I was taking a walk the other day through the grounds of North Central Michigan College and I was struck by their excellent use of signage in all of its varieties. There were signs on the lampposts, directional signs on the actual sidewalks, great visible building signs, and even a whole cling sign to the gym windows promoting their new athletic program. It is great marketing, because people see signs.
When clients talk about marketing their business, they generally refer to websites, advertising, social media, SEO, and more. Rarely is there a discussion about signs. If you have a brick and mortar business, your sign is the first thing people see. It is what draws them, or at least should draw them, inside to see what is offered. It is the first impression, and we all know that is a valuable one.
So why, I ask, are businesses so careless with their signs? Now there are many types of signs. On the big box stores like we have in various strip malls, the signs are lighted. And invariably, at some point in time, light bulbs burn out. So, why oh why do these light bulbs not get replaced? JoAnne’s could become “Anne’s.” Marshall’s could be “shall’s”. There was a hotel in Virginia called the Hotel Virginian and its lighted sign on the roof could be seen for miles. Light bulbs burned out and one night the sign reflected only the first 3 letters of Hotel, and the first 6 letters of Virginian. It’s said someone almost drove off the James River Bridge when they saw it. Always pay attention to those signs and fix them immediately.
Other signage opportunities include the signs with sliding letters, like in front of hotels, churches, and other businesses. This is where those rascally vandals love to spend time. I’ve seen Hot Tub Special changed to Hot But special. I’m particularly fond of the sign advertising Professional Bowling Classes where some witty vandal stole the CL from Classes – on both sides of the sign! My favorite was the movie theatre, promoting the Black Panter (Panther). Managers and employees should have a ritual of checking signs every day to make sure the rascals haven’t visited. And never, never, use a Z for an N, or a W for an M or vice versa. Just buy replacement letters and have them on hand.
There are myriad varieties of signs. Banners, stick in the ground signs (whose letters are always so small you can’t read them), and of course, the ever popular desktop published signs or handwritten signs. All I can say is remember spell and grammar check and USE IT!
The moral of this story is that people see signs. Some impress. Some offer wayfinding. Some just make you laugh and shake your head. Signs are important. First impressions are the lasting ones. Take care of your signage, whatever form it takes. It’s as important an expense as any other marketing that you do.