Signage Matters

12 Dec

“Hang your shingle out,” the pioneer man greeted the new store owner as he trotted into town. That’s how it worked. When you were the doctor who came to town, you hung a dangling sign outside your door that read “doctor.” Others simply hung out signs reading “pharmacist,” “jailhouse,” “general store.” Can you see the western boardwalk towns where that was the extent of needed signage?

A rerun of Little House on the Prairie recently reminded me how I once read that marketing’s origin was in medicine bottles & books. Those were two of the first areas where marketing messaging and consumer education took place. On the episode I watched recently, Harriet and Nels Oleson placed staked signs on the outskirts of their little Walnut Grove community so people knew they could stop at their general store as they passed through or settled in. Can you imagine hammering a small sign into the ground in wide open prairie? Who knew that was among the earliest days of outdoor marketing-a pioneer-days billboard? In the episode, the signs just led robbers to target the store, so the outcome wasn’t obviously ideal.

However, it had us thinking about a client we helped a few years ago. He was eager to grow his business and make a big splash by moving to a new, more visible location. We worked to create a large, lighted outdoor sign at the new location that matched all of his existing, local branding perfectly. The local branding campaign was built to highlight his affiliation with a national organization, while setting him apart from multiple competitors.  We coached him on signage to put at the former location to maximize awareness at both places, at least temporarily. While he loved our proposal, forbudget reasons, he instead (1) left his existing listing in the bank of business names in a stacked sign in the parking lot; (2) taped a paper notice on the tinted window door directing people who approach the door to their new location; and (3) moved the same standard pole sign (with generic branding from a national campaign) from the first office to his new building. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s fine. It’s no different than many other offices around town, but it is visible to traffic and error-free featuring his name, so he thought it a wise decision. No more visible investment has ever been made at the first location to direct passers-by or intentional customers to the new location. Now, years later, his original sign is still in the parking lot sign of business listings, which is also near a fairly high-traffic street. It is weathered and unkept. It has the exact same imaging and information that the pole sign at the new location features. We understand budget limitations, but this is an unfortunate outcome, likely costing the business owner immeasurable amounts.

Switch gears with me now to two completely different observations we’ve recently made about signage.

Our office is downtown – a tiny, humble hole in the wall we have successfully hidden in for some time. It allows us to get our work done efficiently without increasing overhead much. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we finally opted to include window signage, marking our location. Interest in working at our firm increased within the week. Requests for service also increased. We were hiring, but we aren’t accepting new clients so this presented some issues we have to deal with promptly to avoid compromising our timeliness and efficiency with other commitments. If we don’t handle employment inquiries or client requests properly, it could create a negative impression that lingers in the all-powerful word-of-mouth arena for years to come.

Nearby our downtown office space are multiple attorneys and other small businesses and boutique stores. In our building, people wander around looking for the right person. We can tell by their angst that they’re likely already late for their appointment. I’m quite certain that at least two people in our building consistently run a half hour late because their patrons simply can’t get parked in the right spot and find them in time for their appointment. Signage and confirmation communication would help that business run more smoothly and decrease stress for all involved, including the interruption our interns face as they walk people to where they’re supposed to be.

Signage matters, friends!

So, the questions are:

– Does the old, weathered sign in the now incorrect location send a negative message about this business’s professionalism? If so, what dollar figure could be placed on every frustrated visitor or negative impression being made by that sign? If not, then why is a new sign at the new location needed at all?

– Does signage matter? If so, does it only matter for marketing? Or can it be a customer service issue or even a business operations issue? Would more appropriate signage help these businesses run on time and keep to their schedule?

Beacon PR would like you to think about this while you drive around your area. Let us know your observations! We’ll be glad to provide you with tips for better signage any time.

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