On a recent trip back to Chicago, we stopped at a nature center I’d loved as a child. I love the opportunity to get outdoors when I can and was eager to see how they’d renovated the space.
As we approached the entrance, I was struck by a sign in the window that said simply “Please watch your children“. I’ve visited many places in my life, both geared towards children and geared towards adult, and couldn’t recall ever seeing a sign like this. I initially brushed it off as a reminder, likely encouraged by past issues, and proceeded in the door.
From there though, everywhere I turned, there was a sign telling me what to do.
Not to feed the fish.
Not to use too much toilet paper.
Reminders to turn the lights off.
Any of these signs alone wouldn’t have phased me but after a bit, it began to feel as though I was an unwelcome guest. It made me not want to go back.
Presumably, the goal of the nature center is to preserve nature while also attracting visitors to teach them about nature. Part of this, of course, is educating them on how to properly care for the world around us. Likely the only goal of this proliferation of signs was to inform and educate. However, the messaging in this particular nature center began to feel pushy and judgmental because of its tone and abundance.
I cannot imagine it encouraged people to return in the future to learn more about how to care for our environment.
Our nature center here, on the other hand, often hosts events where children are encouraged to come. They are currently in the process of building a natural, outdoor playscape. Once people are at these events, they inform and educate them how to best treat the animals, the plants, the trees. Sure, they also have some gently worded signs to aid in this education process. However, these signs do not pop up every time I turn around.
How you interact with your clients and patrons can make a big difference in whether or not they will come back to you in the future. Your messaging affects how you are perceived. This is as true for signage as it is for Facebook posts, newsletters and blog posts. If your messaging makes people feel as though you are judging them or dislike their presence, you are likely to lose their business.
Both nature centers presumably have the same goal. However, their approach to meeting that goal is vastly different. Rather than limiting spending to signs that may be misconstrued, hire more people to help spread your message in a positive manner. Or pay a copywriter a nominal fee if you don’t have the budget to afford staff. In some way, use that money to build your clients an environment that makes them feel welcomed. It’s more likely that they’ll return this way and that you, in turn, can meet your goals whatever they might be.