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What Your Signage Could Be Saying To Your Small Business Customers


small business sign

Nothing says welcome to small business customers like a sign about all of the things they can’t do when they’re in the store.

Instead of starting their shopping experience off on the right foot with some nice, postive messaging, unfortunately some small business owners decide to greet their customers with arbitrary and potentially abrasive restrictions—“No Photography,” No “this,” no “that.”

I get it. At some point you had a few customers who were total jerks so you decided to overcompensate for their jerkdome by plastering passive aggressive signage around your store—signs that almost always a mix of words in all caps (shouting) and at least one smiley face (smart ass).

And I’m sure the behaviors that led you to post those signs were warranted. But you’ve also got to think about what affect that signage is having on all of your other customers who haven’t been jerks.

In-store signage that totally misses the mark

No photography? Really? That might make sense if we’re still in 1985 and the sign is just a relic from a different time. But in the age of social media? When small businesses are scratching and clawing to compete with Big Box retailers and

You should want your customers to take pictures of anything and everything in your store. In fact, you should encourage it! You want them to sing your praises on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and whatever other social platforms come along.

That’s always going to be wayyyyyy cheaper and wayyyy more effective than buying an ad in your local newspaper or magazine. I know you might be worried that people are going to steal your ideas but, if that’s what they want to do and they’re actually motivated enough, they’ll find a way whether you post one of those ridiculous signs or not.

And speaking of which—don’t be so full of yourself. With the internet, your customers already have access to an infinite amount of great ideas—for free.

Selling vs. scolding

It’s all about perspective. A few days ago I walked into a local bakery. As soon as you walk in the door, you're greeted by a Keurig coffee machine. At first glance, it looks like it’s complimentary. That is until you look down on the counter and see this sign…

Small business coffee sign what not to do

Let’s start with the sign itself and then we’ll move onto the messaging.

Clear tape is almost always a bad choice when you’re trying to hold something down. Over time, it starts to curl up, get discolored, and look horrible. But that’s only part of the missed opportunity. Instead of creating a sign that says “Freshly brewed gourmet coffee only 75 cents per cup” or something along those lines, they decided to point out the “Coffee is NOT free! Please see sales associate for help! Thank You (passive aggressive smiley face).

Think about how different things would look (and how much more coffee they’d sell) if they made a quick trip to Staples to buy a small tabletop sign holder and they printed out some basic (and persuasive) copy to actually “sell” the coffee. And all for under $2.

restaurant menu what not to do

In almost every case, when you see an “again” followed by a “do not” (even when it’s preceded by a “please”) you’re creating a real missed opportunity. In the example below, that’s just what happened. Encouraging customers to ask questions is fine.

Sharing a quick snippet about how you pour drinks and how you think that enhances the taste and quality is great. But stop there.

There’s no need to go into different scenarios about what you’re not going to do. And to repeat it almost verbatim multiple times on the same menu. Come on. There’s got to be a better way.

Signage that sends the right message to customers

Don’t get caught penalizing your best customers based on isolated encounters with a few jerks. Take a look around your small business and do a quick audit. Reread every word on every sign from the perspective of a first-time customer.

What's your small business vibe? Do you feel welcome? Is your signage sending the right message?

If not, what can you do to focus less on the negatives and more on how to get your customers excited to buy more of your stuff and to keep coming back time and time again? After all, isn’t that the way it should be?  

And if you still feel as though you need some creative inspiration or outside perspective, check out this gem from Seth Godin on why things are poorly designed and what you can do to fix them…


[Image: Flickr user Tanenhaus]

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