How important is signage in a technologically advanced age? How effective is signage in the overall branding of the product? These were questions recently raised in a prominent marketing magazine. The author seemed to feel that huge flat screens in stores, internet access, and other electronic “tools” had replaced the age-old focus on signage, ranging from the store signs itself to strategically positioned signs at point of purchase.
The author used a local car dealership that he had known for years as an example of the change in recent years. He recalled with some sense of nostalgia that the dealership at one point had a showroom that was full of huge pennants hanging from ceiling to floor with the car brand interspersed between the cars on the floor. Today, he said the pennants were gone in favor of several large flat screens that showed the cars on a scenic road somewhere in Europe. In observing customers, he noted they occasionally glanced at the screens but it wasn’t the same “with the eye contact with the brand on one of the old signs.”
While the dealership did have a magnificent neon sign that was visible for several blocks, most of the windows were bare and as the dealer said: “I let my cars sell themselves.” The author felt that those signs with slogans, special messages, and focused images were, in fact, missing from the branding effort.
In the classical marketing mix, signage is an integral part of the branding effort. It is the most effective way to flag a brand, not only for shoppers but for passers-by who are potential customers. Signage does not only mean the external sign with the name of the brand. It extends to every opportunity for branding, from the sign near the register to the bag. More and more companies are putting emphasis on their shopping bags with the knowledge that the bags are roving marketing campaigns. They are looking not only to have their brands emblazoned on the bags but to somehow differentiate them from other brands. Color, texture, and even functionality play a part in this important exercise.
Point-of-purchase signage is also a key element in the effective e use of signage as a branding tool. This seemingly “in-your-face” strategy is designed to remind you of the brand, to associate the brand with a positive experience, and to reinforce the strength of the brand. Studies have shown that effective in-store signage can go a long way in the ultimate branding success of a product or service.
Strategically placed billboards are also part of the “mind game,” as one marketer put it. “The more you see the signage in different context, the stronger the brand becomes in your mind,” In other words visibility is a key element here but also an important form of association. I recall reading many years ago that customers in a survey associated the big billboards on highways and train and bus platforms as an indication of size and strength.
Companies who regularly update their image frequently ignore their signs. A large grocer updated his logo on bags and even on private label products without devoting the same attention to signage on the store, in the parking lot and even on carts. It is exceedingly important that when a change is made, it be done across the board and the line in the sand from a budget point of view should not be store signage.
Walking in a suburban mall recently, you could see the difference between well thought out campaigns to maximize branding opportunities versus those that paid only casual attention to their branding. A large clothier not only had large signs over the store, but hung flags that protruded into the mall, in addition to several self standing posters that spoke of the everyday values that the store offers. It is hard to say whether these additions actually resulted in more traffic in the store, but I would venture to say that a survey would conclusively find a relationship between the extra effort and store customers.
A client recently asked my opinion about posting signage on key streets in the neighborhood of his business. He particularly wanted to flag an annual sale that is well advertised in the local media. The easy answer is, of course, the more the merrier, but I did advise to be careful of local laws that restrict posting such signs on trees and light poles.
In one mall, several stores had agreed to allow signage of neighboring stores in an effort at promoting each other’s store. While the storeowners spoke glowingly of the program, I am still for maximizing the brand in or near the actual location. The more customers identify the brand with the location, the stronger the brand. I somehow feel that there is somewhat of a dilution in the durability of the brand when it is not directly associated with the location. Of course, if there are “other” opportunities beyond the location itself, it is a no brainer, which explains why billboards in strategic locations are so popular.
Take it from me, when it comes to signs, you just can’t scream your brand loud enough. And that’s effective branding!