Once in a while, you have set all the rules to mute and go with what works for your company.
For example, our main office is located near Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes, the steel mills, and all the logistical hubs that come with being the way the primary way Chicago goes east with ground shipments. In our town, until a few weeks ago, there was a brown sign with orange lettering that says, “The Port." If you didn’t know it already, you would assume we’re describing either a shipping company along the Port of Indiana or a bar for the shift workers who get off near there. So, if we were to tell you that we’ll meet you at The Port in town and to look for the brown and orange sign on the main drag, you’d probably expect to look for a small garage owned by a contracting company, or a bar. Once you saw the sign from the road and saw the big ice cream cone sign and classic channel lettering message board, you probably changed gears and assumed it was an ice cream stand. You probably wouldn’t know that we’re telling you to go to perhaps the best hot dog joint on this side of Chicago until you parked and saw a picture of a Chicago dog on the wall, hung low. It wouldn’t cross your mind it was drive-in if you didn’t know already, until you saw the way the building was structured.
The signs wouldn’t tell you straight out, and those signs ain’t pretty, yet they’re perhaps the most iconic outdoor signs in the Indiana Dunes area. Now, it’s bringing nostalgia as the owners have closed it down and retired. Its legend continues.
In a world of hyper-targeting, remarketing, A/B testing, demographic targeting, and digital every-which-way but loose, a simple bit of channel lettering on an unassuming brown roof and a neon-outlined ice cream cone said everything. Simple, poetic, and timeless.
It’s because The Port had a few things going for it.
It takes a few seconds, but as you’re driving by, and have seen one before, you’ll see the drive-up lanes for the classic hot dog stand – something most Millennials probably haven’t seen unless they’ve been to a Sonic. For the longest time, right along one of the main ways to get up to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State park.
“The big brown sign with orange lettering on the west side of the main drag," is specific. It wasn’t hiding behind a tree. It wasn’t lost in a sea of well-manicured, stenciled, digital signs. It stuck out like a sore thumb, a sore thumb that made great hot dogs.
As their customers grew, they told their friends, who became customers. Those families became customers. Those families’ customers grew up, went on first dates there, and, eventually, took their own families there. And it kept growing with the times.
They didn’t bother updating their sign every decade to keep up with the times. It was there. It said the name. People knew how to find it. In a world of regularly scheduled changes in tastes, styles, and preferences, The Port never changed its sign, but rarely, and only if it needed maintenance.
Their sign became symbolic. You wouldn’t make that look your first choice and you wouldn’t teach those 1970s food psychology colors in a marketing class anymore, but over time, the customers became conditioned to identify their sign with the quality of the experience.
And until this past year, they were a fixture in the community since 1953. A Local landmark is often the phrase that describes them.
Every business is different. Their signage needs differ as much. And, over time, your sign’s role will change as your business matures. Always remember The Port. They did it with unassuming colors, font, and a neon-outlined ice cream cone. They become a destination attraction.
In the meantime, we hope someone buys The Port and keeps the tradition alive. And that those owners never replace those timeless, beautiful signs