Build Better Billboards in 3 Steps

By Chukwukere Ekeh

For presenting a clear, bold message, it’s one of the most powerful items in your tool box. Yet many bank marketers underutilize the channel—or squander it in front of thousands of people. Yes, we’re talking about billboards. That expensive piece of real estate that you may hesitate to pay for is an opportunity to leverage great communication that induces customer action.

To pay off, they have to be done right.

At Citizens Bank and Trust, billboards have played a key role in our advertising because we are truly a community bank, serving only one county. We know that many of our area residents are driving into the city to work—or commuting from 20 minutes to an hour to other areas to work. With many of our branches conveniently located near highways and interstates, we know this a great medium to make an impact. We currently hold two billboards that gain nearly 100,000 impressions a week. And if we do our job and present a compelling enough message that converts even a fraction of those impressions to engaged consumers, the billboards pay for themselves.

After noticing we’d only done four new billboards over the past four years, we stepped up our game and did three new ones this year alone. All with ideas and design done in-house, I might add!

Here are three critical steps we’ve picked up along the way:

1.  Create a simple standout.

I’ve coined this term to represent a brief but compelling message. With static billboards—or the newer digital billboards—your message/visual is often being seen quickly and with minimal attention. However if it’s a simple standout, the message is clear and has a better chance of being seen, understood, and remembered.

My favorite example is the “Got Milk?” campaign. This seemingly modest tagline fully expresses the message dairy processors and farmers want, while the visual white font on a black background makes it simple and easy to read from near or far. What can banks learn from it?

  • Don’t try to showcase banking products that have complex terms and small print that can’t be fully expressed. That only creates a compliance nightmare.
  • Don’t have another generic stock photograph of a smiling couple that has nothing to do with the copy on the board.
  • Do try to find a concise message that holds some weight and will bring value to the passerby.

We can still use the adage K.I.S.S. (with a minor twist) = keep it simple & stand out.

2. Identify a complementary message.

Your billboard strategy should not be separate from your overall market strategy, but should be integrated and in full support of all the other endeavors. There’s a theory that a potential customer will need to be reached seven times by a marketing effort before taking action. So if your billboard messaging is intertwined with your in-branch signage, mailers, newspaper ads, commercials, and radio messaging, you have a chance to reach that customer at more touchpoints sooner.

Your brand tone, colors, and logo are always essential on your billboards. These elements ensure that you will be recognized more easily and not get the dreaded “I’ve seen that, but have no idea what bank it’s for” reaction.

3. Include a call to action.

Every big sign deserves a big message. Don’t forget to make the ask! What do you want? Is it a checking account, app downloads, CDs, loans, switching banks? Then say it. Tell people the next step because slight hints won’t get the job done on this stage, or at least not to the degree at which it’s capable.

Now you have the tools, go build something incredible.

Chukwukere Ekeh is a marketing officer at Citizens Bank & Trust. Email: