Business development · 1 December 2017

Could chalkboard advertising be the high street’s secret weapon?

Little Beach Boutiques in Brighton proudly display their new bespoke chalkboard. To encourage people to Shop Small throughout December, starting with Small Business Saturday this weekend, American Express has teamed up with comedian Darren Walsh to create a series of original chalkboard puns which will appear on shops around the UK to help them amuse and attract customers.
Little Beach Boutiques in Brighton shows effective high street marketing doesn’t need a big budget

Taking a creative approach to high street marketing could help small business owners compete with the promotional budgets of larger competitors, new research has found.

As Small Business Saturday once again puts the spotlight on Britain’s independent retailers, business owners up and down the country will be doing all they can to shout about their offering. Now, survey findings have suggested that amusing chalkboard advertising could be a powerful marketing tool for high street traders.

After polling the opinions of 2,000 UK adults, American Express Shop Small found that two-thirds believed a witty marketing effort would help a small business stand out and attract additional custom.

The findings also revealed that 80 per cent of consumers had already spotted chalkboard puns outside pubs, restaurants and shops on their high street, with two in three agreeing that they would be more likely to return to a business if they’d left with a smile.

Around 11.3m shoppers spent £717m on Small Business Saturday in 2016, and leveraging the publicity of the day can be vital for retailers looking to make the most of Christmas shopping trips. Adding humour to the mix could put them one step ahead.

An impressive chalkboard attempt could even deliver a cost-effective boost to a business’ social media presence. Over a third of consumers said they’d share a photo of a chalkboard online if it made them laugh, and would mention or tag the business.

Subsequently, a fifth of younger shoppers would go out of their way to visit a shop having seen its chalkboard puns on social media.

Our Bricks & Clicks video series is helping retailers strike a balance between growing a brand online and establishing a physical presence

One small business owner finding success through creative chalkboard advertising is Ross Shonhan, founder of Bone Daddies, a London-based Japanese restaurant chain.

“Humour has played a huge part in building the irreverent Bone Daddies brand – it helps to distinguish us from our competitors and creates a dialogue with our customers,” Shonhan explained.

“Whether it’s through social media or naming a new menu item, puns and jokes are a huge part of who we are. We have been using chalkboards for the past five years – we find it’s a great way of attracting new customers into our restaurants.”

Dotty Gore-Brown, a team member at a London branch of Vagabond Wines, said: “Chalkboard advertising is free, instagrammable, and it’s a great Riesling to road-test our wine gags. Humour is so important to the Vagabond brand – and while the jokes are sometimes a bit dubious, the wine wisdom is always spot on.”

Commenting on the findings, Dan Edelman, marketing vice president at American Express, said a creative approach to marketing could enable small retailers to overcome financial limitations.

“They need to find a way to really stand out, and our research shows humour is a great tool,” Edelman said.

“Not only does it increase customer loyalty and word of mouth recommendations, it also has a real business value by encouraging people to spend in-store and post about it on social media channels.”

American Express teamed up with Comedian Darren Walsh to offer different types of small business marketing puns to display on their chalkboards.

Joke Type of small business
“If you haven’t tried ale before, you’ve missed stout.” Pub
“We have a great selection of barcodes, so come and check yourself out” Clothes shop
“Christmas shopping? Don’t forget to wrap up.” Gift shops
“Like surprises? You might find something novel.” Book shop
 The café au lait bird catches the worm Cafe
“Like meat? Come and have a butchers.” Butcher
“Come inside, you’ll never leaf.” Florist
“Marrows selling fast! Shop like there’s no two marrow.” Green grocers

Read our interview with Small Business Saturday campaign director Michelle Ovens

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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