Word up: Sometimes the best marketing ideas are the simplest

TRAVERSE CITY – Certainly you've noticed the sign if you travel Eighth Street through town with some regularity. Maybe you've even jotted down a saying or two.

For years, the Twin Bay Glass road sign has offered words of wisdom, wit, well wishes and even an occasional plea. Oh, and once in a blue moon it will offer news about a deal on glass. That is their business, after all.

The idea of putting sayings up on a sign where most businesses advertise promotions was the idea of co-owner Mark Bowie, who started the business in 1980 with Dick Corey and the pair continue to lead it.

Bowie said he wanted a sign with changeable letters so he could deliver messages that he could freshen up regularly. As a former president of the local ad club, Bowie said he's long been interested in advertising strategies – ideas and words and their ability to persuade people.

The sayings are changed every Friday and each side of the sign is different – that amounts to 104 sayings over 52 weeks – and no repeats.

"We're careful not to be too religious or too political," Bowie said, but even so sometimes the sayings hit home. "One time I put up 'Don't Borrow,' and my banker came in."

Or the time the sign suggested passersby call their mothers. Soon after, they received a call from a woman crying because she followed the sign's directive. She hadn't talked to her mother in years.

The sayings give the sign personality, Bowie said, and while "it's really more fun than anything else," plenty of people know the sign and connect it with the business.

Once he was running low on sayings so he put out a plea: "Help, I ran out of things to say!" The number of people who either dropped off a book of quotes, called, emailed, suggested web sites or delivered sayings jotted down on scraps of paper was remarkable, Bowie said.

"It's connected us with people we've never met," he said, and no doubt helps to create some "top of mind" awareness for the full-service glass center.

While Bowie has been the one selecting sayings and responsible for actually putting them up, he recently placed the task into the trusty hands of employee Bonnie Lautner, Twin Bay Glass office manager.

Lautner wasted no time and already has her list of "short and meaningful sayings" for the remainder of 2008. She is also learning tricks of the trade from Bowie – things such as making sure the words are centered correctly on the sign. She said she enjoys the new job responsibility so far, but perhaps isn't too thrilled about changing the sayings in mid-February, hinting that they may get pretty short and sweet. BN