If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota, you know about Wall Drug. If you’ve never visited South Dakota …. Chances are …. You’ve heard about Wall Drug.
This sprawling retail operation in the middle of nowhere draws over two million visitors per year. Why? There is nothing unique about their merchandise, aside from having a lot of western gear and tourist trinkets.
And there is nothing extraordinary about their food, they sell a lot of rib-sticking favorites like biscuits and gravy. In fact, everything they sell you can find somewhere else — like Amazon — for less money.
But Wall Drug excels in large part because they have embraced their remoteness as a unique selling point, and have a laser like focus on WHO they want as customers and HOW they go about attracting them.
Their WHO are tourists driving through South Dakota and neighboring states and their HOW is through outdoor signs.
A key ingredient to their success, and what most businesses fail to do, is becoming repetitive enough in one media to be truly impactful. Wall Drug has a 100% unwavering focus on clever, rustic outdoor billboards. Over time they have built a roadblock of signs across every major highway in South Dakota and neighboring states. The sheer number and cleverness of their signs has spawned a viral effort from customers to place more of their signs across the US and in foreign countries.
If you travel along the 600 plus miles of Interstate 90 from Minnesota to Montana you will encounter a perpetual string of Wall Drug billboards. And you may try to ignore them, and even become irritated at this invasion of the landscape.
But you can’t, and this sense of being overwhelmed, this realization that submission is easier than wasting time trying to ignore their signs, is the type of sensation you should strive for in your own advertising.
You must realize it’s not about looking good and branding your business, and that success in advertising requires a relentless, premeditated pursuit of ownership within your chosen media. This is the kind of frequency you must achieve to compete with the likes of Amazon who can sell for less AND buy dominating levels of advertising in multiple media.
Another thing Wall Drug gets right is using their remote location to their advantage. Business was very slow for Wall Drug until the wife of the owner, Dorothy Hustead, came up with the idea of advertising free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore monument.
Today Wall Drug claims to give away over 20,000 cups of water per year, and in addition to free water, they also offer cups of coffee for only five cents.
Very few businesses advertise with a unique selling point and with enough frequency or repetition to break through to their desired target audience. If you aren’t able to afford a dominant level of advertising in one chosen media, then you are either spending ineffectively it in too many places, or you haven’t properly defined your target audience, or your target audience is too large.
In Dan S. Kennedy’s book Magnetic Marketing, he advises you find a small, carefully selected and manageable target audience and set out to become the dominant presence in that target market in as short a period of time as possible.
In the case of Wall Drug I can assure you they did not start with thousands of billboards. They chose one road full of tourists, put up a single sign, came up with a compelling offer, and built from there.