10 Tips for Creating Effective Outdoor Signs

31st Jan 2021

Your business’s outdoor signage should be effectively branded to draw the customer in and help convey the nature of the experience inside. Your goal is to be seen, understood, and remembered. To elicit the desired response from consumers, both form and content are key. A sign’s design is arguably even more important than what the sign says—after all, if you can’t read it, you can’t respond to what the message is saying. According to a recent United States Sign Council (USSC) study, a person driving 45 miles an hour in moderately busy traffic on a four-lane highway sees a sign and reacts in 1.5 to 3 seconds. With that in mind, you should do all you can to maximize your sign’s visibility and legibility. Some important things to consider:

1. Location, location, location. Place your sign as close to the street as regulations allow. Make sure it stands out from its surroundings in terms of its shape, size, and color; is free of obstructions, such as trees; and is positioned at a suitable height for the type of traffic passing by. Drive past your business from all directions to determine the best location for your sign—aim for maximum exposure to your target audience—and road-test it by having someone impartial do a drive-by and tell you what your sign is all about.

2. Size matters. In addition to being uncomplicated and easy to read, your font should be big enough to be easily legible to all age groups—this is where drive-by testing is important—and use mixed-case letters rather than all caps, which are harder to read due to their more uniform size and shape. Generally, you will need 1 inch of letter height for every 10 feet of viewing distance.

3. Color theory. Make sure you choose contrasting colors, such as black on yellow or dark blue on white. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, “High color contrast can improve outdoor advertising recall by 38%.” Of course, you will also have to consider your brand’s existing colors as well as what type of response you’re going for physiologically and psychologically. “Hot colors” like orange, yellow, and red are generally considered high-response colors, for example, while blue, green, and purple are less stimulating but also more soothing. The proper amount of “white space” is also important; 30% to 40% of your sign's area should be left bare to prevent visual clutter, which impairs readability.

4. Keep it short. In general, the average adult reads about 250 words per minute, or approximately four words per second, so make your point succinctly. Think about what you want to say, say it in as few words as possible, then edit your copy down ruthlessly until the fluff is gone and the meaning remains. Aim for three to five words per headline with supporting info below if necessary. If you can, save the details for once the customer is inside. The exception to brevity: abbreviations. Studies show that abbreviations take 800 to 1,000 milliseconds to read—considerably slower than the non-abbreviated rate of 250 milliseconds per word. So avoid them unless they’re virtually universal or integral to your message.

Now you have the fundamentals regarding form. But what exactly should your sign say? Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, there are no hard-and-fast rules. But with the ever-increasing growth, affordability, and ease of use of LED sign technology, you can change your message as often as you change your mind to find out what works for you—and what doesn’t. Digital signage has been shown to increase brand awareness by 47.7%, average purchase amounts by 29.5%, and repeat purchases by 32.8%, making it an extremely worthwhile investment. But whether your sign is electronic or not, you should always aim to do the following:

5. State the benefit to the customer. What is the would-be customer buying this product for? Is it to be a hero to his son? To look fabulous for a date? To have easy-to-manage hair? Then tell your prospective buyer, “Be a hero tonight with X.” “Make heads turn with Y!” “Manage curly hair with Z.” If you can inform customers about additional uses for your product, even better. “Goes great with X!” “Try it with Y and Z.”

6. Use the words you” and “yours.” When customers can visualize themselves using your products, they’re more likely to buy. Messages become much stronger with the addition of “you” or “your.” “You’ll be a hero tonight with X.” “You’ll make heads turn with Y!” “Manage your curly hair with Z.” The words “I,” “me,” and “my” have a similar personalizing effect.

7. Provide context whenever possible. Whether it’s a familiar logo, an image, a graphic symbol like an emoticon, or the first part of a two-part dynamic message, context helps readers understand a message more quickly in order to react. Integrating audience-familiar words and phrases and using rhythm, rhymes, repetition (“Real food, real fast”), and/or alliteration also aid processing speed and memory. Even chat abbreviations like LOL, OMG, and BFF can be highly effective—as well as space-saving—when used with the right demographic.

8. Be memorable and creative. Boring signs are, well, boring. Humor and clever wordplay are great ways to grab people’s attention and show them that you’re a fun place to shop. While not everyone will love every joke, customers appreciate it more often than not and may even give you free publicity by photographing your sign and posting it online. Avoid clichés. Aping the California Milk Advisory Board’s “Got Milk?” slogan by changing out the noun is not creative.

9. Create a sense of urgency. Given that impulse buys account for up to 55% of all retail sales, getting people to act and act now is vital. Time-sensitive specials compel people to stop and take a look—and hopefully buy: “3 Day Only Mattress Sale!” “Limited Space Available: Call Today!” “Buy One, Get One Free – While Supplies Last” “Just in: New York Strip $16/lb” “2016 GMC Terrain is Here! Pick Your Color.” Help customers find opportunities to save and make the most of their shopping experience.

10. Sing your own praises. Don’t be shy! Brag about your business by using customer testimonials, rave reviews, and/or calling out any distinctions or awards won: “Voted Michigan’s Best Wedding Venue”; “People love us on Yelp!”; “2016 All-State Champs”; “L.A.’s Best Ramen” – Jonathan Gold; “I got a tax refund of over $1,000!” – Sally Smith; “Trip Advisor Top Pick.”

Signage that really speaks to your customers can do wonders for your businesses, driving sales and dramatically increasing revenue. Take time to reevaluate your current outdoor sign strategy and see what you could be doing better—and then do it better, with Outdoor Signs America’s help. With our range of affordably priced products, including sidewalk signs, changeable letter signs or LED signs, updating your organization's look and communicating with others more effectively can cost far less than you think.