Selling Signage

Selling Signage
Escape Fine Crafts & Gifts gallery in Georgetown, Texas, advertises artists’ work with biographical cards detailing his or her background.

I’ve written before about the importance of signage, but the more work and research I do, the more passionate I become. The right sign inside a store can have a dramatic impact on sales almost instantly.

When I consult with a store for just an hour, I make some sign recommendations, and a few days later I usually receive an e-mail from the store’s owner telling me about the phenomenal effects the signs had. I have experienced this for more than 10 years. For the longest time, it still didn’t register with me how important signs are.

When I started doing research about the use of interior and exterior signs, I was blown away by the numbers. Read some of the research and you will become as passionate as I am:

  • Displays with signs outperform displays without signs by 43%.
  • Displays with signs of merchandise on sale outperform displays without signs by 13%.
  • Displays with signs outperform newspaper-advertised merchandise without signs. (Consider how much time you spend on your ads compared to your signs.)
Customers need signs to: Retailers need signs to:
  • Identify advertised merchandise
  • Explain value
  • Explain hidden benefits
  • Explain the differences in two almost identical items
  • Direct them to a specific product
  • Explain policies
  • Suggest other items
  • Speed up the selling or educational process
  • Educate the customer
  • Encourage multiple sales
  • Trade the customer up
  • Increase impulse sales
  • Give better, more efficient service
  • Create a better shopping experience
  • Showcase your credibility and expertise

The final, yet most important, reason to embrace signage is advertising. We build our businesses through word-of-mouth advertising. It’s reported that 87% of our business comes from referrals or recommendations—word-of-mouth advertising.

Signage as Advertising

Selling Signage
Signs that list basics like price and color availability, such as these at Frog Hollow Gallery in Burlington, Vt., can help customers make informed decisions.

Informative signage can be perceived as a form of word-of-mouth advertising. One study asked a cross section of customers how they heard about a certain business that had launched a major billboard campaign. In one group, they included signage as a category. About 49% of the customers surveyed checked off signage. When signage was eliminated as a formal category and replaced by the word “other,” almost 49% checked off either “referred by a friend” or “aware of business.”

Signage is subliminal. In some cases, word-of-mouth advertising gets credit it doesn’t deserve. In both groups, signage made a clear impact on customers.

Crafting Signage Success

Here is my magic formula for signage success. I call it the I.S.E.E. Formula. This is how it works:

I stands for Inform. That means offering information about the product or business. It can be as simple as a directional sign or informing the customer of the price.

S stands for Sell. What type of “sell” word or words are you using to convince your customer to buy? It might be “new,” “new arrival,” “hot” or a thousand other words.

E stands for Educate. What words can you use that will educate your customers? What can you say about the artist or designer of the merchandise? What story does the piece of merchandise have?

E stands for Entertainment. How can you make your signs more fun? I recently saw a sale sign that simply said, “Oops, We Goofed.” I got a chuckle out of that one.

The real challenge is to try to include as many of the I.S.E.E. elements in one sign, using the minimum amount of words. Signage may not be the retailer’s silver bullet, but it’s about the closest, and most cost-effective, tool I’ve ever seen.

This article was first published in the Winter 2007 edition of NICHE magazine. Rick Segel, certified speaking professional, is a business author and speaker who has wowed more than 1,800 audiences on four continents and in 47 states. He can be reached at