You’re Welcome. Maybe Not.

Probably the most obvious “rule” of retail marketing is to be friendly. If you want to sell something — particularly something that people don’t truly need, or for which there are many competing options — you have to make people well-disposed toward you before they will consent to give you their money. Sounds simple. Probably everyone who owns a tourist-oriented store in downtown Camden would agree in principle. And yet many of them ignore it in practice.

This kind of sign is all too common:

Don't Do Anything signDon’t do this. Don’t do that. They seem to like dogs, who will inevitably do doggy-type stuff, more than they like people doing people-kinds-of-things.

Here’s another:

No photography sign

No “welcome,” or “please come in.” Instead, right at eye level on the entry door, they’re telling me that I shouldn’t share their precious fucking photons.

These messages are all too common along Main St. in Camden. But right across the street from those two, I came across this one:

Welcoming sign on store

Ah, someone gets it. “You are welcome,” along with whatever you happen to have in your hands at the time.

Let’s think about two scenarios:

A. You have an open-store policy with no food or drink restrictions. 100 people carrying ice creams or soda enter your store. How many of them will: i) mess up a single piece of merchandise; AND ii) refuse to pay for it? What’s the wholesale value of the merchandise you can no longer sell?

B. You have a no-food-or-drinks policy. 100 people who are carrying ice creams or sodas see the sign and don’t come in because you made it inconvenient for them (they’d have to either ditch the snack, gobble it down on the sidewalk before they can enter, or come back later), or because you made them feel unwelcome. How much stuff would those 100 customers have bought had they come in the store, and what is its retail value?

 I venture to guess that the number in Scenario B is considerably higher than Scenario A — in other words, that the value of sales lost by a closed policy is far greater than the value of merchandise lost with an open policy.

Bottom line: don’t be so damn fussy and possessive. Minimize restrictions, and be welcoming to customers.

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Don’t Tell ‘Em Too Much

Notice anything about these two campaign signs by competing candidates?

campaign sign

Notice anything missing? Like, everything?

They both tell you virtually nothing. Name and office sought, nothing more. Not a word about their legislative priorities and no indication of political party.

This is typical in campaign signs. Two years ago, among the dozens of candidate signs that I saw around the Midcoast for local, state and national offices, just one indicated the candidate’s political party. That was Eliot Cutler, the gubernatorial candidate whose affiliation was proudly stated as “Independent.”

Obviously, candidates for political office don’t want to clutter your mind with picayune details like “Republican” and “Democrat,” much less brief position statements (For the Working Man; Keeping America Strong) Campaign signs have only one purpose: to make people extremely familiar with the candidate’s name. So that when Joe Voter enters the booth (You know Joe: he’s the only voter candidates care about: the undecided voter who thinks he’s performing a civic duty, even though he doesn’t understand squat about politics or policy.) he votes for the name he recognizes, or for the one whose negative attributes he remembers less clearly than the other guy’s. Political parties? Unaffiliated voters view both of them as negatives, so leave it out.

It’s a despicable approach to democracy, but elections aren’t much about democracy in the USA anymore: they’re all about marketing and which side can afford more of it. (Thanks, Supreme Court!) And the smart money says you don’t want to give the rubes too much information.

That’s sound policy for a lot of nonpolitical marketing too. Few ads or other marketing vehicles should talk price, unless price is your unassailable Unique Selling Proposition. It’s too easy for consumers to compare, and all money is money that people would rather not spend, so best not talk about it. Don’t want to field email inquiries? Don’t push your email address. Is your business one of those “rent-to-own” operations? Highlight the “own” part and never mind that pesky “rent” thing.

Make the message as simple as possible. Focus on just one positive attribute that appeals to the consumer or solves his problem. In many cases, the only other thing you need is a call to action (CTA): i.e., tell the consumer explicitly what you want him to do: buy, call, visit, click, “like,” “share,” or whatever.

And even a CTA is superfluous sometimes. Campaign signs don’t use it because until the polls open, the consumer can’t take action. They’re all about familiarity. That principle applies to many national brands too — think fast food and sugary fizzy beverages especially. Many of those ads don’t try to make you buy right now. They just want to fill a certain part of your brain so that they’re the first thing you think of when you’re hungry or thirsty.

