A Spoonful of Sugar Makes a Strong Business Case

It’s a rare opportunity among municipalities to transition from being a suburb to a city. And it’s fair to say getting it right is crucial because this happens only once in a municipality’s lifetime. So when City of Surrey councillor Bruce Hayne decided to tackle the proliferation of signs –the visual clutter with messages that spilled out on to roads– he was signaling a serious shift toward cleaning up Surrey’s image and setting a new tone. That’s a challenge by any measure… Now, it’s widely understood that I love a communications challenge.

But behaviour change requires much more than enforcement. Motivating people requires offering them a reward they can grasp and personally experience. In this case the audience was wide –anyone with a business that had a sign. The gas station operators were as much our target audience as the big box stores or the home based business in rural settings or the new shops in malls.

So we created a common language and supported it with a video and a script that left no doubt about what the problem was; what the solution was; and the reward? That was common language too. Better business. If you invest in signage, it’s to strengthen your business. So rather than sending a “thou shalt” autocratic message, we decided on a “let us help you succeed” approach to win the day. A paradigm shift that was subtle but transformational.

The campaign is still young and the old signs won’t disappear soon but we’re pretty confident we’ve left a positive mark on a young city and helped elevate the tone. See the video here.