If you were to appraise the primary benefits of utilising out-of-home (OOH) advertising, the reach and exposure that it affords your brand may well be top of the list.

After all, it’s estimated that up to 71% of consumers regularly interact with the messages published on roadside billboards, while bus shelter ads are thought to reach a staggering 92% of the population each and every week.

However, it can also be argued that OOH provides a unique opportunity to engage potential customers, as it enables brands to target audiences in a non-intrusive manner and during times when they’re most likely to interact with messaging.

In this article, we’ll explore this further, while asking how you can encourage customer engagement through OOH advertising.

How OOH Advertising Lends Itself to Higher Engagement Levels

Before we delve into the precise ways in which OOH media encourages customer engagement, it’s important to understand why channels such as billboards are so well-received by consumers.

We’ve already touched on the relatively non-intrusive nature of billboards and posters, which tend to blend seamlessly with their natural surroundings and capture the attention of customers as they go about their daily business.

This contrasts sharply with digital channels such as email marketing and PPC (pay-per-click), which often target individuals when they’re at work or home and would prefer not to engage with brands or sponsored messaging.

Given this and the proliferation of digital ads (studies suggest that we are exposed to more than 5,000 messages a day through online channels), it should come as no surprise that customers are becoming increasingly cynical of such channels in the digital age.

This trend is particularly pertinent amongst Millennials, with this demographic having recently come of age and begun to realise its full potential in terms of spending levels and influence.

According to a detailed study reported by eMarketer, nearly half (46%) of Millennial respondents said that they now use ad-blocker software on their desktop device, while 31% have one downloaded on their smartphone or tablet.

This highlights the rising apathy towards intrusive advertising channels (particularly amongst younger consumers), while also explaining how OOH media naturally lends itself to higher levels of engagement over time.

Fashion retail billboard in Aylesbury

It’s also known that OOH boasts a number of natural advantages from the perspective of driving assisted conversions, which refer to Google’s measure of any interaction (other than the final click or purchase) that leads to a customer conversion.

More specifically, OOH media is ideal from the perspective of building awareness, targeting specific demographics at particular times and creating a semblance of trust, making it increasingly influential in a world of integrated marketing campaigns.

Alongside the ability to target high-traffic and strategic locations through channels such as billboards, OOH is clearly effective at driving consumer actions and driving conversions through online and mobile channels (we’ll have a little more on this later in the piece).

With these points in mind, the nature and characteristics of OOH clearly lend themselves to higher levels of consumer engagement, across both on and offline channels too!

Appraising Long-term reach and Short-term Activation – The Purpose of Utilising OOH

When looking to engage customers through OOH, it’s important to create campaigns that are targeted and based on a core and clearly-defined objective.

According to various case studies, almost half of all OOH adopters leveraged this medium as a way of building long-term reach for their brand, with this single biggest driver of billboards and similar channels in 2020.

Conversely, just 24% of brands utilise OOH to drive short-term sales activation, while a further 28% invest in billboards to achieve both of these objectives over time.

These can represent very different goals in some respects, which is why understanding remains key if you’re to successfully encourage high levels of engagement and achieve a viable return on your marketing spend.

Your chosen objective will also impact directly on execution, as your OOH advert or campaign will need to run for a long enough time to build brand awareness and establish your identity in the psyche of your target audience when prioritising long-term reach.

This applies even if your audience may not be in need of a particular product or service in real-time, as you look to adopt a patient approach that builds brand recognition and organically boosts sales over an extended period of time.

Fundamentally, this strategy is built on the principle of brand memory, which suggests that associations with specific companies gradually become stored in our long-term memory in the longer-term. Ultimately, building a large number of positive associations can lend itself to brand recall, enabling businesses to increase their market share and build a sense of loyalty over time.

If we delve further into this, we see that utilising OOH media as a way of building long-term reach can actively improve the efficacy and ROI associated with future campaigns, even those that are focused on driving short-term activations (such as ads that market exclusive, real-time promotions).

This is based on the so-called “reach and activation” approach, which was previously explored in a study named “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”.

This was commissioned by Rapport, with ‘reach’ referring to the number of people that are exposed to a brand and the positive influence that this has on recognition and recall.

Street-side OOH advertising

In contrast, ‘Activation’ focuses on real-time purchases and interactions, which may be completed either on or offline depending on the precise nature of your campaign.

As we can see, brands that are able to optimise their exposure amongst target consumers will be the most likely to achieve long-term recognition, which will in turn increase the efficiency and conversion rate of subsequent campaigns that are focused on short-term activations.

From an execution perspective, it makes perfect sense of brands both small and large to start out by investing in long-term OOH campaigns that strive to build awareness.

Of course, these can be part of integrated campaigns, but your main priority should be to secure extended bookings in key locations where your target audience is likely to congregate regularly.

To minimise the cost of such bookings without compromising the level of exposure that they offer to your brand, we’d recommend using traditional billboards rather than digital alternatives.

After all, traditional billboards and OOH mediums are far more affordable to secure over the course of long-term bookings, while they don’t require you to share advertising space with other brands (unlike digital alternatives).

More specifically, digital billboards often rotate as many as six adverts during each 60-second period, whereas traditional alternatives will feature your message exclusively over the course of the booking period.

Using OOH Alongside Other Channels – The Age of Integrated Campaigns

We’ve already spoken about how OOH is ideally placed to assist conversions across integrated campaigns, with this highlighting just how well the medium works alongside alternative on and offline channels.