Marketing Vehicles

I’ve seen a number of motor vehicles used for marketing purposes lately, each with a different approach and, IMO, a different level of effectiveness.

Image

The most “professional” of the three is this authentic antique Harley-Davidson police tricycle, dressed up as a Twisted Tea promotion in Shaws.

The vehicle is beautifully restored, and for people who are into vintage motorcycles, it’s an eye-catcher. However, I wonder if it’s a cost-effective marketing tool. To purchase the motorcycle, restore it, and give it a custom paint job must cost a bundle. Then there are additional display fees to the store. I have to assume that they don’t have a whole fleet of these, so all that investment appears in only one location at a time, and then you have to pay someone to load it onto a trailer and set it up at another store a few weeks later. For anyone who’s not interested in vintage motorcycles, it may not be terribly appealing. (Research into traffic accidents has indicated that car drivers who plow into motorcycles generally have no personal exposure to motorcycles, and therefore don’t “see” them.) There’s no apparent connection between motorcycles and beverages of any kind — although it might be possible to establish that connection through a broader promotional campaign (and for all I know, as a non-TV watcher, they might have a whole series of television ads doing just that).

So bottom line, the owner or marketing manager is probably a vintage motorcycle fan and thought this would be an awesome cool thing, but it’s probably not tremendously effective.

Image

This lovely display is in front of the public safety building at the intersection of Simonton Road and John Street in Camden. In case you’re reading on a small screen, the sandwich board says “Don’t Drink and Drive.” (A couple weeks ago, it had an anti texting-while-driving message.)

Again, it’s certainly eye-catching (and really ugly). Unlike the Twisted Tea promo, it probably cost nothing, and everyone who drives will probably absorb the visual part of the message. I really wonder, though, if this will really help drive the message home to people who do, or might, drink and drive. If I were in the habit, I think I’d scoff at it as nagging. But I suppose if the wrecked cars help turn on the light for just one drunk driver, it’s worthwhile.

duck sign on roof of car

Photo from Penobscot Bay Pilot. Click photo to link to original story.

Finally, there’s the Duck Derbymobile, promoting a fundraiser by the West Bay Rotary. This is the most modest of the three, and I think it’s probably the most effective, due to i) its mobility — it’s seen all over the place, ii) the fact that the sign’s image relates directly to the event it’s promoting, and iii) its silly unpretentiousness. Rubber ducks make people smile, and a grown man driving around with one on his car just adds a bit of humor to one’s drive. Will it persuade anyone to attend the event? No. But will it make people aware of the event? Yes indeed.

I’ll take the Camry. Wrap it please.

You don't even have to read the text to know what this company does.

You don’t even have to read the text to know what this company does.

Until just a few years ago, marketing through vehicle graphics was pretty much confined to tradesmen’s vans and larger trucks. (OK, there’s NASCAR, but I’m going to confine this post to the vehicles that one sees on the street.) If you wanted to do some marketing on a passenger-style vehicle, you were practically limited to vinyl letters or rectangular magnetic signs to stick on the doors. But technology has made it increasingly practical to apply elaborate graphics to any vehicle. More and more conventional automobiles are getting the treatment, and they really stand out on the roads of the Midcoast.

Adventure Advertising wrapped this Nissan for Penobscot Bay Pilot.

Adventure Advertising wrapped this Nissan for Penobscot Bay Pilot.

“It’s an extremely effective marketing and branding tool,” says Joe Ryan, principal at Adventure Advertising in Rockport. “In terms of cost-effectiveness, nothing matches it. Every day you could be getting 30,000 to 40,000 impressions.” Adventure recently did a full wrap on a Nissan crossover vehicle for the Penobscot Bay Pilot, and their portfolio includes ATVs, cars, minivans, passenger vans, motorhomes, box trailers  and tractor-trailer rigs.

According to Ryan, a full-car graphic wrap costs about the same as a full-page color ad in the Portland Press-Herald. The print ad might make 60,000 to 70,000 impressions total. The vehicle wrap matches that in a few days, and continues to make impressions every day for a number of years.

“And in the newspaper, you’re competing with other ads,” says Ryan. “On the road, you tend to be one of just a few eye-catching vehicles that catches people’s attention.”

