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How to show your customers invisible gorillas

Words are everywhere

Yesterday, peckish, I dived into my local takeaway on the way home and asked if they took cards.

“Didn’t you see the big sign in the window that says we accept all kinds of cards?” the guys behind the counter eye-roll wearily.

I didn’t see it.

Because, well, I was probably thinking deep thoughts about what I might order, if they took cards. And if I’d locked my front door after I rushed out, late, nine hours ago.

Or a handful of other thoughts in the few seconds it took to approach and enter the shop. Success Consciousness say some experts estimate we have around 2,100 thoughts an hour – that’s a conservative estimate. That’s 35 thoughts a minute.

The fact is, words are great but they’re everywhere.

Plastering big fat notices in people’s faces and expecting them to see them while they’re busy being human thinking-machines doesn’t work. 

Notices should change their name to Hey-Yes-YOU!-Check-Me-Out-This-Instant (or something more catchy). Because unless people are purposefully looking out for the notice, it’s unlikely they’ll even see it, let alone read and absorb its message.

Psychology experiments have already proved this (see below) but as a thought-crazed consumer, you probably know this already, thanks to the many retailers who love throwing signs up. A I-wasn’t-here-yesterday piece of material attached to a wall or displayed on a counter may momentarily be noticed because its physical existence is new. But do people take it in? And then act on it?

Unless signage is done well, it’s hard to pull it off. 

So how do you get your messages across to customers in a way that makes them shout, “I’M IN!”?

Before we look at this, let’s take a quick look at the Invisible Gorilla.

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment was created in 1999 by Harvard graduates Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons who were awarded for their achievements that “first make people laugh, then make them think”.

You may have seen the Gorilla Experiment because it’s a classic and well used example in psychology that illustrates “selective attention”. People are asked to watch a short video and count the number of times a ball is thrown. Halfway through the video a gorilla strolls across the screen.

50% of the people watching the video did not see the gorilla because they were so focussed on the task in hand.

This “Inattentional Blindness” – a term coined by psychologists Arien Mack and Irvin Rock (you can download Mack’s study or buy his book on it) – refers to not seeing something that is right in front of you.

So, with the thinking human brain odds stacked against us, what’s the answer?

Let’s consider shop signage. There’s no magic sign wand to wave around your store that upgrades your signage in a second. Instead look at carrying out a series of shifting improvements that you can test and evolve. If you’re tired of customers batting you questions that are already answered on your shop walls and windows, here are six ideas you could change and test today:

1. Assess and lose any out-of-date signs as these clutter bigger, more important messages. Think Marie Kondo – you’re aiming to spark joyful and effective messaging. (If it’s just decluttering you want to focus on, apply some of Good Housekeeping’s 31 Decluttering Tips to your business which include taking photos to give you a fresh perspective of a space and dedicating a short time each day for a routine tidy-up.)

Shop door

2. Be consistent with your branding. Create design guidelines for your business that your signage must comply with. They will lend authority and help funnel customers to your message because they recognise its authority. 

3. Keep each sign clutter-free. For impact that screams LOOK AT ME! less is more, so cut unnecessary words. Then edit again.  Make sure your message is word perfect – tripping people up with a misspelt or missing word will detract from the message.

4. Break up words with an image. This doesn’t always work – but try it.

5. Choose colours for readability. According to U.S. site, colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%Avoid pairing similar colours – it makes a sign harder to read. Consider adding borders (speeds up reading), drop shadows and accentuating words that are in weaker colours. Make key words stand out.

6. Tailor your signage for your audience. A survey commissioned by FedEx Office revealed 64% of Millennial business owners place significant value on the importance of graphics and design in signage whereas Baby Boomers prefer simplistic designs. So consider generational differences and expectations when designing your signage.


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