada the U.S. or anywhere in the world there is one thing that they all have in common; they all want lots of leads for little cost.  They all want a lead that provides them with a good ROI and the pressing question here is what the definition of good leads are and what are the expectations of most call centers?

Before that question is answered, a little background information first; most data today is generated online, whether it is generated from email campaigns, banner ads, or traditional marketing it is pushing people to a site to fill out a form based on the particular type of information that is being gathered.  Most if not all of these landing pages have mandatory fields and the commonality of those fields across all verticals is telephone and email address are almost always mandatory and this is where the problem starts for call centers.

So to answer the previous question of what is the expectation of most call centers the answer is that besides the obvious of fresh and accurate leads they also expect a large majority of the phone numbers to be good working numbers and this is where we run into trouble because it is not unusual to have disconnects, non working or wrong numbers anywhere from ten to thirty percent. As a data and lead provider if you provide a call center with a list that has a thirty percent bad number ratio they will no doubt be sending furious emails and calling you asking for a refund, or threatening to never do business with you again. The question is just because thirty percent of the numbers are bad does that mean you sold them a bad list of leads?

The answer is absolutely not, most leads generated in the U.S. cost anywhere from .05 cents to up to .10 or .12 cents a lead largely depending on the type of leads, and most importantly the volume being purchased, and if you are going to sell to a call center, then you need to educate your client in advance, and if you are a call center you need to understand in advance that it is typical to have up to 30% bad number on leads. Why? Because these leads were generated online, those filling them out don’t want to be called, they want to be emailed information, they only provided a phone number because it was a mandatory field and many people put in a fake number but a correct email address. It does not matter how good your leads are you cannot control this because most leads are self reported, meaning the lead contact provided the information themselves, and the only way to know if a number is disconnected is to call the number . There are companies that do this, they call every single phone number and send an email to every person on the list. These are referred to as verified lists and the price goes up considerably, and there are companies that will also call every single lead and confirm the information as well as confirm that they did want to talk to someone about whatever the vertical is, and once they have done this they will transfer the prospect from their agent to your agent and you only pay for the transfers. This is called a hot transfer lead and the cost is anywhere from $45 to $75 per lead.

At the end of the day it is important that whatever type of lead you are selling that you educate your client so that they understand upfront what it is they are buying.  If you are the end user of leads you need to educate yourself on what to expect when purchasing leads.  Education before the sale is extremely important and will save a lot of time and aggravation for both buyer and seller.

In the next article we will discuss the value of using a lead to its full potential.

Coming soon: Series of articles on Marketing and the small business. Stay tuned in July for an Interview with Best Selling Author Dave Chaffey.

The purpose of blogging

Over the past week or so I have been asking people what they think the purpose of a blog is, I have asked business owners, business executives, MBA students and even other marketing professionals and what I have found is wide variety of opinions.  Some think it is to give technical information and support on a company’s product, some think it is a way to introduce new products and services, others think it is strictly for giving industry specific information on a variety of topics related to each company’s core product or service, and many are under the impression that the purpose of a blog is to give sales information, that it’s just another sales tool.  I am not sure if any one of these is right or wrong in accordance to how the business world at large feels but I do have my own opinion and whether or not the majority agrees with me or not is yet to be seen.

I believe that the purpose of a blog should be to inform, not to sell.  I personally am turned off when I am on a company’s website and click on the link to go to their blog and it is full of sale pitches and information aimed at getting me to whip out my visa.  Don’t get me wrong a company needs to sell, that is their primary purpose and a necessity in order for them to survive, but why do it on your blog, isn’t that what your website’s for?  I see little purpose of sending me from your website with sales information to your blog with more of the same sales information; why not just let me stay on your site with the sales information to start with?  It’s like owning a hardware store on two corners of the same intersection both selling the same products, what purpose would there be in sending someone across the street where the same exact products are being sold.

So what do I think a blog should be used for?  I think it should be used for giving your customers, your prospective customers and the world in general information about various topics in the industry that your company specializes in. For example, if you own a website that sells custom parts for antique automobiles, your blog could be used to write articles about various cars, the performance matrix of those cars, the history behind them and more.  Maybe there is an interesting story about the founder of one of the manufacturers that you think your readers might be interested in hearing about, or maybe one of your staff writes an article about the cross country performance of one these antique cars, or maybe you are privy to information about a glitch in the performance in a cars engine under certain circumstances, there are many things that can be written about the industry that you are in.

