Marketing for Appearances

Have you ever driven past a small business and thought it looked dingy, dilapidated or outdated? Have you ever been on a website that felt cumbersome to use, with the information you sought hard to find? Perhaps you think the business owners must not care anymore, or they don’t have the budget to fix things up. Even worse for the business, you might not think anything, but simply keep driving or surfing the web.

If it’s been awhile since you invested in your business’s appearance, customers could be thinking the same about you. After a few years, a business owner’s familiarity with her surroundings can cause her to overlook the slow decay of time.  Take a fresh look at the impression you are making on customers when they see your business for the first time.

You only have one chance at a first impression, goes the adage. And your first impression with customers is crucial- what they notice first sets the tone for how or if they will do business with you.

Your business’s exterior needs to be welcoming, easy to understand and clearly explain who you are. Your exterior could be a brick-and-mortar store, a website or even your sales team. Here are some examples to get you thinking.

Good Exteriors for Marketing

The Pink Box is a boutique in my neighborhood that shows a great exterior appearance, with a fresh sign and interesting window display. It’s easy to know when they are open and what you can buy from them.

My favorite part of The Pink Box’s exterior is this cheerful open sign. On chilly or hot days when the store must keep the door closed, this sign serves as a beacon to everyone on the square.

There’s a lovely inn in Carmel, CA that looks just as lovely when you first drive up. The Candle Light Inn looks inviting, and it’s easy for newcomers to know where to park when they arrive.

Not to overload on the pink, but the Olde Pink House Restaurant in Savannah, GA does a great job of communicating their stately yet fun vibe with their exterior.

The menu board on the front steps also helps customers know what kind of food to expect.

Camp Washington Chili hasn’t been around since 1771 like the Olde Pink House, but they have been in the same location since 1940. They’ve really kept their exterior fresh and updated, which contributes to their continued success. And with that sign, you certainly know what they sell!

Not-so-good Exteriors for Marketing

Often, seeing bad examples is just as useful as seeing good ones. Here are some unfortunate businesses that really could stand to improve their exterior appearance.

The BonBonerie is one of the best and most creative bakeries in Cincinnati, OH. For a new customer, it’s very difficult to find the entrance, because it is facing the parking lot, not the main street. This kind of confusion could cause a customer to drive away instead of stopping in.

This exterior inspires more questions than appetites. Did Laurie and Debi have a fight? Is this supposed to be a joke? What exactly is the name of this restaurant, anyway?

Casbah is a great Moroccan restaurant in Savannah, GA, with an inspired decor, great staff and delicious food. But you could never tell from the outside. If your sign is old and faded, and your canopy is dingy and worn, many new customers will pass you by.

To see some examples of websites and logos, read my articles, “Web Design Essentials for Small Business” and “Small Business Logo Design.”

There’s good news. Even if your business looks more like the bad than good examples, you can start making things better today. Your website might need a redesign, or your building a complete remodel, but there are small steps you can take to incrementally improve your appearance. Need some ideas? Send me an email or call me at 513.833.4203.

Small Business Logo Design: The good, the bad and the ugly.

Reflected Spectrum Photography just unveiled their new site featuring the logo I was pleased to design. Take a look:

During the design process, I realized many small businesses could use some design tips for their logos. And since logos are, by definition, visual, the best way to give advice is to show you the good, the bad and the ugly.

Design Criteria 1 – Legibility

The most important aspect of logo design is legibility. Is your company’s name easy to read? It sounds like an overly simplistic criterion, but sometimes designers get caught up in exciting font choices and graphics, losing sight of a logo’s legibility.

The Good

This logo is very easy to read, and as a bonus includes a tagline explaining what you can expect of the CEO Club.

The Bad

This logo is a work of art – much too pretty to designate as ugly. It is also a failure. Could anyone glancing at it tell what those letters are? Even after studying it, are you certain what it’s supposed to communicate?

The Ugly

Those malformed polygons are supposed to spell out 2012, as in the 2012 Olympics in London. It’s clearly an example of a designer losing sight of a logo’s most basic goal – to communicate the brand clearly.

Design Criteria 2 – Color Palette

Your logo’s colors need to blend and contrast pleasantly. Color theory is science, but all too often amateur designers try to put the boldest colors together to make the highest impact. Hire a good designer, or Google search for a color wheel, but don’t put blue letters on a red background.

The Good

Brown is an unusual color to use in a logo, but combined with the taupe and cranberry red, it blends to show an image of folksy charm and wisdom. Scott Hogue writes a blog and books providing life advice, so it fits.

The Bad

Combining bright red with bright blue confuses the eye, because your eyes can’t focus on certain shades of red and blue at the same time. You may see the logo vibrate or feel the need to blink. These are not the reactions you want when people look at your logo.

The Ugly

Many times, I’ve been requested to create, “Just a simple graphic of red text on a plain white background.” Many people assume that if it’s simple, it can’t be bad. Unfortunately, red text on a white background is not just bad – it’s ugly. The colors you choose influence how customers feel about your business. Do you want them to feel like your logo is like a stop sign?

(Isn’t it funny that a business named Piece of Cake chose a gift box for their logo instead of, say, a slice of cake?)

Design Criteria 3 – Visual Interest

A logo should never be boring. A logo communicates a vibe to your customers and should have visual interest. Often in small businesses, design-by-committee impulses take over, resulting in a logo that everyone can live with but no one is excited about. If you and your employees aren’t excited, your customers certainly won’t be.

The Good

Yes, this is our logo. But it has very good visual interest. It communicates that we think outside the box (or zoo, as it were), are creative and have a little bit of fun. The logo directly ties to the name of the business and draws customers’ attention to what we do – MARKETING.

The Bad

They’ve tried to spruce up the plain, boring wordmark with spacing, but it doesn’t work. Does seeing this logo make you want to learn more about these lawyers? Probably not. Many small businesses fall prey to boring visuals like this because good design requires a talented designer who costs money. But a good logo is the cornerstone of your visual communication. It appears everywhere your business is mentioned in print and on the web.

The Ugly

When you think of bars, do you immediately imagine a hummingbird? No? This logo demonstrates that even if your business name is your own name, the visual interest needs to focus on what you sell. For instance, this business would have been better off depicting a tough blue jay or even an eagle.

Design Criteria 4 – Scalability

Many small business marketing designers don’t consider how a logo will scale for different uses. Your logo needs to be scalable for every intended use – small for business cards and online banner ads, medium for letterhead and print ads, and large for building signs, billboards or vehicle graphics.

The Good

This logo is built of modular pieces that can be arranged according to where and how it will be displayed. For a long, narrow space, such as a sign on a car wash, the lighthouse graphic can be removed. For a square space, like in the corner of a website, the text graphics can be stacked. Your logo doesn’t have to be identical in every place it appears as long as it uses the same components.

The Bad

This logo is interesting, but it’s certainly not scalable. If I shrink it another 30%, the text becomes very hard to read, and the graphics begin to be indiscernible. This problem exists with most circular logos that have text around the circumference. Consider the smallest size you will need if designing a logo like this – if it needs to be on a business card, you will likely have issues.

The Ugly

I enlarged this logo, so you would be able to read the text. In its original state, the text was impossible to read. When your lion is roughly five times the size of your text, you have an ugly scalability problem.

Using the criteria of Legibility, Color Palette, Visual Interest and Scalability, rate your own small business’s logo. Is it good, bad or ugly? Need some help judging? Send it to me at, and I’ll give you an analysis.