Have a look at the photo above. What’s the marketing message in each of those oversized outdoor signs?

And are those messages clearly communicated?

Nowhere near as well as they should be. Which makes them a great subject to explore the tricky business of getting your message across.

But before we start, let’s just recap the two key elements of good marketing communications.

First, be totally clear what marketing message you want to communicate

Each and every marketing piece should have one main message. There may be subsidiary messages, but you should always have one central idea or theme. Why? Any more than that and you risk losing people. Note that I’m not being rude about people’s capability. I’m just recognising that most of them aren’t actively interested in being marketed to. So

Second, make that message painfully obvious

Here’s a quote from Chicago journalist Sydney J Harris.

‘The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.’

For effective marketing, you need to make sure the message gets through. If the audience don’t get the message, how can they act on it?

2-panel cartoon. First panel shows woman talking. Second shows man hearing only a portion of what she says

Okay, with that clear, let’s look at the signs themselves.

The top sign

What’s the message here?

The sign’s divided into two parts, with the following text.

  • Need a pickup? Call our courtesy bus on 9887 2411.
  • Had trouble parking at the Ranch? Trouble no more! We now have 300 carspots ready to go for you!

Based on that, it’s clear what the key marketing message must be. ‘It’s easy to get here.’

Is that marketing message well-communicated? Does it get through?

5 sentences. 29 words.

These signs face a multi-lane major road. Most viewers are in cars. The speed limit’s 70kmh. Drivers or passengers, people won’t have much time to read the sign.

You could argue that many cars will get held up at the lights, so people have time to read more. But many of those stationary cars won’t have a clear view of the signs. (I was on foot waiting for the lights to change. You can see how the light blocks part of the sign in my photo.)

Many people will probably only register the words which stand out the most. The ones in the biggest, darkest font.

‘Trouble no more!’

Unfortunately, these words on their own do not convey the key marketing message at all.  You could even take them to mean ‘we don’t have trouble here any more’. Which is a bit worrying – it suggests the place might have been rough in the past.  Oops.

The message for drivers

For anyone thinking of driving to the Ranch, the key part of this message is the number of parking spots now available. (I know. I’ve been there in the past. There weren’t 300 spots and parking was a problem.) But the number of spots is lost in a line of text. In the smallest font on the entire banner.

The message for non-drivers

What if you’re thinking of getting the courtesy bus? Does the sign work well then?

Two problems:

  • The image shows a racy little sports car, not a courtesy bus. So it’s not a good visual clue.
  • The phone number is in orange on a white background. A stronger colour contrast would make this stand out better. Most people would probably look it up later, but if you’re going to include it, make it as visible as possible!
  • The phone number font is hard to read. I asked my kids what the number was. ‘5587’. ‘9587’. ‘9687’. Hmmm…

So how would I redesign this signage to get the marketing message across better?

Something like this.

redesigned banner with clearer marketing message

The bottom sign

So is the bottom sign any better?

At least it’s very clear what the main message is. Steak for only $12.

But when? The ‘Wednesday’ is a bit small and hard to read. Unless of course the aim is to get people to come in at any time! But I wouldn’t recommend that – it sounds like a way to get disappointed customers!

Obviously there are some terms and conditions around this offer which need to be on the sign. Size and kind of steak. Times it’s available.

And what’s the word at the top of the sign? Granny’s? Gravy? Grays? Group. I can’t read it even on my original photo. Nor can the kids.

While this banner is much clearer than the top one, I still believe it could be better.

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Lessons to learn

So what can you apply to your marketing signs, banners and ads?

  1. Keep it simple. One key marketing message per piece of creative.
  2. That key message should be the most obvious thing on the creative. Put it in the headline. Use a large font. Use strong colours and good colour contrast.
  3. Choose images carefully to go with your text and reinforce your message.

And remember, fresh eyes always help! You’re so close to your business and marketing that you may not see clearly. So ask for feedback from an outsider. But make sure it’s someone you can trust to give you honest feedback, not just say what they think you want to hear.

…if you don’t know anyone, you can always ask me. 😉