This relatively simple design works because of the colorful "lawn sign" element that is readily recognized in our region.

This straightforward design works because the colorful “lawn sign” element is readily recognized in our region.

Prices for full wraps can reach “into the three thousand range,” says Ryan, “but we have also done extremely effective vehicle graphics for as little as about $400” which, he says, might consist of a well-designed logo carefully placed on a door. “We do a lot of partial wraps, which can be more affordable for many smaller businesses. We use the lines, shape and color of the existing vehicle as design elements. It’s a nice challenge.”

The logo slash successfully ignores (or overcomes) the vehicle's door and window shapes and establishes a bold diagonal element.

The diagonal logo slash successfully ignores (or overcomes) the vehicle’s door and window shapes and establishes a bold dynamic element.

Ryan argues that the cost of even full wrap is quite reasonable if it’s considered in the proper context. “It’s not a vehicle expense. It’s a marketing and advertising expense,” he says. Very true. If you think of it as a vehicle modification like custom wheels, then a couple thousand extra dollars might not make sense. But that same amount may be easy to justify for a marketing tool that keeps catching eyeballs for years to come.

Wrapping the photo around the corner gives it standout three-dimensionality.

Wrapping the photo around the corner has the virtue of being unexpected, and gives it standout three-dimensionality.

(All photos courtesy Adventure Advertising.)

Sidewalk Signs in Rockland

Hello Hello Books: eye-catching graphics, but too much text IMO.

Hello Hello Books: eye-catching graphics, but too much text IMO.

Rockland’s Main Street retailers and restaurants are approaching the holiday season in a generally understated manner. That suits me fine, since I do not like being bombarded with someone else’s holiday cheer — especially when it’s insincere or explicitly commercial. When you go Christmas shopping, you already know why you’re there, and a Santa window cling is probably not going to influence your decision to enter a store — or, at least, it probably won’t influence it in a positive way.

What Rockland retailers and restaurants do like for their storefront marketing is sidewalk signs — especially of the sandwich board variety. Some of them use the signs to good effect; others not so much. Here’s what we saw during a stroll along Main Street this afternoon.

Seagull Cottage promotes a special, without pricing or a holiday message. I'm  not implying that's bad.

Seagull Cottage promotes a special, without pricing or a holiday message. I’m not implying that’s bad.

PDQ Photo's sign has a bold, simple holiday-themed message for a holiday product. The vinyl banner up above also promotes a holiday product, but the display is problematic.

PDQ Photo’s sign has a bold, simple holiday-themed message for a holiday product. The vinyl banner up above also promotes a holiday product, but the display is problematic.

Clan MacLaren's also pitches their lunch specials.

Clan MacLaren’s pitches their lunch specials, with pricing.

Rock Coast Sports is bold a readable. It's the same pitch as By George's, but seems more appropriate here.

Rock Coast Sports is bold and readable. It’s the same pitch as By George’s (below), but seems more appropriate here.

Side Country Sports puts the price right out there on the street. If this is a killer price, then it's a great idea. If not, then it provides an excuse for people to call around and not enter the store if that's what they're looking for.

Side Country Sports puts the price right out there on the street. If this is a killer price, then it’s a great idea. If not, then it provides an excuse for people to call around and not enter the store if that’s what they’re looking for.

Loyal Biscuit's sidewalk sign color-coordinates with their permanent signage. Nice.

Loyal Biscuit’s sidewalk sign color-coordinates with their permanent signage. Nice.

Huston Tuttle's sign features items and services on offer.

Huston Tuttle’s sign promotes their range of products and services.

Grasshopper Shop uses its sign for cause marketing -- a good move, IMO.

Grasshopper Shop uses its sign for cause marketing — a good move, IMO.

L&H Burger's message is  a concise holiday message: no overt pitch being made.

L&H Burger’s message is a concise holiday message, with no overt pitch.

Lawn signs promoting  "cash for gold" in front of By George Jewelers seem tacky for an upscale establishment.

Lawn signs promoting “cash for gold” in front of By George Jewelers seem somewhat “off” for an upscale establishment.

Lobsterman's Restaurant gives their specials, with prices. The big colorful header is good.

Lobsterman’s Restaurant promotes their specials, with prices. The big colorful header is good.