Unlocking the Psychology of Signage
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Unlocking the Psychology of Signage

Successful sign making depends on effective visual communication. Understanding how consumers relate to signage, then, is key to helping your customers unlock the door to greater revenues.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Signage is a cornerstone to any profitable merchandising program. If you plan to become a value-add consultant to your customers, then you need to be able to explain how signage impact sales.

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  • Signs have many functions, but POP signage is designed to advertise a product at the location in which it’s displayed. Experts say effective POP signage is a critical component of a merchandising program.

    According to the Small Business Association, effective POP signage develops a memory for a location of the products or services, reinforces a memory and extends recall of other advertising efforts, attracts new customers and modifies customary purchase decisions or habits.

    In essence, the underlying principles of POP signage are the same: to communicate the price, features, value and benefits of a product in order to close a sale.

    While choosing the right signage can help boost revenues, a careless approach to promoting products can put a damper on otherwise well-conceived merchandising plans. To be sure, signage is a cornerstone of any profitable merchandising program. If you plan to become a value-add consultant to your customers, and then you need to be able to explain how signage can impact sales.

    Developing Effective Signage
    The first step is to understand the needs of your customer. The most important function is to convey information that speaks to the needs of the consumers. But experts say many inexperienced retailers struggle with what information to include in signage. Sign makers can play the hero by helping them understand what to put on the sign - and what not to put on the sign.

    “One of two things tends to happen,” says George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants, a retail consultancy in San Marcos, Calif. “Either there’s too little information or too much. It can be difficult to find a middle ground.”

    Price is obviously an important element, but it may not be the most important. Since you want the sign to help sell the product to the consumer it should also include product features and benefits. For example, all shirts are not created equal. So if the customer carries more than one brand, size or shape, then more than one sign is necessary to promote the product styles. That means more money in your pocket, sign maker!

    “You need a certain amount of signage at the point of sale because it does draw the unintended purchase. Consumers go through the facility for something that they came to buy, but it’s the signage that usually makes them buy something else, too. That’s one of the beauties of good signage. It can also close a sale,” says Don Longo, associate publisher and editor-in-chief of Retail Merchandiser magazine. “But you can have too much signage and produce clutter in the store. Then all the signs compete with one another and no one message is dominant. That can get confusing.”

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    Figuring Out Fonts
    Fonts, also called typefaces, are another important ingredient in successful signage. Deciding which font to use can be a challenge for your customer, and could lead to an ugly sign that you are embarrassed to admit you made.

    But there are some guidelines to follow. If you can communicate these guidelines to your customers, perhaps in an informational sheet, you can cut down on the time you spend on the customer education process ­ and on the number of revisions.

    “Signage has to be clear and easily-read, so the type can’t be too small,” says Mike Doyle, vice president of strategic sales for Creative Retail Services, Inc., a merchandising firm in Alpharetta, Ga. with clients like Home Depot. “If you have to squint to see it, then you are working against yourself.”

    The typeface of the client’s company logo may be a good choice if it is made up of bold letters. Taking this route gives your client more branding power and yields a consistent theme throughout the store. “Use one typeface on all signage,” Longo says. “You wouldn’t want to have stenciled signage in one aisle and block lettering in another aisle. Consistency is key.”

    Sizes, Location and Education
    Signs come in all shapes and sizes, but experts say they should be appropriate to the rest of the merchandising scheme. Much of signage is common sense. You wouldn’t want to put a poster-sized sign over a small fixture, for example, or a postcard-sized sign over a large display. Signage needs to fit the environment.

    “Use signs that are within the eyesight of the customer,” says Whalin. “Signs that are too high above a customer’s head or too low below the customer’s waist tend to be worthless.”

    In a facility with very high ceilings, hanging signs work well, Longo says, and can convey that popular warehouse feel. But signs that are right above the shelf are a safe bet.

    Then there’s educational signage that explains product use to a customer. Experts say this can be impactful with products that have a how-to element or where the consumer needs additional information to make a wise purchase.

    “If you are selling locks, then it’s a safety issue and people need to be educated in order to choose the best product for their needs,” says Doyle. “Consumable products, like tape, don’t lend themselves to educational signs.”

    To Change or Not To Change
    Once you have your scheme in place there isn’t much need for your client to change the standard signage. But there are still opportunities for special event signage that you can cash in on.

    “If a store is having an event, then you definitely want to change the signage as much as possible so that it makes the environment different,” says Whalin. “Stores also need to change the signage when it starts to look ragged, torn or faded due to sun exposure and doesn’t represent a business well.”

    In a nutshell, experts advise simple signage: “Use short bullet points. State your facts,” says Doyle. “Consumers are smart and if you confuse them they get angry. ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is a good rule of thumb.”

    If you can get these points across to your customers, then you can save yourself a lot of time in the drafting and revision process. You can also build a reputation for being a sign consultant in addition to being a sign maker and increase your revenues in the process.

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