Is Your Signage Driving People Away?


Maybe it’s time to take a second look at your storefront business sign. Is it really drawing people in? Or keeping them out?

Despite the old adage about not judging a book by its cover, people make snap-judgment decisions every day about businesses they’ve never entered or dealt with, based solely on the first impression conveyed by the signage.

Signage Overlooked In Business Schools

There’s little escape from signage in daily life. But despite the ubiquity of business signs, business students have not stopped to give the topic much thought, according to a research report by marketing professor James J. Kellaris, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati. Even marketing textbooks “offer scant (or no) coverage of the topic,” he notes.

“On-premise signage is one of the oldest and most important forms of marketing communication,” writes Kellaris. Nevertheless, the benefits of effective signage are not fully understood by marketers, nor are they well-covered in marketing literature.

Integrated marketers and small businesses of all kinds can use signs more effectively by stepping back and understanding the different functions signs perform. In marketing communications, signs perform three roles: “identification, way-finding, and branding,” explains Kellaris. How well are your signs doing each of those jobs?

First Impressions Can Be Lasting

Kellaris conducted a survey of 200 business students about their attitudes toward signage and found that 79 percent agreed they could “infer the quality of a business from its signage.”

A majority (55 percent) of respondents said they would “avoid going into business establishments that have poor quality signage.”

Students agreed with the sign industry adage that “a sign is to a business what a handshake is to a sales call” — in other words, an important first impression and a revealing hint of personality.

The report posited that consumers’ first impressions tend to become frozen over time, even in the face of additional information that might go against their initial conclusion.

Don’t Be Difficult

Effective signage involves more than simply good visibility. Kellaris’ report cites research that suggests “the ease or difficulty with which visual information is processed can influence attitudes toward that information. If an object (word or symbol) is legible but difficult to read, it may be evaluated negatively…”

You can’t always control all the factors of your environment, such as the size and placement of your sign. But above all, you should seek to keep your message and graphics as clear, simple and legible as possible, to reduce any difficulty for your prospective customer. Make sure your message can be read easily and understood even at a distance.

For more tips on creating effective signage, take a look at some previous posts: “Create Signage Your Customers Can’t Ignore,” “How Signage Color Affects Customers” and “Sign of the Times: Typography and the Aging Eye.”

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