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Ethical Ideas for Local Window Dressing

Personally, I can never walk by a Chinese restaurant without stopping to read the menu. Sometimes, it’s pasted in the window. Other times, it is enshrined in a little wooden box, perhaps accompanied by newspaper clippings or semi-fuzzy photos of appetizing fare. Drawn like a moth to candle flame, I want to see what the restaurant has given pride of place to by the front door.
Mike Blumenthal recently highlighted an example of local window dressing gone wrong. The article features a snapshot of a plaque in a restaurant window that gives the first impression that the business may have received some type of award or special notice from Google+. On closer inspection, however, we discover that:

  • The plaque isn’t from Google – it was ordered from a third party at the cost of $300.00.
  • The review sentiments quoted on the plaque apparently don’t exist on the restaurant’s Google+ local page. So, they’re either fictitious or drawn from some non-Google source.
  • The company selling these plaques is apparently using other big brand names (like Yahoo) on their merchandise.

Mike Blumenthal states:

I am not sure who I think less of in this situation, the restaurant that was trying to appear more than they really are by leveraging Google’s name and their review product or the company that soaked them $300 for the “privilege”.

On the one hand, I agree, but I also find merit in Travis Van Slooten’s comment:

I’m not going to jump on the business owner or the guy selling the plaques as quickly as you guys did. Yes, the plaques take advantage of these big brand names, and there may even be some legal issues using their trademarks – who knows. However, how is this any different than a business owner highlighting his best reviews from Google, Yahoo, etc. on his own website? This is just an offline version of it. Yes, the plaques look like an award at first glance but if customers aren’t going to pay attention and actually read it, that’s their problem (in my opinion).

For the record, I don’t condone the false representation of review sentiments, nor the possibly unauthorized use of brand names by a third party in exchange for money, but I do believe there is a fantastic idea here, once we look past misrepresentation and potential legal issues.
The economy continues to be tough on all kinds of businesses, restaurants included. If you own a restaurant (or a vacuum cleaner repair shop, an ethnic foods market, a fabric store, an antique shop or any other type of brick-and-mortar store), you should be doing everything you can to make passing foot traffic halt at your door. Take a look at the plaque in Mike’s post and learn from it.
But, resolve to do it right.
Your local poster shop, sign maker, or your own computer can partner with you to create an eye-catching, truthful ‘merit badge’ for your front window. Here are some suggestions for ethical local window dressing:
1. Make your sign large enough to draw attention.
2. Choose bright, arresting colors and create the most professional design and layout you can.
3. Highlight real review snippets that you are most proud of.
4. Highlight your personal affiliations with brands. *See below.
*I’m not an attorney, but I do know that Google founded its Local Business Index by publishing the contact data for countless local businesses without prior permission from the business owners. If you’ve stepped into the fray, claimed your local profile, and are staying awake nights sweating over your online reviews, I would say you are definitely in a relationship with Google, Yelp, et al.
While I do not approve of a third party trading on the brand names of these companies without permission, I believe that local business owners should have the right to state that they are on Google and Yelp and Yahoo. After all, all of these big companies are cleaning up big time, thanks to the existence of local businesses. So, I would not have a problem with a Chinese restaurant putting Google’s logo on a sign followed by Google+ based reviews. If Google decides to have a problem with this, I think they’ve lost it.
Could ‘Merit Badges’ Be Effective At Improving Walk-In Business?
I would think so. The very fact that the restaurant in Mike’s example was willing to pay $300.00 for the questionable plaque is indicative of potential value.
Just picture yourself in a busy downtown with three Chinese restaurants on the same block. Two have a menu in the window, but nothing else. The third not only has a menu, but also a ‘merit badge’ highlighting their glowing reviews from valued customers. Not only would this show an acquaintance with modern business practices, but it is also a voucher for accountability. I would hypothesize that business owners who are showcasing online reviews care extra about providing great customer service, because they have come to terms with the powerful part customer sentiment plays in the solvency of their businesses.
As always, take the high road here. Don’t create a misleading plaque meant to fool viewers into thinking Sergey Brin presented you with an award, but do make use of the opportunity to show off the glowing praise which your happy customers have awarded you.
It’s a small but good idea.