Marquees provide a great opportunity for marketing–as long as you follow some principles, including seeking feedback on potential pitfalls of your message. (Inside Edge PR photo)

When you hear “marquee,” what comes to the mind’s eye?

Maybe you envision a movie theater or concert hall, with a big space that touts an upcoming performance. It’s signage on steroids, with more “oomph” than you can muster with typical signs that serve as mere labels announcing the existence of your business.

As such, a marquee has great potential to attract people to your business—to give them that extra nudge to explore what you have to offer, be it a performance, a product or a service. On the other hand, your use of this prominent space can backfire if you are not careful.

Less Is More

Particularly for those in vehicles, with only a moment or two to glance, it’s best to sum up your message in only a few words. But even for those who have all the time in the world, brevity is appreciated. The goal is to get them to come up for a closer look—from there, you can have additional elements, from welcoming employees to attractive photos, that seal the deal.

New Trumps Old

Like a good comedian or anyone in sales looking to stay ahead of the competition, don’t underestimate the positive effect that flows from consistently coming up with new material. Just as web sites that never change send a signal of inertia and decay, so do marquees that appear frozen in time.

Churches are particularly attentive to this principle, offering pithy observations designed to get passers-by to reflect, at least, and potentially to attend an upcoming service.

Go For Humor

If the first impression that your marquee creates is a smile on someone’s face, then you are off to a very promising start. So go for humor—just be sure that what you are posting is, indeed, funny. One person’s hilarious musing can cause great offense to someone else.

Sometimes, it may not be humor that backfires, but some perspective that lacks sensitivity. Which brings us to the last point…

Get Feedback First

It’s one thing for a phrase to be scrawled on a piece of paper, or to be part of an emailed note. But it’s quite another for it to be in letters that are a few feet high and can be seen from a few hundred yards away.

So, before those words make it onto the marquee, use those scraps of paper and those e-mails to solicit feedback from those you trust and who represent a cross-section of the market you are primarily aiming to connect with.

In Forest Park over the last few years, a child-care business has had a marquee that has often stated “Children Make Your Life Important.” It has always rubbed me the wrong way and so last week I decided to contact the owner and diplomatically let her know that those words may be seen as conveying two particular messages:

*That one’s life is unimportant until and unless he or she becomes a parent or guardian, and

*That those who have children lead more important lives, and are therefore more significant and valuable to society, than those who do not have children in their care.

Turning the Spotlight On a Local Marquee

The owner was receptive to my input, indicated that she had never received any feedback before, and stressed that neither of those views is what she intended to communicate. If she polls some adults, as I suggested to her, she may well find that what she means and what others perceive are vastly different.

When I solicited reactions from about 10 of my adult friends—all, like me, parents—one response fairly captured the bulk of the collective sentiment:

“As a father I understand the importance of my role in my children’s lives, but I think this message is actually an alienating one. It basically tells people they are not important unless they are a parent / children’s caregiver. I know plenty of people who cannot have children (and for whatever reason choose not to adopt) who might find offense or feel bitter about such a message.”

Subsequent research (read: I typed the phrase into Google) reveals that the line is a quotation of late parenting humorist and writer Erma Bombeck. Although the context in which Bombeck made the statement is unclear, it most assuredly was not on a marquee.

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