The Silent Salesperson

by Katie Lee

Is your signage doing the job it was ‘hired’ to do?

By Sean R. Blake

The signage industry often refers to primary signage (the signage on the storefront) as “The Silent Salesperson.” A good sign is always out there advertising, branding and identifying a business — with relatively few sick days. Just some electricity and a little maintenance now and then.

How does an owner/construction manager/marketing manager determine whether a sign is really doing the job that it was “hired” to do?

Most HR managers stress the need for regular performance reviews for employees: re-affirming roles and expectations, examining performance. Perhaps it’s time to give your hardest working “employee” a review to ensure that your signage is doing everything it’s supposed to do.

First, let’s look at the job description. Primary signage is generally designed to do a combination of three things: identification, advertising and branding. That combination is generally unique to each brand or business. Some businesses are looking to bring in new customers from pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Others are primarily interested in being found by a targeted customer segment that is already looking for them. Examining how each of these needs relate to your specific brand is very important in evaluating whether your sign “salesperson” is doing its job.


Helping prospects and customers find the business. How visible is the sign? Is there a good contrast between the sign and the fascia? Does the sign “pop?” Are the logo or business name immediately recognizable? These are some of the questions that need to be asked to determine whether or not a sign is helping guide customers to a location. Key questions: How important is identification to the location? What can be done to improve the visibility and legibility of the signage?


Getting new prospects through the door. Does the sign communicate clearly what the product or service is that the business is offering? With so much talk about branding, some businesses/brands focus too much on a great logo design and forget that the prospect walking or driving by has no idea what the product is. If the signage is for a national/international brand with plenty of marketing and advertising support, then perhaps the logo is all that’s needed. But even McDonald’s still lists how many burgers have been served underneath that gigantic yellow M. Signage that has been “hired” to advertise should convey the product or service within 3 to 5 seconds for maximum effectiveness. Key questions: How important is advertising to the location? What can be done to better communicate the company’s products and/or services through the signage?


What the signage communicates about the business behind the brand. “Branding” has been a big buzzword for years. Effective branding is what re-associated the word “Amazon” from a river in South America to an online warehouse for everything under the sun. Branding is a complex topic but this article is going to look primarily at the “positioning” component of branding.  Effective positioning is controlling how a brand is perceived by the marketplace — and avoiding mismatches between brand promises and brand image. A mismatch is like a guy showing up on a date in a nice suit…wearing bad shoes. It doesn’t quite fit and creates dissonance and resistance in the mind of the prospect. Delivering a branding/positioning message that is consistent with who a company is — or who a company is trying to be — strengthens the credibility of a brand and makes the customer more comfortable with the sales experience.

Some good questions to ask:

• What is the company’s desired value position in the market? Is the company a low-cost leader, an intermediate cost plus service provider, or a high-end/premium provider? Does the signage reflect that value position? Is the “salesperson” dressed for success?

• What is the company’s style? Is it modern? Vintage? Crazy? Cool? Down home? Do the fonts, colors, layouts and lighting match the company’s style position?

• Is the signage consistent from location to location? Consistency is a major component to building brand trust and loyalty. When individual locations lag in adopting new branding and signage criteria, that inconsistency reflects poorly on the brand as a whole.

The strongest brands are constantly updating their branding and signage to ensure that they stay “fresh” and differentiate themselves from their less-aggressive competitors. Is the “salesperson” eager and ready to roll — or sitting back and talking about how great the ‘80s were?

Every brand needs a different combination of identification, advertising and branding. A question that we often ask our clients is, “If you had $10 to spend on each of these categories, how much would you spend on identification? On advertising? On branding?” The answers to those questions have a considerable impact on how the signage is designed. Does a brand need more emphasis on the logo (ID/branding) or more emphasis on the product/services (advertising)? Recognizing these distinctions can mean the difference between hitting the target or missing it by a mile.

• Sick Days / Vacation: Nobody — and no sign — is perfect. But signs shouldn’t take long vacations, or call in sick very often. If an employee did that they wouldn’t last long. Signage that isn’t working well or is out-dated reflects poorly on the brand. “A business without a sign is a sign of no business.”  Key question: Is the signage showing up ready for work and looking good — every day?

• Efficiency: Lighting technologies are changing rapidly. Many states are introducing special regulations to encourage the use of lower voltage systems. Many leading brands are switching from neon and fluorescent lighting sources to more efficient LEDs in a move to save on energy and service costs. Upgrading to more efficient signage — or retrofitting existing signage to more current technology — can lead to significant savings. Key question: Is the signage providing the highest benefit with the least amount of expense?

For any employee to do his/her job well, it’s important for both the employer and the employee to know what the expectations are. Taking the time to review and improve the expectations and performance of your brand’s signage is a great way to ensure that one of your best employees is doing the job it has been hired to do.


— Sean R. Blake has over 20 years in advertising and marketing and is currently the president and owner of DN Signs, a full-service sign company in Signal Hill, California. He can be reached at [email protected].

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