3 Marketing Lessons from “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Recently, I went to the cinema to watch the drama film, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”.

Mildred Hayes, the main character, was desperate because her daughter was murdered a few months ago and the police haven’t found the culprit yet.

One day, she set up three billboards on the road leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police, asking him to find the murderer.

These three billboards located on a lonely road made a huge impact with a significant media coverage. What happened and Why?

I will share with you the 3 marketing lessons that I learned from this movie. You can easily apply them to your B2B business.

The outdoor advertising media campaign

Mildred had no previous experience in marketing and, if we consider the following facts, her ¨campaign¨ should have failed.

An expensive advertising campaign

When it comes to the marketing budget, everyone wants to make the most out of every dollar they spend. But Mildred did the opposite.

She chose a deserted road and paid in advance 5,000 USD for one month. The cost per person exposed to the billboards was very high.

No control over the campaign performance

We marketers love to monitor the progress of the advertising campaigns. This is the reason why online advertising is mainstream.

The analytics help us to track the impact of the ads. With this information, we adjust the advertising budget every time, choose where we want to promote the product or service, define the target audience that will be exposed to the campaign and change the content of the ad in real time.

Mildred financial resources were few and small, but she decided to run the campaign for one month, pay 5,000 USD in advance, and pray for the success of the campaign.

Despite all those facts, she accomplished her goal and the police reopened the case.

The 3 Marketing Lessons from “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”

1. Target audience segmentation

Her target was the local sheriff. He was in charge of the investigation and was highly respected throughout the city.

The local sheriff was not only the decision maker but also an opinion leader, and the advertisement caused a huge impact on the community.

If you are selling B2B products, choose carefully your niche market, find your decision makers and know everything about them and their teams. This is the foundation of success.

2. The message

She wrote a straightforward and provocative message aimed at the local sheriff.  She knew that one of the best ways to make people react is to appeal to their pride. And she did!

The police found the billboards, reacted to them and helped unintentionally to spread the message.

Marketing teams have to communicate clear messages and address them to the decision makers.

Find the decision makers’ motivations, link them to your message and choose the right channel for your ad. If you follow these steps you will be closer to success.

3. A story behind your message

Mildred’s case wasn’t unknown. Her fellow citizens knew the tragic murder. Therefore, when they saw the billboards, they quickly associated them with the tragedy. It also helped to promote the message and got the desired goal.

B2B marketers need to build a story about their company and products with the company mission, vision, core values, and personality. It requires time and hard work but it will make a big difference from competitors.

Create your own stories as Sarah Lin suggested in her post, Make a True Impact with Storytelling!, it will help clients to understand what you do and why they should buy your products.

Don’t forget that your advertising campaigns should reinforce and spread your story.

I didn’t expect to receive any marketing lesson from “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”, but stories are the oldest form of education and marketers and salespeople should use them to sell their products.

Do you remember any other film that taught you any important marketing lesson?Please, share your experience, it will help everyone!

P.S. Before you go, you may also be interested in the following articles:

Why Marketers are not Driving Growth

6 Rules for a Message to Go Viral

Make a true Impact with Storytelling


Chema Lopez

A Madrid Polytechnic University International MBA has worked as global marketing director in B2B and B2C international leading companies implementing global marketing and communication strategies to ensure business objectives and to optimize brands reputation and visibility on a global level.

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