This has been borne out by various studies, with OOH known to have a positive influence on the efficacy of other media (particularly search and social).

Nielsen’s 2017 study into online activations was particularly insightful, with this highlighting that nearly five-in-10 (46%) US residents aged 18 or older had used an Internet search engine to seek out information immediately after engaging with a billboard.

This trend is prevalent in regions such as the UK too, where OOH media has gradually begun to supersede television as the best marketing channel for building awareness and successfully engaging customers online.

OOH is arguably even more influential in the social realm, particularly when you consider fast-growing channels such as Twitter and Instagram.

More specifically, OOH has evolved to account for the dominant share of activations through these channels, while also narrowing the gap on television to just 2% when appraising Facebook interactions.

Overall, OOH accounts for 30% of branded Twitter activations, while the corresponding number for Instagram is a shade higher at 31%.

There’s also evidence to suggest that OOH media helps to significantly increase engagement by up to 38% through smartphones. Not only this, but the same study that provided this insight also found that people who have been exposed to an OOH ad are 17% more likely to interact with the brand or campaign in question, through an array of social and online channels.

The takeaway here is clear; as an OOH campaign that’s blended with an integrated digital and social media campaign can translate into higher engagement and a significantly bigger impact for brands.

Of course, creating integrated campaigns can be a challenging pastime, particularly from the perspective of creating the type of consistent messaging and branding that underpins sustainable brand loyalty across alternative channels.

Billboard in Crewe advertising vets

In short, you’ll need to maintain the visual identity of your brand across different mediums, from its logo to the colour palette that you use and even the typography that may be synonymous with the business.

The detail that you include on your OOH ad is also crucial, particularly in terms of driving engagement through targeted channels. This is especially important when using smaller posters or billboards, while there’s always a pressing need to use concise messaging given the limited real estate on offer.

So, try to confine contact details to those that are relevant to the specific campaign, while incorporating social hashtags where necessary and limiting your primary messaging to no more than six or seven words.

How OOH Impacts Brand Recognition

If we accept that OOH is fast becoming the key driver of online activations across social channels such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, it’s easy to see how channels such as billboards are capable of building positive interactions between brands and consumers over time.

These translate into the type of long-term reach that we discussed earlier in the piece, driving awareness and recognition on an incremental scale and creating a unique sense of brand loyalty.

This also creates mutual trust between brands and their customers, which is imperative when you consider that consumers are increasingly inclined to buy from companies that they recognise and consider to be authentic.

The latter point is particularly insightful; with one study suggesting that 86% of consumers consider brand authenticity to be the key factor when choosing which businesses to support financially.

Of course, the location based nature of OOH also makes it an incredibly effective marketing channel for local businesses, both from the perspective of long-term reach and driving short-term activations (usually through limited-time promotions in local brick-and-mortar stores).

This has certainly been borne out by a study commissioned by Bournemouth University’s Associate Professor of Marketing Science, which canvassed the opinion of more than 1,000 people.

The results revealed that local businesses seen on prominent OOH ads experienced an increased positive brand association by as much as 12%, leading to higher levels of trust and a larger regional market share.

Roadside Advertising

Even on a fundamental level, local businesses can leverage their knowledge of the community and consumer behaviour to identify the best corporeal locations through which to target their audience.

For example, we know that 36% of the UK population still commute to work every day by car, with a growing number of busy commuter routes now accessible nationwide.

So, for businesses that want to target relatively young demographics and build recognition through daily interactions, utilising 48 and 96-sheet roadside billboards can deliver an incredibly high ROI.

This is a huge boon for local businesses, for whom OOH media and billboards offer a unique way to engage target customers effectively as they go about their daily business.

The Last Word – Examples of Engaging OOH Campaigns

As we can see, OOH channels are ideally suited to increasing and encouraging consumer engagement, particularly when they’re used as part of sophisticated and integrated campaigns.

Certainly, some of the best and most effective omni-channel campaigns are underpinned by the use of OOH, with one of the best examples provided by ZEEL’s #13KiTayyari offering.

This campaign was launched shortly after the UK came out of lockdown, but ZEEL used the previous weeks to leverage social media and create an eye-catching teaser promotion using the hashtag #13KiTayyari.

Utilising various social channels, this teaser was conceptualised to announce ZEEL’s scheduled content comeback, generating significant engagement digitally while building awareness amongst target customers.
This segment of the campaign trended second on Twitter for a period of time, while it also translated into increased engagement and brand interactions when the OOH ads finally ran.

Of course, the need to run integrated campaigns became even more important in 2020, with lockdown measures enforcing so many people to remain at home for extended periods of time.

Interestingly, some brands took the unique approach of maintaining OOH ads during the lockdown, while adapting their messaging to engage a diminished target audience and integrating social channels as part of their campaigns.

Take the efforts of HUN Wine, for example, who altered their messaging to make tongue-in-cheek comments about the decision to invest in OOH when consumers were spending more of their time at home.

This change in approach and integration of humour ultimately helped to build awareness of the brand and gain significant traction, which subsequently translated into increased interaction through social media. As a result, the brand’s momentum peaked just in time for the summer, triggering a hike in sales and lockdown measures were lifted globally.

These campaigns underline both the flexibility of OOH and its natural ability to engage customers, while also reaffirming how well the medium interacts with other marketing channels.

Ultimately, the success or failure of your campaign will depend on the quality of its execution, but there’s undoubtedly an advantage to be gained by leveraging OOH and utilising this to drive engagement across the board.