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Jargon Around Customers

David Catanach, director of the British Sign and Graphics Association (BSGA), discusses the use of jargon around customers, and the expectations of lead times

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Signs are now increasingly integrated into the architectural development process, but there is still room for improvement

Do we talk and think like this?

I touched on in a recent soapbox, the wonderful world of ‘jargon’ from a point of view that you can make any old phrase or saying up and if it resonates, it will become part of the ‘lingua franca’. Geddit?

So, my question to you is, do UK sign-makers talk and think like this when in front of their customer?

Exhibit A

Customer: “What do I need a sign for?”

Sign-maker: “Signs serve important purposes in a business’ strategy: reinforcing an established brand, communicating information to customers and enriching the customer experience. Incorporating best practices in your business strategy will increase the return on sign investment for example, following best practices for sign legibility, viewing enjoyment, informational aspects, quality, appropriate scale and uniqueness can impact the success of a sign and therefore a business’ bottom line.”

Customer: “Yeah right. So how much for a sticky back plastic ‘No Smoking’ sign to stick on a window?”

Sign-maker: “£1.50 plus VAT please but I can do it for a quid.”

Sorry, I used the wrong customer (and possibly the wrong sign business owner when it comes to selling) in my exhibit, but you may well get my drift if you are of a mind to lift yourself and your business out of the market for sticky back plastic signs. I’m talking about bespoke signs, not off the shelf stuff and your designs and efforts to achieve the end result. Oh, and this is not specifically aimed at shops and the retail customer, but they can give a better example of what I am alluding to.

The mistake most designers and customers make is looking at sign or building ROI in isolation of the entire customer experience

A chap named Leonard Barzap, a senior associate at a company called Lippincott, an American brand strategy and design company in New York, says: “The mistake most designers and customers make is looking at sign or building ROI in isolation of the entire customer experience.” In other words, they tend to think as long as the sign is the right colour and shape, make the sign as cheap as possible – no other considerations. He goes on: “When seen as a key touchpoint or as a component to other experiences that support the brand, the qualities that make effective signs become more apparent and its value goes up.”

Just asking the customer ‘what do you want?’ is criminally neglectful when ‘what impact are you wanting this sign to make?’ will bring you a lot more information to work on

My interpretation in what he has said is that your customer needs to see in their mind just how good this sign is going to be and the impact it will have on them, their staff and their customers. It is not selling snake oil, but we work in the visual communication industry, so they need to visualise more than colours. Just asking the customer “what do you want?” is criminally neglectful when “what impact are you wanting this sign to make?” will bring you a lot more information to work on and create something that they should not get too concerned about price if you are good enough.

All fine and dandy but what exactly are the best practices? Well, quite a few but in the main they are as follows.

Overall design strategy

Signs can contribute to a retail layout and location’s value, increasing ROI based on sales in pounds per square foot/metre. This metric has become more complex with the development of other technological approaches to finding a location.

Furthermore, ROI may be based on ‘experience design analysis’ or in olde worlde English - what did the customer think and feel about the design? This is a relatively new management approach and makes use of customer touchpoints to determine the impact on building relationships (between the customer and the brand).

By the way, if like me, you were wondering what the heck a touchpoint is, I asked around for you and apparently it is business jargon for any encounter where customers and businesses engage to exchange information, provide service, or handle transactions. See, it resonates, so it all makes sense!

Integrate into management

Here we go again – a value proposition is an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers. Make sign excellence a strategy to reward. Staff accountability, executive recognition and rewards based on brand excellence can lead to stronger sign practices. Or, as we used to say and do, paint a picture to your customer of just how great this design and sign type is going to look but also make the customer and the customer’s customer feel good and positive as well.

Increase collaboration

When I first started out in the sign industry, what used to hack me off was the unreasonable expectations of customers with regards to lead times for completion e.g. the Queen is opening this building tomorrow and we need a brass plaque fitted today. How long for Pete’s sake have you known Her Majesty is coming to open the building? Do you think I have a shelf full of brass plaques already engraved, polished and ready to go with the exact words you require, just sitting there?

Signs nowadays, thankfully, are increasingly integrated into the architectural development process – still room for improvement though if you ask me. This is due, in part, to the premium prices given to mixed used developments, the rise of architecture firms with the ability to assimilate graphics and signs and, possibly, the shift of retail from internally focused shopping malls to exterior out of town complexes.

‘Paint a picture’ of how the sign is going to look for your customer, making them feel positive

I also can see that leading retailers are balancing quality and value through close relationships with sign-makers. Advances in fabrication, materials and project management have raised the value of signs (and sign-makers thankfully) as part of the development process. Prototype development, value engineering, rollout and project management are all part of the picture.

Finally, digital media content continues to need careful management. Successful retailers make dynamic digital signs central to marketing and information strategy, with long-term content strategies and an eye-to-design quality that is equal to physical signs.

The elephant in the room though, is that if the high street continues to receive hits from online shopping practices, retailers may decide that the days of the need of a traditional ‘shop’ may be coming to an end and a dynamic shift in how customers are attracted into the store and what they will do once there, is in the balance. Not so much so for the local chip shop, Chinese or Indian restaurants but something worth thinking about if a business is to attract custom.

On that cheery note I hope you have or had a great summer.

The British Sign and Graphics Association (BSGA) history dates back more than 70 years when a group of leading sign-makers formed the Master Sign Makers Association (MSMA) with the aim of promoting the sign industry and defending its interests. For more information on the issues discussed in this article visit www.bsga.co.uk or Tel: 0845 338 3016

Public Notice:

  • Ask "what impact do you want this sign to make?"
  • Integrate signs into management efforts and value proposition
  • Increase collaboration between sign-makers and contractors
  • Paint a picture for your customer of the product


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