But why you ask, what is the point?  The point is to show customers and potential customers that you are an expert in your field and as someone who is always giving good information you become a reliable and trusted source which in itself is marketing that no amount of money can buy.  It all about brand building and exposing your company to the world and showing that you are willing to give something without anything being offered in return.

Another good reason is a blog will help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which brings more visitors to your site and creates more links on your page which help raise your standing with Google. According to Vanessa Summers Companies, LLC a blog is one of the least expensive and smartest ways to build the content of your site quickly and those publishing at least three blogs a week will result in Google rewarding them for adding valuable content on a regular basis (

So my opinion is that your blog should be for providing content rich information on a variety of topics that relate to your industry and not for direct selling.  Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with having a link on your blog leading back to your website, after all you are in business to make money, but your blog yourself shouldn’t be used for selling, that’s what you have a website for.  A perfect example of a great blog is a Southern California property management company who seems to have perfected the art of blogging.  You can check out their blog at

Coming soon a series of articles on Digital Marketing and the small business.

Is cheap data real?

While in a meeting today at work someone mentioned that one of our clients that just recently signed a 90 day agreement to purchase weekly email investor data from us called because right after they signed the agreement and received their first weekly delivery of data that another data company approached them and offered them the same type of data for just a few hundred dollars per week.  They were concerned that they might be paying us thousands of dollars for data when this other company apparently was not only selling the same type of data for just pennies on the dollar compared to what we were selling but the file was much larger than what we were offering.  Though they did not come right out and say it the question that was on their mind was did they just make a huge mistake by signing this agreement with us?  We matter of factly  advised them that while this might sound like a great deal this cheap data was just that, cheap data.  We even encouraged them to purchase it and test it out compared to what they purchased from us.

Later on in the day while thinking about the article I needed to write later I went online and did a Google search for email data and right at the top in the sponsored listings I found “500,000 opt-in users” – “100% Opt-in Audience that has the Highest Response Rates, Guaranteed!” clicking through to their website I found lots of informative information about the email marketing industry. I was advised that if I bought from them that I could increase my sales overnight, right above this bold statement was a big red banner that stated “In compliance with the CAN  SPAM ACT click here for more info”  which incidentally took me to the FTC site.  I scrolled down the page looking for pricing and couldn’t believe my luck, it was truly my lucky day. For only $127 I could purchase 50,000 opt-in email addresses, complete with name, address, IP address and date and time stamp, but if I really wanted to be successful I could go all the way and for only $497 I could purchas3e 1 million email addresses, and I could even pick from any category I wanted, and mix and match, at no additional charge.

There is nothing special about this company, they are a dime a dozen and they prey on the dreams of small businesses hoping to make it big.  First of all I don’t care what kind of marketing you are doing and what kind of budget you have, nothing is going to dramatically increase your sales overnight.  If this list of 50,000 being sold for $197 was ever truly opt-in with probably hundreds of easily duped people buying the list, how long do you think those email addresses remained valid before the owners got fed up and either changed their email address or just abandoned this one due to the nonstop gushing of intolerable spam they were getting?

As a company we occasionally go out and purchase various lists just to see what is out there, last year I purchased a list of UK consumers with phone numbers, the cost was just a few hundred dollars and because it is so difficult to find good UK data for less than the cost of mortgaging your house, I thought I’d give it a shot for educational purposes and I did not expect much to come out of it.

I gave the list to one of our clients in England to test out and after a few days they called me to tell me that this list was one of the worse they had ever seen.  They said that in 2000 many of the exchanges for telephone numbers were changed and that this list was full of the old numbers, so at the very least this “fresh” list was at least nine years old.  So are we worried about these companies under pricing us and over delivering?  Not in the least we encourage our clients if they are worried that we are over charging them to go out and purchase a couple of these lists because they will be back.  There are no short cuts when purchasing a list, just like the old saying goes “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.  It cost money to market effectively and purchasing a list whether that is a phone and address list or an email list is not any different. There are hundreds of companies out there selling illegitimate data. Before you purchase a list be sure that the company you are purchasing from is legitimate, do a search online and see what others are saying about them, do they have a phone number on their website and if they do is the same person answering the phone every time you call?  These are tell tale signs that you are dealing with a scam artist.  Find a company that is real and bite the bullet and pull out your bank card and spend the money that it takes to do it right.