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Lessons from St Peter’s Cathedral in Vienna for today’s marketing strategies.

St. Peter’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
(c) 2012 Matthew J. Ferrara


Recently I had the pleasure of teaching for a couple of days in Vienna, Austria. It was a fantastic experience, not only because the attendees were some of the top brokers throughout Europe, from whom I learned as much as I hope I contributed, but also because of the Viennese venue. Hosting a conference in a city of amazing architecture, sculptures and art is always a recipe for creative thinking.

After the conference, I spent a couple of days viewing the city through my camera’s lens. It’s one thing to tour a city. It’s another pleasure altogether to see it at focal length. The building facades, fountains and faces become much more than another beautiful city: in each, the voice of the city is clearly heard, seen, felt.

Within a few hours, I began to notice something interesting in the majestic ceilings of the cathedrals and salons. Some of  the paintings literally merged with the sculpture, so that the image emerged from the canvas. No, it was more than that: The image literally stood out.

The example above, taken in Saint Peter’s Cathedral, is just one of the many places where multiple mediums combined to make the message jump off – the wall, ceiling, even pews – and reach for the viewer. Suddenly, I was seeing a clever marketing lesson from the Baroque era: A message must work to cross the space between a person and the medium. In earlier periods, your choices were paint and marble and music, which is how you got these integrated sculptures in Saint Peters. Today, or canvases are endless, from print to web to video and mobile.

So it’s a matter of design that helps our messages stand out.

Architecture is perhaps one of the most interesting mediums to see this, because one one hand, it’s fixed in metal, stone, wood. At the same time, it can seem to be moving, through expressive curves, light and shadows, and sculptural adornments. Yet great buildings never seem to have any problem conveying their message to us, because the message isn’t just incorporated into the medium.

The medium projects the message.

Viennese Ice Cream Parlor
(c) 2012 Matthew J. Ferrara

It’s even truer if your product is involved in the messaging. Consider this image, where the ice cream cones actually become the marketing for the ice cream parlor message. Their arrangement into arcing arms, reaching out, crosses the space and draws the customer in. You don’t need to be a sculptor or a painter or a videographer to get your message across the divide to your customer. You just need to think about how to make it stand out.

Modern marketers might consider this angle for all of their media: Often times, a tool goes under-used; it conveys words, but does not project the meaning. It’s communication, but not experience. Print marketing often remains mere clever juxtapositions of fonts and photos, limited to delivering a flat experience. Much video marketing is too cautious, documentarian, doldrum. Personalities are muted; energy dissipated, under the mandatory use of classical music and game-show-host narration. Websites are staid and stolid; channeling interaction through a cookie-crumb plan rather than enabling the excitement of discovery and surprise you might get in a museum or art gallery.

Albertina Museum Stairs
(c) 2012 Matthew J. Ferrara

No matter where I turned in Vienna, messages were literally jumping out at me. Messages were thrust from spires, string-courses and a set of stairs. There was no missing them, and each was compelling in its own right, even amongst to many of them. The same challenge presents itself to modern business marketers: The noise is broader and louder, but the opportunity to stand-out perhaps easier than ever, given all of our wonderful digital tools. Now what’s needed is some imagination – a voice designed to be projected from the medium, not buried beneath it – to make our message stand out from the crowd.

They did it in the 18th century; can we do it today?