February 26, 2024

Small Business Advice

Negative advertising signs do a disservice to your business

Jerry Osteryoung | 10/24/2016

"Here is the secret of inspiration: Tell yourself that thousands and tens of thousands of people, not very intelligent and certainly no more intelligent than the rest of us, have mastered problems as difficult as those that now baffle you."

~ William Feathe

Signs are everywhere, and they are vital to each and every business. They communicate so much to your customers about your business. Some signs tell customers where items are located, and others specify the prices of your products or services. In every case, they convey important information to you customers, but you must be so careful when crafting the messages.

Negative signs send the wrong type of message. They tell the customer they are wrong. Just the other day, I was in a secondhand furniture store, and they had multiple signs over the counter that said, “WE CANNOT MAKE DELIVERIES. PLEASE DO NOT ASK.”

There are several ways this message can be interpreted by customers, and none of them are good.

First, this message does not only tell the client the store does not make deliveries. It also tells the client staff is too busy to answer any questions they might have about this. I know staff is going to say they get tired of answering the same question over and over. However, the relationships between customers and employees are so important, and signs like this deter these vital interactions.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain purposely does not post signs in the hallways so that the customer is forced to interact with employees. They clearly understand the importance of the interaction between customers and staff.

Another problem with that sign is that it can be interpreted as saying the customer is stupid. If the customer dares to ask a question about it, their question will not be answered. Again, this shuts down communication between the customer and the staff and deters those all-important interactions.

Rather than have a negative sign like this in your business, it is so much better and kinder to speak directly with the customer and answer their questions kindly no matter how many times you have to give the same message.

If you must have a negative message on a sign, try to turn it into something positive. For example, “No cell phones in office!” is a sign I see often. It would be much better to say, “If you have to talk on your phone, please go outside for your call. Thank you.”

A negative sign I see in restaurants all the time is, “People without shoes and/or shirt will not be served.” Again, this implies the customer is doing something wrong. I do understand why restaurants do not want patrons without shirts and shoes. However, it would be preferable to tell them directly. If you must have a sign, a kinder alternative would be to say something like the following: “We would appreciate it if all customers wore shirts and shoes. Thank you.”

Now go out and look at every sign in your business and see how many you can eliminate. If they convey negative messages, double your efforts to eliminate them.

You can do this!

Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on Amazon.com. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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