Emotionally Intelligent Signs are Good PR Both Offline and Online

Frustrated Website Customer - hubspot stock photoSigns and signage can set the tone for an interaction between a potential customer and a business, both offline AND online. Storefront signs are a essential for bricks and mortar businesses. Sometimes those created by a business are useful, other times useless. But what people don’t think enough about are the online applications of the equivalent of good signage. Daniel Pink’s concept of “Emotionally Intelligent” signs even works on websites too.

Check out this very brief video here to see what I mean: “Pecha Kucha: Get to the PowerPoint in 20 Slides” By Daniel Pink (@DanielPink): http://tinyurl.com/2ze363. He formulated this concept of emotionally intelligent signs – those that engender empathy or understanding in the sign’s readers. His video is explaining a power point presentation concept called Pecha Kucha. But his actual Pecha Kucha slide presentation linked to above is about the concept of “emotionally intelligent signs.”

How Often are you Frustrated By Not Being Able to Find The info you Want on a Website?

Just think how many times you’ve been frustrated looking for the phone number or e-mail address or contact us page on a website? Just who was it that decided that the contact us button should be at the bottom of the page in 9 point type?

Thankfully, many websites now put contact info on a navigation page/tab at the top.  One book I read a while ago about website usability suggested that we rethink some of the website items that have become standard. Yes buttons like “login” have become familiar, but is there a better way to say thing like that. The term login is from the early days of computers. May be sign in? Although that’s archaic in another way.

When you choose anchor text, or page titles, or headings where people will click to take an action on your website, the author (I can’t find the book right now) noted – that we should try and use words that will let them know what to expect when they click there. Not a term that I, the site owner, would use to get the info, but a word that my audience or readers will understand exactly what they will get.

What have you done with your web real estate to point the way with emotionally intelligent “signage?” The following lesson from poor traditional and updated “emotionally intelligent” physical signs, can help us all.

My Signage Experience

PR staff at many organizations are not always involved in the “signage” process, and often not involved in the website redesign process, but they should be. PR staff are trained to help bridge the gap between the public and the organization and help facilitate communication. However, anyone involved, shop keeper to PR professional to CEO, can make a difference in how your business is perceived by paying attention to the emotional intelligence of the online and offline signs you choose to use.

My real world example of this comes from several jobs ago. Shortly after starting a PR job (now years ago) at a public garden, we were going through a master planning process. New signs were a part of the plan. I lobbied hard for one specific sign change that I saw as crucial to PR and public perception. It was one of the first signs you saw when driving into the parking lot at that time.

It used to say “Please stop, pay $3 parking fee.”

I suggested changing it to something along the lines of “Your $3 donation supports our educational programs & helps maintain the gardens and trails.”

Now, the second sign I proposed is long, I will admit. And you could call it PR spin, except that the $3 donation to this non-profit organization did go into the general operating fund that did support both the educational programs and the maintenance of the property, gardens and grounds. I’m no longer sure of the final wording, but it similar to above.

Why did I lobby so hard for the change?  Because several years before I began working at this garden, the formerly-free garden had instituted this $3 parking fee when they built a new asphalt lot over the previous dirt lot – it was the honor system at first, then they installed a gatehouse and a guard to collect money on weekends.

But what did I hear from a large number of people when I said I was going to work for XYZ organization? Ikept hearing about the parking fee.  Over and over I heard some version of “I used to go there, but not any more.  They have a parking fee now.”  This was more than 5 years after the fee and its starkly worded sign went up just outside the lot. (My guess its that the initial parking fees went to pay for the fixing up of the parking lot, although I can’t confirm that).

When I would counter with – “well, it’s really a donation. Do you know that XYZ garden is a non-profit, and that they provide environmental education to over 2,500 kids every year, and that they have to work hard to maintain those 20 miles of hiking trails you enjoy, and the over 100-year old plant collections that make it so pretty?”  I wouldn’t convert folks to forgiving the institution immediately, but you could see them shift mental gears. The new “emotionally intelligent” information I gave them took them outside of their pocket book, and out of the past perceptions and into empathizing with the organization.

The new sign I suggested was up for many years, and when I chatted with the gatehouse donation collection guy, he said people often commented that they were glad their donation helped out. The system at the garden has changed now, you park first, then enter though a small store and buy your ticket and get a trail map there.  But the store helps tell the organization’s story in a similar way as my updated sign.

What stories (or reactions) – positive and negative – do your online and offline signs tell people.  How can or have you implemented this in your own online or offline space?

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