Street-corner sign wavers really do attract business
There are many ways to market a retail business with electronic media, but one effective method is to simply have someone stand with a sign, dance and wave.
Liberty Tax has a person dressed as the Statue of Liberty out front, near the road, at most of their 4,000 locations during tax season, said Nina Cunningham, public relations director for the Virginia Beach-based service.
She said they have done so since their first tax season of 1999. These “wavers,” as Liberty Tax has dubbed them, are effective, Cunningham said.
“We estimate that for every two hours we have a waver, we get at least one tax return in to us,” Cunningham said.
The wavers draw traffic to locations that are frequently in a strip center, she said.
“It helps people find us and see us,” Cunningham said. “Many times a location is tucked away in a shopping center from the main drag. It improves visibility.”
Liberty Tax believes in its wavers so much, the company developed an eight-minute video and training class to teach new candidates how to work the street.
“It gives them the preferred technique, such as saluting to police officers as they drive by,” said Cunningham, who has been a waver herself.
The video also provides safety techniques such as staying on the sidewalk and not waving from a traffic median, Cunningham said. They must not cause traffic problems, she said. Before a waver is posted at a new location, the company checks the sign ordinance to make it won’t violate it.
The tax service is somewhat selective on who dons the Lady Liberty uniform. Potential wavers must try out for the position.
“Many are aspiring to be in theater,” Cunningham said. “They are wild and crazy people,” said John Hewitt, CEO and founder of Liberty Tax.
“And many come back each tax season to wave,” Cunningham said. “We have one who has been with us for four or five tax seasons.”
They work in four-hour shifts because it can be a very tiring job. Hewitt came up with the idea, with the objective of developing a branding mark.
“Most people, in the course of their commute to and from work, pass about 100 businesses that they do not notice. This works because it gets their attention,” he said.
When his company went public, Hewitt had several Lady Liberties with him when he rang the bell at the Nasdaq opening. “It was a novelty, one the people at Nasdaq really enjoyed it,” Hewitt said.
While he has not done the street dance himself, Hewitt said he would if they reach their 2020 goal of being the No. 1 tax service in the country. “I will dance on Wall Street,” he said.
Lisa Spiller, professor of marketing at Christopher Newport University, likes the simple marketing approach. “They are fun to see,” she said of the dancers. “And I think there will be more. It adds personality to the business.”
For those considering a sign waver for their business, it is important to make sure the concept ties in with the overall marketing plan to establish a brand identity, such as Liberty Tax and the waving Statue of Liberty. If using a costume, tie that into other marketing products such as letterhead, the front door and other material.
“The other day, I passed a hot dog place that had a person in a hot dog costume outside waving,” she said. That same hot dog costume is on their door, website and other marketing material. She suggested naming the costumed character.
“Ronald McDonald is a great example,” Spiller said.
While they can be entertaining, a sign-holding waver can also be connected to a promotion. For example, people who notice a waver can email or text the business– not while driving, of course – for a sign-spotter discount.
“Even taking them to trade shows is a good idea,” Spiller said.
Sometimes a sign waver’s enthusiasm can overshadow the actual message. Spiller recalled a young man who dances with a sign in a small strip center near her university. Spiller took notice of him because he was so entertaining. However, she has no idea which business he was advertising. In addition, his sign was not a quick read because it had too much writing on it.
“That is not a good message; I can’t act on it – although the guy dancing caught my eye,” Spiller said. “Keep in mind that people have just a few seconds to read it.”