Marketing your business: Perception is everything

By Dan Antonelli

Posted on Friday, July 28th, 2023

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How the customer perceives you and your business is a critical part of what you will be able to sell to them. If they don’t see you as competent and capable of producing a certain type of work, it won’t matter how hard you sell—you won’t get the job.

It’s difficult to predict exactly what perceptions the customer may have about you and your business, but most likely they’ll have at least a few wrong ones. Here are some popular misperceptions:

■ You’re a computer operator. Not so. If the customer just needs someone to typeset a brochure or a flyer, they should go to the quick-print shop. If they need marketing strategy, they’re in the right place.

■ You’re a budget operation. Cost should not be the main factor in choosing your shop. We all know that cost is always an issue, but you need to be clear that you are there to help them make money rather than save money.

■ You’re selling a commodity. A commodity is a mass-produced, unspecialized product that can be purchased in volume—like a box of Kleenex tissues or an Epson CS4600 printer. Your well-designed logos, websites and signs are hand-tailored for each client’s specific needs, and not an off-the-shelf item. They are the result of thought and effort by you or possibly a team of creative designers—the cumulative result of years of training, education and experience.

■ You’re a sign shop. Signs are just one of the services you offer, but you’ve got more than that. You help solve marketing problems and develop marketing strategy. You can handle website design and have stationery printed.

To change these misperceptions you must be prepared to address them when they come up. It may mean referring work away. It will surely mean being ready to explain what you really do. You’ll need to be able to explain your business model clearly to customers, because there’s no telling what they think you do.

What perceptions do you want to instill? Now let’s take a look at what messages you want to send about you and your business. Once you know what you want customers to think and feel, you can start thinking of ways to make that happen.

■ You are a marketing consultant. Your goal is really to help your customers meet their marketing goals. Sometimes I write a positioning line to help clarify what my client’s company does. That type of thinking goes beyond doing what you’re asked. They may have come to you for a logo, but now you’re helping them to better communicate what they have to sell to their potential customers. I’ve even changed the name of a few businesses.

■ You’re more interested in what they need than what they originally came to you for. They may have come to you for a sign, but you realize what they really need is a cohesive image for their company.

■ You deliver solutions. You can give them what they ask for, or you can go beyond that and find out what they actually need. You ask questions to help learn what challenges their business faces and look for ways to overcome them. This approach sets you apart. You’ll hear clients saying things like, “Well, I never really thought about that….”

■ You can do the work or refer them to someone. Because you’ve educated yourself in marketing for small businesses, you can handle the task at hand, or you know someone who can. If they need some quick promotional banners, you may do them in-house or get them done by another shop. If they need some low-cost flyers, you may send them to the quick-copy shop. Either way, you’re prepared to address their marketing needs.

How do you create those perceptions?

An image checklist for design-oriented shops
If you plan to sell customers on the importance of their image, you’ll want to take a close look at your shop to see if your image is on track. Put yourself in the prospective client’s shoes for a moment. What impression would your shop’s appearance give?❑ Business card❑ Stationery❑ Website❑ Brochure

❑ Promotional postcards

❑ Office/display area

❑ Shop graphics

❑ Vehicle graphics

❑ Employee appearance

❑ Voice mail greeting/message

❑ Outside appearance of shop

In most cases, it’s not one single thing that delivers these messages. It’s the whole package. You have to take a look at everything from your own business card to how you present a design.

Everything about you and your business should say that you are design and image oriented. You may even want to take the word SIGNS out of your business name. If you choose to stay involved in sign production, you may opt to spin off your marketing/design endeavor as a separate business.

In creating these perceptions we face the same task as our customers. The difference is that it’s really not our customers’ responsibility to know how to best market their business. They didn’t get into business because they knew marketing—they knew landscaping or computer repair or whatever. The marketing part is our job—that’s what we’ve studied and learned about and gained experience in. We can best demonstrate that with our own image.

Just like our customers, we can’t leave our own customer’s perception to chance. We must engineer those perceptions to match what we really have to offer. Putting a little time and money into this can truly help transform your business.

A good example is my own website, which just went through its sixth redesign. We put over 100-man hours into its redevelopment. When clients look at the site and our work, it’s not difficult to convince them they came to the right place.

This appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of SignCraft.

The home page of Dan’s website. [This was his site in 2005. Dan has since repositioned his business as, which he covers in a later article. –Editors]

Dan designed Rich Dombey’s website, Rich needed a place where potential customers could see his work and the services provided by his shop, Rich Designs, Hillsborough, New Jersey.

Dan designed Natural Turf’s brand and logo and lettered their three vehicles.

Dan created this package for a graphics studio.

Dan Antonelli owns KickCharge Creative (formerly Graphic D-Signs, Inc.) in Washington, New Jersey. His latest book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, joins his Logo Design for Small Business I and II. He can be reached at dan@kickcharge. com. Dan also offers consulting and business coaching services to sign companies. For more information, visit On Instagram: @danantonelli_kickcharge.