Marketing & Growth

Signs: How to Tell the World About Your Business

By Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Printed marketing materials can seem like a dying medium in an era dominated by technology, but respondents to the 2011 American Shopper Study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati and the market research firm BrandSpark International disagree. Nearly 80% said signs remain an important aspect of how they find and form opinions about a business.

In fact, the same research suggests that a businesses’ sign can actually determine how customers feel about your business—and whether they’ll buy from it.

Here are some of the key factors to consider when you develop your businesses sign. 

Quality speaks louder than words. The 2011 American Shopper Study polled more than 100,000 consumers to determine which mediums have the most influence on customer’s perceptions of a business, and whether they’ll purchase from it.

While the findings confirmed that a businesses’ sign can indeed draw traffic to a business, the perceived quality of the sign plays a significant role. Nearly 85% of the respondents associate the quality of a sign with the businesses’ personality and character. In a separate comprehensive study on signs authored by the University of Cincinnati’s James J Kellaris, more than half of respondents said they won’t go into a business if they don’t get a positive image of it from its sign.

Your sign is essentially the first impression your business makes on the public. Invest the time and money required to produce a quality visual representation of your business that communicates the message you intend.

Sign design should speak to those you want to attract. One of the significant challenges striving for “quality” presents is that it’s a highly subjective term. Eliminate the guesswork by defining specifically who you want to attract with your sign (which cannot be “everyone”)—and what they deem important. Just as with the rest of your marketing and promotional messages, this understanding of your ideal customer should ultimately drive your sign’s concept, placement, and the materials and special elements it uses. For example, 38% of respondents to the Kellaris study perceive electronic signs as a waste of electricity. The large majority of respondents to BrandsSpark’s survey believe that vintage signs, or those that capture the historic character of an established area are worth preserving.

When you know what your audience values, you’re better equipped to design a sign that aligns with what they perceive as credible and appealing.

Placement is pivotal. More than 60% of respondents to the BrandSpark study indicated that they were unable to find a business because the sign was too small, or unclear. The problem is prevalent across age groups; 77% of respondents ages 30 to 34 have had difficulty finding a businesses’ sign. More importantly, nearly 60% say that when a businesses sign is hard to read, they feel frustrated and annoyed.

You can improve the visibility of your sign by considering the vantage point of your audience. Will the sign be located on a main road among many other signs? Will customers see your sign while driving, or on foot? If they’ll be in a car driving, at what speed will they travel as they pass your sign? At what time of day are customers likely to visit your business? How might the content of your sign impact ideal placement, or the need to have more than one sign?

Traffic patterns, road conditions, and the angles light shines on your sign all play a role in the materials, fonts, and colors you can successfully incorporate. For example, Kellaris points out that a sign can look very different, based simply on the angle it’s viewed. When people see a sign out of their out of their right visual field, they generally have an easier time processing word compared to graphic images. Conversely, a sign read out of a person’s left visual field is easier to process when it includes images placed at eye level.

Less is more. Prioritize the elements that mean the most to customers: 83% of BrandMark’s survey respondents said that lettering that is too small is one of the most common reasons they can’t read a sign. Choose fonts that read clearly regardless of distance, and prioritize the elements that will be most easily processed by your target audience. A business with an established brand presence may have the option to successfully incorporate logos, images and copy without compromising readability. (For example, Starbucks can show its icon only, and customers recognize it). A new business whose logo isn’t meaningful to the customer, however, will likely need to prioritize text over graphic elements.

Ready to move your business forward?

Subscribe to Fundbox Forward for expert insights and tips every week so you can grow.