Increase your Marketing ROI with Blank Brand Canvases

The Mystery of the Blocked-out Store Window
I was on my Sunday run the other morning, looking for any distraction from the headache of the night before, when I came across a familiar urban retail sight; the empty store with windows blocked-out by newspapers. Almost universally it seems, once a retailer takes a lease, before they even begin their fit-out, the first thing they do is cover the windows – often with old newspaper.

Blank Brand Communication Canvas

This particular shop is part of a small retail/residential development that has been in progress for the last 12 months, and is located on the corner of a high traffic intersection. No doubt many other locals and passers-by have the same level of curiosity as I do to see what shop will be opening in this newly built retail space. As I stumbled past at a slow slog it occurred to me that a great brand communication opportunity was going begging right there on that street corner.

Missing the Opportunity to Make an Impression
With all of the car, pedestrian and tram traffic passing this corner store every day, what a wonderful opportunity the new tenants have to cover the windows with a great big ad. The windows are as large as a billboard and well illuminated. For a fraction of the cost of the store fit-out, the mysterious retailer-to-be could be actively marketing themselves and their brand to their future customers. In fact if I were in the new tenant’s shoes, I would have had a go at getting the land-lord to cover the cost of the window ad as part of the lease agreement.

This is what we call a Blank Canvas.
We spend much of our lives working with big brands; defining their reason for being – their competitive market position, and providing clarity around how to bring those brands to life to achieve the objectives of the business. Many of the strategies employed by the large and experienced brands translate across to small and medium sized businesses; some work even better for smaller enterprises. Blank Canvases are one of those strategies that are just as effective, if-not more-so for the smaller guys.

A Blank Canvas is any opportunity or channel available to communicate your brand that is currently not being used by the competition. As long as a Blank Canvas is appropriate for your brand and relevant to your market, it will usually deliver a much higher ROI than traditional marketing activities thanks to increased ‘cut through’.

Recently we worked with a local home building company called Nava Homes.
Initially we developed their differentiated market proposition and defined their brand, but the real high value work was in the transformation of their marketing strategy from traditional channels to Blank Canvases. As a home builder, Nava had a number of display homes located in display villages around Melbourne. The vast majority of Nava’s marketing budget was spent on traditional newspaper ads, aimed at driving traffic to the display villages their display homes were located-in. The problem was that as a smaller player, Nava’s ads were buried deep in the real estate section of the local newspapers. The first pages were filled with double-page spread, full colour ads from the bigger home builders who’s ads were aimed at guess what… driving traffic to those very same display villages.

There was no way with our clients marketing budget that Nava could ever own the newspaper advertising space – that was a brand canvas crowded with big players. What we identified as a Blank Canvas was the opportunity to own the car parks at the display villages. Our strategy was – ‘Let the big brands drive home buyers to the display villages, but once they arrive, let’s disproportionately attract their attention and direct them to our Italian Family Living Nava Homes.’ Whilst Nava’s marketing budget would never be enough to stand-out in the newpapers, it was ample to make a big splash at the display village carparks – which were relatively Blank Canvases.

A Strategy from the Big Brands for Brands of Every Size
All brands; B2B, B2C, retail, manufacturing, professional services, not-for-profit, multinational, small or medium sized, have the potential to unlock the power of their own Blank Canvases, and increase the ROI for their marketing and brand communications. If you’d like some help identifying the Blank Canvases for your brand, let us know – we’d be only too happy to be of assistance.

David Ansett, Brandamentalist.
If you’d like daily updates of our brand thinking, you can follow me on Twitter here.


  1. Dave, that’s such a simple yet brilliant idea – the beauty of the blank canvas! It makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before (it may have but I to certainly haven’t seen it) and what missed marketing ROI opportunities and brand leverage/awareness this particular retailer (and others for that matter) might have missed out on.

  2. Thanks Dominic, It is a simple idea. The tricky bit is usually that we have all been marketing the same way through the same channels for years, and that can make it tough to see the blank canvases for the trees.

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