Your Sign Is a Brand Promise: Customers Will Hold You to Your Sign

April 3, 2012 by  Filed under: Branding 

Operating Hours Sign Failure

I wanted to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant that I have been to before. The restaurant serves its food buffet style. The food is good and so is the price; A perfect spot to eat a quick-lunch. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was greeted by a sign on the door that said that the operating hours of the restaurant were 11am until 11pm, Monday through Friday. The time was 11:30am, clearly within their hours of operation. I was surprised to find that when I pulled on the door, the dead-bolt was still locked. I looked in the tinted windows and thought at first that this restaurant had gone out of business. There was no activity to be seen. No people. No greeter. The lights to the restaurant were off.

Then something in motion caught my eye. It was a golden lucky cat figure that the restaurant had in the waiting area. The lucky cat was waving its paw – someone had to have turned it on. Perhaps the owners of the restaurant had forgotten to open their doors or they had lost track of time. With my face pressed against the window, I scanned the interior for additional signs of life. The buffet steam tables sat in the back of the establishment and a you could note steam coming off of the heated water. There was steam, but no food. A couple standing nearby told me that they had been waiting since 11am for the anticipated opening.

They had not seen anyone either. They should open soon, I thought, I sat down at an outside table under the front patio of the business. While I waited, I observed. More than a dozen potential patrons approached the restaurant in anticipation of the same quick-lunch that we were hoping to eat. Each one of them did the same thing that I did: they tried the door, pointed to the sign where the operating hours were posted, and pressed their faces to the glass to discover the cause of the incongruity between the sign and the locked door. They all saw the lucky cat just as I did. I was fascinated by the duplicate behavior and the disbelief the potential patrons had when they found the information on the door to be untrue. I decided to wait until noon to see if the place would actually get it together and open for lunch and to observe how people continued to act towards the sign on the door. Just before noon, a large family approached the door. Their behavior was identical to everyone else’s.

To my surprise, a man dressed as a cook came to the door. Instead of opening the door, he made hand signals to the family that he needed more time before they were to open. The family pointed to the sign on the door in protest. They were annoyed that he would not let them in and soon left. At noon I left as planned. As I counted the people who tried to eat at this restaurant today, my count came to 15. Each of them including myself had expected to eat at the restaurant. All of us left disappointed. Those 15 people could be the profit margin for the day for that business. How many of them will post on their Facebook page a negative comment about this experience? How many will never return?

The Importance of Signs as Brand Promises

We as consumers are exposed to hundreds of signs every day. What is amazing is that we believe what we see on a sign. We take them literally at face value. We are so used to being directed that we rarely question if the information is correct. Signs are brands. A brand is a promise of an expected product or service. We all expected that the brand of this restaurant was that they were open at 11am. They were not. They lied. Their brand lied and broke the brand promise. Now the only brand promise we have is that their brand is unpredictable. Unpredictability in the marketplace does not fetch a premium price. It gets what is leftover, because that is what it deserves. No one should have to beg a business to take their money. A business should make it easy for customers to transact with them.

If the business was having a problem that day, they needed to communicate that with their customers. A simple piece of paper that said “Sorry, we are opening at 12pm today” would have been sufficient. That would have preserved their brand with the 15 of us and kept their brand promise; even if we would have chosen to go elsewhere for lunch. A sign is a brand promise. Customers will hold you to your sign. It is your unwritten contract with them. Don’t break promises to your customers. This restaurant will need more than a lucky cat to help them survive if this is the way they keep their brand promise.

Mike Bindrup

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