Your signage is a salesperson

Most companies think of signage as and add on or an additional burden or expense. A radical mindset changes is required when it comes to your business/organizations signage. Make signage your PLUS ONE of your sales force. Consider signs as your silent but highest-selling sales people, who works 24 hours a day 365 days a year and never has a sick day!

A Johannesburg-based signage consultant to the corporate industry, identifies the mistakes he commonly sees committed by his clients. “There’s a mentality among small business owners, when money is committed to building in a new location,” he says. “They allot x amount of rands in their budget to a line item called ‘signs’. If a cost overrun occurs during construction – and those are not uncommon – then the sign budget is the first thing that gets cut.” The reverse of this thinking exists within certain large consumer-oriented corporations, who have studied the science of signage like few others.

McDonald’s is one such company. They recognize that the unique signage presentation at each of their locations helps emphasize in the minds of consumers one of the most valuable brands in all of business. To reinforce this branding, it helps that the very first thing they install at a new location – even before they break ground – is a sign.

Trimming the signage budget in the here-and-now, while providing short-term savings, will have long-term consequences. Think of it. There are thousands of people who’ve never been to your door. The sign on your premises is your handshake with the public, and that handshake is the first impression being made on potential customers. 

To reinforce this branding, it helps that the very first thing they install at a new location – even before they break ground – is a sign.

Often, people judge the quality of your business on that first impression. What is your sign saying to them? Much like you set standards for an employee’s appearance and expectations for their conduct, the colour, visibility, messaging, and quality of signs also require a certain amount of development and consideration. Also like employees, signs can be given on-the-job tasks, ranging from sales information and wayfinding to general product information and usage.

Is your sign a blur of crowded text and graphics, illegible to drivers as they motor past your store? Does it readily and effectively tell passersby what you offer, or does it make sense only to you and your employees? Is your sign illuminated effectively? Is it being regularly maintained? What role is it playing in your business? Ideally, it should perform at least these three functions:

  1. Attract new customers
  2. Brand your site in the minds of consumers
  3. Create “impulse” sales


What should my Signage look like?

  • Be specific:  A customized sign can give you just the right message in just the right place, known as narrowcasting. When designing a sign, include specific details, such as location-specific instructions and relevant product information.
  • Keep it simple: Your sign’s message needs to be clear, yet one with too much information is often ignored. Use the five-second rule which states that if you can convey the main themes of the sign in less than five seconds, you pass. If it takes longer, shorten your message or use a series of signs.
  • Write in headline text: This should help you be concise and simple all at once. Understand the first principle of print journalism: the punch line matters. Can you simplify your text? Can you take out prepositions and extra words? Effective custom signs use a message hierarchy: headline, explanatory text, and finally, a call to action.
  • Make a call to action: Signs are advertisements, and as any good advertiser knows, you need to get the customer to do something; that’s the call to action. An effective sign needs to have a simple goal.

In fact, without a sign to identify a business location, the money spent on other media is largely wasted. Branding Your Business On-premise signs are a form of commercial advertising. Sometimes, it is the only indication of a business’ location. Among retail businesses, it is the most ubiquitous of all advertising options. When designed effectively, a sign can combine with other media to help “brand” your business in the mind of a consumer. If your company has a trademark or a logo, it should appear alongside your business’ name. Text and images on the sign should be repeated throughout your marketing mix, either when advertising through another medium (television, radio, the Yellow Pages, and so on) or within your organization (stationery, catalogs, business cards, annual reports, uniforms, vehicles, etc.). The more consistently your message is displayed, the greater the likelihood that potential consumers will remember who you are, and what you’re selling.

Too busy, numerous different fonts. Not ideal.

Clean font, and tells you what the business is about in one word.

What does it mean for a sign to be “designed effectively”? Signage experts have identified three main guidelines:

  1. It must be of sufficient size and height, and not be hidden or obscured by intervening traffic or other visual objects in the consumer’s line of vision (power lines, streetlights, etc.).
  2. It must display content (text and/or images) that is legible.
  3. It must stand out from its background. In other words, a sign should possess optimum visibility, readability and be conspicuous.

The purpose of advertising is to increase the public’s awareness of you.

What better way than through good signage?

Most business signs are well-proportioned, carefully balanced, tastefully drawn and perfectly colour-coordinated.

Five most common mistakes made in business-sign design are:

  1. attempting to be understated or elegant;
  2. attempting to “fit,” or blend into, the surrounding environment;
  3. under spending;
  4. including too much information; and
  5. placing the sign too high. (The eyes of drivers tend to stay focused at windshield height. Low signs are better in town. Tall signs are better on freeways where they’ll be read–at windshield height–from great distances.)

Great signs are always the most interesting piece of scenery in their vicinity. This is why they’re noticed even when people aren’t looking for them.

Would you like to have such a sign? Believe it or not, it’s possible–not cheap or easy, but possible.

Consider the sprawling white letters stretched across a hillside in Southern California: HOLLYWOOD, a landmark known around the world. Did you know that sign was originally erected by a real-estate developer to identify his remote suburban subdivision, Hollywoodland?

Not all business signs will become famous landmarks, but it doesn’t hurt to keep these common denominators of business signs that do become landmarks in mind:

They’re dramatic. This can be due to the fact that they’re:

  • grossly oversized,
  • strangely placed or
  • 3-dimensional.
  • The Hollywood sign fits all three criteria.

They’re different , contrasting sharply with their surroundings due to:

  • Color. For example, snow-white Hollywood letters against a hillside of dark brown and green.
  • Installation. The famous Hollywood sign isn’t on a pole or a board. Its individual letters sit directly on the ground.
  • Context. There’s nothing immediately around it to distract from it. Or if there is something important nearby, it’s incorporated into the sign itself.
  • There’s something “wrong” with it. Ever notice how the Hollywood letters aren’t level, but rise and fall with the terrain? This makes it far more memorable.

I doubt if the builder of the Hollywood sign did these brilliant things intentionally. But they worked, even if some of them were accidental. Do you have the courage and determination to repeat on purpose the things he did right by accident? If you do, the public will soon be using your sign as a reference point when giving directions.