Signage plays an essential role in out-of-home marketing — everything from street furniture and kiosks to interactive digital screens to the spectaculars that attract millions of people every year to Piccadilly Circus in London and Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles.
However, with the retail industry facing myriad life-threatening challenges, the power of signage can and should deliver greater value, so signs must be leveraged better than ever. Beyond attracting attention, they need to drive interest and excitement back into the world of traditional offline shopping, all the while engaging consumers one-on-one and leading them to points of sale.
Signs today do all this and more. They’re the gateway drug to a total media experience, opening a new world of communication channels, from social media to location-sensitive promotions to mobile apps.
It’s time to start thinking of out-of-home as a platform to connect with shoppers and deliver brand messages tied directly to their physical spaces and driving traffic to the venues nearby.
The following are four ways to make this transition and start speaking the new language of signs:
- Think beyond square feet. Property owners and retailers live in a world of cost per square foot, and while it’s natural to apply the same metric to evaluating signage, it can be misleading. The value of a sign can’t be judged by size alone or compared with the cost of a billboard. The essential criteria today are those of two-way connectivity: How can a sign integrate and converse with other media, and as a result, engage consumers in uniquely rich and meaningful ways?
- Think beyond the usual locations. Even the best locations can’t guarantee an impact if they’re not reaching consumers in fresh, interactive ways. In Times Square in New York City, for example, signs on 42nd Street and Broadway are proven brand builders. However, signs just two blocks south are struggling to deliver benefit to their owner landlords. Why? Because reaching “eyeballs” isn't enough. What matters most is converting the people who see into people who buy, which involves other factors including the quality of the audience, its relevancy to the brand, and whether the sign itself provides great experiences.
- Think beyond image. With brilliant clarity and extraordinary shape-shifting techniques at their disposal, landlords and retailers naturally focus on imagery when conceptualizing and designing signs. But great images are just the door opener. A sign works best when its images are not only compelling, but aligned fully with their audiences in the most consumer-centric ways. Factors such as traffic flow, congregation points, time needed to read and engage, and ability to integrate with other media are key to ensuring that a sign’s imagery truly reaches and engages the on-the-go consumer.
- Think beyond quantity. If signs are good than more signs are even better, right? It’s a volume play that may seem logical, but it’s largely untrue. The point is to communicate, not overwhelm, to connect instead of creating noise. What’s most important is delivering the right kind of physical coverage in just the right places. The best strategy for deploying signs is a 360-degree approach that focuses on unifying all the visual and spatial elements of a building or property, leading consumers through personalized experiences to the point of sale.
Now is the time for signs to take their rightful place as a true pillar of out-of-home marketing, and a key resource in the transformation of space that retailers need to compete and survive. With an efficient operating cost beyond building and installation, signs provide significant and continuous cash flow, as well as help increase property value, retain tenants and drive in-store traffic.
For many decades, signs have delivered the three Bs — big, bold and beautiful. While retaining these traditional virtues, the industry must now incorporate the new language of the three Cs — creative, consumer-focused and connected. Learning to speak this new sign language is essential to unlocking the full potential of property and, in turn, the full power of retail.
Joshua Cohen is the president and CEO of Pearl Media.