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The Total "Language" of Signs

Nothing speaks louder to a potential buyer than a bold display

By Staff

Signs are undoubtedly a useful-and imperative-method of communication between the business and the customer. Nothing speaks louder to a potential buyer than a bold display.

Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

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  • "Bold" can be a massive billboard on the highway, a logo emblazoned on a vehicle, or simply a cloth banner. However, not only must customers see the sign, but they also should read it-and should absorb the message that it offers.

    Sometimes in the sign industry, the phrasing or the language is problematic for the sign shop owners or for the businesses that hire the professional services of a sign shop.

    But the real concern should be the whole "language" of the sign. The whole "language" includes connecting the customer's marketing objectives with the stage in the visual communication process. That connection is accomplished with not only the form and content of the graphics, but also the sign's shape, color, texture, and form. All are the elements of a sign's "language." Unless clients clearly insists upon or identifies their desires for the signs, the sign shop is left to match its expertise with the customers' needs. Customers "want more business" but have little notion of what sign or "language" of the sign will accomplished the desired goal. Customers may have an ideal sign in their minds, but cannot tell you what it is they see. What's the key to bridging this gap between the ideal sign and the sign you make?

    Objectives. You need to get the customers requesting the sign to detail their marketing objectives. Obviously, marketing objectives are more difficult to get than are the desired size, colors, and cost of the sign. Marketing objectives are rarely stated up front when negotiating the construction of the sign. You-the sign maker-must sharpen your listening and hearing abilities to determine the customer's vision of the sign. Usually, marketing objectives unintentionally surface during a conversation about location, size, color, cost, and so forth. When hints surface, follow them up with questions that might provide you more information about what this sign is supposed to be doing. For example, try "why?" questions. "Why do you want to locate it there?" "Why do you want to use those colors?" "Why that size?" After the business owner recognizes the role of the sign in their industry, the audience must be defined. Figure out just what appeals to their customer-not the famous "general public" represented by the phrase "I'll take anybody's money." The content of the sign cannot just boast its product; it should be convincing. Once identified, a specific group is easier to target and to convince.

    For instance, a trade-show display for sales or production managers will need to orient itself in a way very much different from one catering to upper management. The upper management personnel are more interested in net profit and the cumulative effect of the particular product on the company. The sales managers will be influenced by how the product will affect sales. Production managers respond to services and products that will boost efficiency.

    Once the customer's goals are identified as best as possible, sort through them. One way to sort objectives is to get the customer to rank them in order of importance.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Next, take the marketing objectives and the target population analysis, and apply that information to an analysis of the visual communication process. After sorting through the marketing objectives, choose the best ideas and the language that might be used to "speak" to the consumer.

    Try to match the ideas and the language with the identified marketing objectives. What ideas and language meets what objective? Having previously ranked the marketing objectives in order of importance, you already have a system for evaluating ideas and language. Don't let too many ideas, themes, or words convolute the entire advertisement. Three to five words within a space of 20'x20' works best. Size is key to the content of the sign. The same goes for the other "languages" of signs. You probably don't want to mix too many media, too many colors, or too many textures. How does a sign maker make decisions about the "language" for a customer's sign? Think in terms of the visual communication process. The mission of signs and graphics is segmented into a three-part process: attracting, informing, and directing.

    Attraction is the most important step in the process. To attract, the attention of the consumer must be seized-and held. Once someone notices the sign, part of this process is achieved. However, the concern is with getting the attention of the targeted customer. This is when strategy decisions can get tricky. Ploys such as quirky cartoons, bright lights, or loud colors can interrupt the gaze of any passerby. It's a matter of selecting a visual scheme that will grab the targeted product market. Next it should be a strategy to effectively inform the targets that they need what the sign is communicating.

    This can be done with language. Verbal messaging is often effective. It can offer varying degrees of directness, simplicity, or subtlety. Verbal language also can be used in conjunction with pictures or other, more abstract forms of product representation. Sometimes the sign can just suggest the product's function-what it is and why it is used. Other times, the use of company and product names can work. However, overuse may result in the undesired effective of seeing your sign as an empty corporate plug. The size of the projected targeted audience also has bearing as to the method of attraction. Actual indoor displays, especially when introducing a new product that is unknown to most, can benefit from an array of lures. Organization is essential. Information can be drawn up with graphs, charts, and reports. This strategy allows the potential customer the sense of "understanding" the product. However, most signs are not indoor, group-gathering displays.

    Informing is the second step in the process of successful visual communications. Information, the second element of successful sign process, must be drawn up and served differently. It also must follow up with as much zest as the attraction stage-the customer's attention needs to be held. Your customers' emerging companies and new products should pay special attention to information graphics. Not as well-established as some of their competitors, your sign customers should be told that the information to be displayed on the sign must communicate. It must articulate and be tangible. Have the sign speak in terms that will be understood. Imagine what kind of questions qualified buyers might have and answer them. Connect the product with service to the potential consumers. The third second step in the process of successful visual communications is directing.

    After the customer is attracted and informed, the buyer must be directed. Directional signage is quite popular when dealing with large exhibits and retail situations. Used to help organize and direct the flow of consumer traffic, directional signage will guide customers in a more orderly fashion and make for a much more successful selling environment. Directional signs make businesses easier to find. If consumers can't find your customer, they can't do business with your customer. Regardless of the sign's role in the visual communication process, shape, color, texture, and form are important to the "language" of the sign. Each contributes to effectively reaching your customers' marketing objectives. Each sign's shape, color, texture, and form must be as precisely and clearly planned as the graphics and the stage in the visual communication process. Inexperienced sign makers assume that the graphics on signs are more important than structure or retail design. However, experienced professionals know that the whole sign is the "language" of the sign.

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