There’s a company from the Midwest that wants to build a small power plant about 800 feet from my house. Of course, my neighbors and I are leery about this, so to help get things off on the right foot, the company sent us a letter inviting us to an open house. The letter was a fail on a few fronts (it was aloof, it did not address any predictable concerns, etc), but the worst part of the letter was the signature at the end.
More on that in a minute – let’s talk about signatures in general first.
If you’re like most folks, you probably like signing your name. Maybe it’s that inner-celebrity in all of us, or maybe it’s because a signature is usually some kind of personal stamp. Many times it’s important, and if you’re John Hancock, your signature might go down in history.
I know when I first became a budding executive at 21 and had to sign purchase orders, I started practicing my signature until it was repeatable without thought, and something that I liked as well. I still sign my name that way to this day.
I’m a NY Jet fan, and have a football signed by the 1988 or 89 team (I forget.) I look at the football now, and I can see the names of players I remember well – there’s tight end Mickey Shuler, Coach Joe Walton, Receivers Wesley Walker and Al Toon, Quarterback Ken O’Brien, Kicker Pat Leahy, and many others. Here’s my football:
In looking at this football signed by professional athletes, it tells me what a good signature should look like – it should project some flair, but it should also be somewhat legible. Not that I would expect to look at anyone’s signature and be able to pronounce the name phonically, but I should have an “idea” of your name from your signature. Anything less is a fail. I know doctors are famous for having horrible signatures, but I’m not talking to doctors here – I’m talking to businesspeople, like the power plant guy <real name withheld, but let’s call him Joe Shmoe>.
Joe is the guy who sent the letter I mention earlier. Now, let’s set the stage here: you’re sending a letter to people you are going to try and build a power plant near. At the very minimum, you want to come off a certain way – this letter is your very first contact with us, and should, at the very least, make us feel like you care. The letter was “from” him, using phrases like “I’m writing to…” and “contact me”. Personal and all. But then Joe signs the letter like this:
Ok, look at that signature – what does it say to you? Know what it says to me? It says “Self important corporate prick”. It’s dismissive, like we’re not even worth spelling your name for (note: again, his name really isn’t Joe Shmoe, but there’s nothing to be gained by personally identifying him.)
Now I have no idea whether Joe is a self important corporate prick or not (let’s hope not). But it doesn’t matter – THAT’S THE IMPRESSION I GOT. And that’s the impression my neighbors likely got.
Some of you may be saying “Jeez Dan, that’s a little much. Do people really think that much about a signature?”
My answer is no, they don’t. They’ll just have a slight negative feeling, and not even know why. As a writer / marketing dude, it’s my job to notice (and know) crap like this. It’s all marketing, folks. From what you say in the letter to the paper you use to how you sign it. Why intentionally handicap yourself because you’re dismissive about signing your name?
Do yourself a favor (and you too, Joe) – take the time and develop a nice signature. It need not be phonically perfect, but make it some semblance of your name. Your readers will appreciate it, even if they don’t know it.