Carrot or stick?

speed camera signThere is a speed warning sign near my house. If you drive past it faster than 30 mph, it shows the words SLOW DOWN followed by your registration number. It annoys me, because the message is in the wrong order. If they really wanted to catch your attention, it should be the other way round: Name (or number) first, information second.

Another speed awareness sign near where I live shows your speed in red if you are driving over 30mph, and in green if you are driving under 30. However, this assumes everybody understands the colour code: red for bad, green for good. I’m not sure that everybody does. Anyway, it’s too subtle. Drivers are expected to process two bits of information in their brain. One, the speed, two, the meaning of the colour.

These are not speed cameras; just an attempt to make people aware and therefore stop them speeding. There are better ways to achieve that goal.

UK drivers are alerted to the presence of a normal speed camera by camera warning signs (see image) and the fact that the cameras themselves are painted bright yellow.

The trouble with the normal camera sign is twofold. First, the image is drawn pointing sideways, not at you the driver. Second, it shows such an old-fashioned camera that I doubt many people these days even know what it’s supposed to be. For better effect, I recommend redrawing the image so it is face on and looks more like a digital camera.

Better than that, are the speed awareness signs that show a happy face or a sad face together with the speed you are travelling.

A face communicates better. Babies recognise faces at an early age, even if it’s just a circle drawn on paper with two dots for eyes. Even fish recognise faces!

When I was scuba-diving in the Red Sea, a little clownfish (think Nemo) darted out of its anemone right at my mask, as a clear warning to keep me away from its home. It probably hadn’t seen many scuba divers before. I probably looked like a great long black thing blowing bubbles with a tank on my back. How did the clownfish know which end of my body it should communicate with? Because fish know that a set of eyes represents the head of an animal. That’s why butterfly fish have evolved a stripe going their eye, while other fish have an ‘eye’ pattern on their tail, in order to fool predators into biting the wrong end.

So why am I telling you this?

Because eye contact is tremendously important. It’s wise to include eye contact in all your marketing, including print adverts and your web homepage.

And because I heard that the smiley/sad face signs reduce driver speed more effectively than speed cameras do. The carrot beats the stick.

How can you apply these ideas in your business communications? Let me know in the comments.

photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

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