Are We There Yet? the Marketing Value of Good Signage

I spend a lot of time in law firm offices. Besides having one of the best collections of law firm mugs in Canada, I also have an extensive set of first impressions. There are the firms that clutter up their coat closets with stuff they don’t want visitors to see—which the visitors see when they hang up their coats, of course. There are the firms that have lots of firm literature displayed in their reception area—but it’s printed on everyday printer paper and it’s curling over, making it look both old and invisible. There are the firms with expensive art behind their reception desks—but no sign to tell visitors that they’ve come to the right place.

I once worked in a firm that undertook a much-needed renovation. The new interior design was a closely guarded secret known only to the managing partner, chief operating officer, and facilities manager. Marketing wasn’t part of the picture. Eventually I was asked for my opinion of a chandelier that was to hang in the lobby. I was asked because “You’re a woman, you understand these things”, not for any other expertise I might bring to bear. Having learned something in my years in law firms, I asked to see the plans into which said chandelier would fit. The chandelier looked fine to me, but I couldn’t see any evidence of the firm’s name in the reception area. So I asked: “Isn’t there going to be a sign with the firm’s name on it?” I was assured that of course there was: at the elevator doors. I should add, the firm’s name wasn’t on any signage outside the building or in the building’s main lobby.

Now, when I’m entering a law firm for the first time, I want reassurance that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I don’t look at the opposite elevator bank when I step out of the elevator, I look to my right or left to see if indeed there is a reception area and whether it’s the right one. Hence my suggestion that the reception area include the firm’s name prominently displayed. The facilities manager grudgingly went back to the interior designers, who (under protest) placed the firm’s logo where it wouldn’t clutter their beautiful design. It also wouldn’t be seen by visitors. Why not? Because their design was mapped out with an empty reception desk. As soon as someone occupied that all-important chair, his or her head would obscure the firm’s logo. I’m pleased to say that they eventually ended up with a handsome (and visible!) sign in their reception area AND a sign outside the building.

Ironically, this firm had a very active Real Estate group whose clients paid them to negotiate leases. They knew the value of signage down to the dollar. So why is it that many law firms will pay top dollar for rent in the “right” location, but don’t see the value of proper signage? The answer is that they aren’t considering the marketing value of signage.

Refusing to pay for a sign because “We get most of our business from referrals” or “Nobody buys legal services because of a sign” is short-sighted. In my example above, the initial direction I was given was that the firm’s name needed to be better known, especially by their clients’ lenders, insurers, and accountants. Displaying their name visibly was one sure-fire way to ensure that it becomes better known.

Signs reinforce your other marketing initiatives. People walk past a sign and notice the name subconsciously, but when that name comes up in another context, they recognize it. Signs are evidence of your presence. Your firm might be a mid-sized firm in the same marketplace as many large firms; a street sign registers that you’re a player there too. Or your firm might have a specialty that’s needed locally, such as intellectual property in a technology hub.

Signage in all its forms (event banners, podium signs, exhibit booths, even name tags) should be part of your overall marketing plan (operative words: “overall” and “plan”: random acts of marketing don’t add up to much except expense). Properly done, signs can reinforce your brand, plant a seed in the minds of potential clients, and announce your presence, 24/7.

What constitutes “properly done?” Now you’re asking. Like real estate, the top three concerns are location, location, and location. Number four is legibility: will the font be readable from a reasonable distance? In my example above, the reasonable distance for the interior sign was from the elevator bank to the front desk—about 30 feet. Outside, the building’s regulations governed the size of the signage tenants could purchase, but since people walked right by it at ground level, the sign could be clearly visible at ten feet.

And as for reinforcing your brand, be careful. It’s not uncommon for building owners to dictate what materials, even colours, are acceptable for exterior and even interior signage. A well-designed firm logo should have specifications for how the logo is to be used in signage, including metallic finishes. Letting your facilities staff negotiate this would be like leaving me to negotiate the terms of your lease.

So when signage is an issue, don’t just call in your facilities staff—call your marketing department or consultant.

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