Simple Marketing from the Sign Man

"Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief." - Leo Burnett

While driving home from a meeting in Orlando, I came off the I-75 exit at Wild Wood and was stopped at the light to make a left onto Hwy 44. As usual, there was a panhandler on the side of the road with a homemade sign begging for money. I have seen a person there a hundred times and, although it occasionally crosses my mind to make a donation, I seldom get past thinking about it before the light changes. On top of that I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to beggars. On more than one occasion I have offered to hire a man holding a work-for-food sign, only to be turned down. This time, perhaps because it was the Christmas season, I not only stopped, but I gave and laughed as I did it. The difference was all in the man’s marketing.

As I pulled up to the light, a thin man of perhaps 50, with a stubbled beard and shaggy clothes, stood up with his cardboard sign. As he did his face lit up into a smile, which despite numerous missing teeth turned his face into the face of a man who didn’t seem to have a care in the world. As I made eye contact, he pointed at the sign and his smile grew, as his face lit up with the expectation of a child on Christmas morning. His smile and body language had already stirred my hand towards my wallet. When I read the sign it was a done deal. It said in large black letters: “Why Lie? I Need Beer!”

The honesty and simplicity of the pitch won me over and I forked over five bucks. I don’t mean to trivialize the plight of this man or any other on the street, but it did reinforce some simple laws of sales and marketing that many of us miss because we make the process so complicated. The rules of sales and marketing are the same regardless of what product, service, or proposition you’re trying to sell.

First, before you can sell anything, you must attract your prospects’ attention with your ad, message, or sign. The combination of the man’s location and sign must certainly have given him a lot of prospects the day I saw him.

Second, you must create an emotional desire for the product. This man’s body language and smile gave me the initial connection with him and increased my desire to help. My wife responds better to beggars with animals than to pleas for beer. (She gives money to anyone with a dog.)

Once the emotional connection is made, a proposition must be clearly stated. What are you selling and why do I want to buy it from you? The sign man was not selling his plight, but instead was selling me a laugh and perhaps the feeling I would get from doing something good.

Finally, and most important, a sale must be asked for. In the case of the sign man, his sign said it all! Then he stood up and walked slowly and non-threateningly towards the car, certainly ready to ask for a donation had I not given it to him first.

These simple laws hold true with all sales and marketing propositions from selling cars to selling insurance, from selling candy to selling homes. We often lose sales and customers because we try to complicate this simple formula that time has proven works in making a sale:

• get your prospects’ attention
• create the desire
• make the presentation
• ask for the sale

Never do anything in the name of marketing that does not contain the above four elements—NEVER.

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