Wayfinding 102: Creating and Confirming the Guest Experience

By Camille Leonard

Wayfinding 102: Creating and Confirming the Guest Experience

In Wayfinding 102, we offer DMOs a look at how wayfinding tools can turn the journey from one attraction to another into an educational and enjoyable visitor experience. Read time: under 5 minutes

In our article, Wayfinding 101: Effective Signs Point to Love, we discussed Orientation, Route Decision and Route Monitoring and shared some of our experiences from working with communities to guide their visitors to key points of interest. The article briefly covers how to make your guest feel welcome, get them effectively to their desired destination (while showcasing the assets of your town) and noting the importance of monitoring the wayfinding as your destination grows or changes.

Once you have successfully established a program to move visitors and make their journey less stressful, it’s time to delve deeper into branding the experience!

Wayfinding Beyond the Sign

Using the route decision process to lead visitors through your destination, past the landmarks and vistas to the specific places they are looking for, creates a story about your community. Continue that storytelling using the infrastructure of the town—the light posts, the sidewalks and crosswalks, the parks and historic markers. A series of light pole banners can define a district, announce an event or mark an attraction. They add color, excitement and are a natural vehicle for brand messaging. Partnerships with interested stakeholders can help make these cost-conscious marketing tools useful as temporary event promotion or more permanent area-defining markers. Your role as the area’s DMO could be as simple as proposing a plan to be implemented by your area districts, convention center and neighborhoods or as in-depth as working with designers and vendors to create a cohesive branded effort. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America:

  • Studies show outdoor advertising drives more online activity per advertising dollar spent than any other traditional media
  • Outdoor advertising is 382% more effective than TV, 200% more effective than print and 63% more effective than radio in driving consumers online in a one-month period
  • 91% of U.S. residents (age 16 and older) who traveled in a vehicle noticed a form of outdoor advertising in a one-month period, and 79% noticed a form of outdoor advertising during a one-week period.

Visitors to your destination are most exposed to marketing when traveling on your streets. Think of light pole banners as a series of mini-billboards that are ideally positioned to reach these visitors. They can contain a single theme or display a series of messages. When light poles are already in place, capitalizing on these structures with the addition of simple hardware is a smart use of your DMO’s marketing dollars.

Capital of Dreams light pole banners

Capital of Dreams light pole banners

These Capital of Dreams banners were designed as shells (a branded background with open space left available for adding titles and dates) so that events and meetings could be announced in the area around the convention and entertainment district. Taking advantage of economies of scale, many more banners than needed for one event were printed ahead of time. Then vinyl lettering was applied to smaller sets to customize them for each event. These banners invited visitors to return and generated local awareness and excitement for upcoming events and groups.

Dauphin Island Banners

Stamp designed light pole banners to be leveraged during Dauphin Island's rebranding campaign to get the word out about the new brand AND add a little “local color” to the area. Visitors to the town of Dauphin Island arrive by car, boat and auto ferry so this low key light pole banners also gives visitors a sense of arrival. Banners hung in shoulder seasons use seasonal themes, like winter and patriotic holidays, to reinforce the quaint hometown feel while banners hung in peak vacation season feature a series touting the Dauphin Island lifestyle—"Bike to the Beach","Wet A Hook" (fishing),"Flock to the Shore" (birding), and "Savor the Sunset" (west facing beaches).

Wayfinding as an Attraction

Wayfinding can be experiential: Think of historic trails that take interested visitors from marker to marker telling the story of a meaningful past. Diagrams on windows naming the landmarks in view in a dramatic skyline of tall towers. A map of a running trail in a large community park. How can tourism marketers use these wayfinding tools to create an educational path leading from one attraction or site to another? By planting the idea that educating and directing visitors from one place to another could boost attendance in both places—encouraging an itinerary through the visual language of wayfinding. Imagine two attractions within walking distance of one another. What if a series of banners cross-promoted them? Or if a trail from site to site was populated by informative exhibits, public art and markers that made the journey part of the experience? Stamp attempted to solve a problem with a portion of a historically significant trail commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. While parts of the trail are well marked and managed by the National Park Service, other parts are off the beaten path. Some of these sites were rich in history but lacked the character of that era.

50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March guide a visitor from station to station

Proposed wayfinding signage to guide visitor from station to station

The proposal called for a series of interpretive signs placed along a stretch of inner-city streets to guide a visitor from station to station, reading and learning about the marchers.

Wayfinding elements can provide unique user interactions and build a sense of place.

Wayfinding elements can provide unique user interactions and build a sense of place. As a result, the signage becomes the attraction.

Along with the interpretive signs, some of the proposed elements included bronze trail plaques embedded in the sidewalk to indicate a notable site; signs containing codes linking to web pages or videos rich with supporting media; small bronze sculptures of shoes actually worn by marchers with a little information about the owner. Other plans for the route included inspirational murals, sculptures and themed crosswalks. There are so many opportunities to tell the story of your community through streetscape, but a DMO can’t take advantage of them working alone. Partners and stakeholders need to believe it is mutually beneficial to devote marketing efforts toward the experience created by an engaging journey from place to place. The role of a tourism marketing organization is to understand the possibilities and encourage the movement toward using community assets to create a unique sense of place. A well-branded wayfinding system can go a long way toward making this a reality. Destination Marketing Organizations must partner with city government as well as their stakeholders to share in the creation of well thought out wayfinding systems. Local, state and federal entities regulate many aspects of vehicular and pedestrian right of way permissions, so good professional help is a must. For an in-depth overview of the practical matters involved in wayfinding, we recommend doing some research. The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Places by David Gibson is an easy-to-understand guide to get started thinking about this beneficial process. In the next installment of this series, Wayfinding 103, we discuss the digital components of wayfinding development.