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January 2, 2008

7 Min Read
Signage as an Effective Marketing Tool

To be effective as a marketing medium, your facility signage must be seen by the passing public. This means it must compete successfully with its environment and stand out from its surroundings. The sign must be conspicuous to complete the next stage in communication: It must be read!

Sign companies and business owners often collaborate in designing signs that look good on paper 18 inches from your nose, but this is not how most consumers see your signage. They see it in the street while fighting traffic, putting on mascara, having lively conversation with their spouses and children, and gabbing on their cell phones.

Failure to consider these human factors will result in a sign that under performs; and under performance can be directly linked to lost capture rate, sales and dollars. The highway department maintains safety standards by tracking the performance of its sign programs, by studying human factors and crash rates. If crash rates are high in a particular area, the solution most often applied is more or larger signs.

Government and corporate research has produced a very specific method of sign design that makes signs interactive with the environment in which they are placed. This environmental approach allows for the creation of signs that give businesses a strong competitive advantage.

One business owner recently reported that after applying this proven design method to his signage after 20 years of marginal performance, he experienced an increase in revenue between 50 percent and 60 percent. While these results may not be typical, they certainly point to the importance of sign design.

The complete science of signage cant be adequately conveyed in a single article; but lets address some of the common questions asked by business owners.

Why must my business have a sign?

A sign is your introduction to passing motorists, your hand shake with the public. Without it, there is no announcement to potential customers that you are ready, willing and able to serve their needs. Theres an old saying in the sign industry: A business with no sign is a sign of no business!

Signs are necessary to institute branding. Unlike products that can be distributed through multiple outlets, such as soft drinks or candy, storage space must be rented at a specific site where the units are located. Failure to brand that specific location with bold, beautiful, informative signage will negatively affect your ability to capture drive-by traffic and reduce the penetration of your other advertising.

Is my sign visible, or does it blend into its environment?

Recently, while driving through Louisiana, I almost missed the exit where I knew a Starbucks was located. The companys green and white sign, nestled in a stand of pine trees, was camouflaged. I was at the exits divided line before I saw the sign, and had to make a bold maneuver to exit.

This practical example shows that you must consider the readers vision and perspective to effectively communicate your message. Failing to design a sign that stands out in its environment and is clear from obstruction will cost you business dollars every day.

Does my sign convey my business model and value propositions?

Every business has a particular model it needs to convey to the public. The best approach is to develop value propositions that creatively communicate the way your business is different from competitors in the market. For example, if your storage facility offers free truck rental or boat/RV storage, these services should be included in your street and building signage. Its important that the public be able to discern your business model quickly.

Good design will allow your business to communicate effectively without crowding the sign. Including too many items such as phone numbers, addresses or other non-advertising information makes the sign look cluttered. First and foremost, keep it simple!

Also, use terms the general public is likely to understand. When determining content, pretend youre not familiar with self-storage. Industry thinking can be myopic, and we begin to communicate in ways outsiders, our customers, fail to understand. Our signs and employees need to speak the commonly understood language of non-informed consumers.

Can the sign be read at an appropriate distance to allow safe entry into the business?

Sign copy must be one standing inch of letter height for each 25 feet of distance to be read. The formula for determining the reading distance is:

Velocity (Number of Words or Symbols to Be Read x Time It Takes to Read One Word + Decision Time + Basic Maneuver Time) = Minimum Required Legibility Distance 

To determine your speed of travel (velocity) in feet per second, multiply miles per hour by 1.47. For example, at 30 MPH, the speed of travel is 44 feet per second (30 x 1.47 = 44.1). The average time it takes to read one word is .033 seconds; a persons average decision time is 4.02 seconds; and basic maneuver time is 4 seconds. Now lets put it all together, assuming our sign contains 13 words to be read:

44 [(13 x .033) + 4.02 + 4] = 371.756 

According to the above calculation, our minimum required legibility distance is 372 feet. Divide that by 25 feet per standing inch, and this sign requires a minimum copy height of 14.88 inches to be read and safely responded to by drivers. This is not the only consideration in determining the copy size, but it gives you an idea of how big the text and sign cabinet should be.

Do my local regulations prevent me from properly communicating with the public?

In this day of ever increasing sign codes, its important to capitalize on every opportunity available. A thorough examination by a sign expert can sometimes yield new ways for overcoming a prevailing sign code. But science should be the foundation of the design. Neither the code nor the art employed should replace the science dictated by the site where the sign will stand.

Sign codes may force creative use of signage. When signs are reduced to sizes too small to be read effectively, there are a number of ways to compensate. First, consider presenting a hardship, supported by scientific evidence, to the local board of adjustment. After one skirmish with a local board in which I explained the technical reason why we needed our sign illuminated internally, the board hired me to rewrite its sign code. Pleading for a larger sign is no match for using known scientific data to accomplish the mission.

When all else fails, changing the sign shape to a shorter or longer ratio will allow for larger copy size in a smaller area. Vertical and horizontal placement along the street to avoid obstruction is also a critical part of the proper sign design.

Setbacks imposed by the city may also reduce sign effectiveness and must be appropriately considered. The setback from the drivers center of vision measured to the leading edge of the sign may reduce readability and should be accounted for in the design.

One of the most creative ways to overcome restrictive sign codes is to use architecture to create larger signs than the codes allow. Recently, a car-wash owner was denied a permit to have a street sign because a billboard already existed on the property. After considering the options, we added a new architectural feature: a wing wall projecting from the building toward the street. We then applied for a new permit to use building signs on the addition.

The strategy worked, and the fantastic new signs made up for what was denied by the code. In fact, adding a large, colorful feature to a building and strategically placing signs on it can give the impression of a larger sign than what might otherwise be allowed.

Careful and thoughtful consideration of your signage is a necessary part of business success. Whether youre designing a new or replacement sign, use all of the strategies necessary to create the sign that best matches your site and business model. 

Perry Powell is a sign consultant who specializes in fitting businesses with appropriate signage specific to their sites. For more information, call 817.307.6484; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.perrypowell.com

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