JB Hi-Fi’s signage and brand may look cheap and homemade but by taking this approach, the brand is able to connect with its customers on a personal level. Martin Hopkins explains.

If I had to sum JB Hi-Fi up in five points, I would say the following:

  1. $9.23 billion in sales
  2. 200 stores
  3. Australia’s seventh-strongest brand
  4. 7,000 team members
  5. Handwritten signs

There’s seemingly an odd one out on that list. But it has helped JB Hi-Fi build a distinctive, highly successful and well-loved brand.

Yep, it’s handwritten signs.

At face value, handwritten signs feel like cost-cutting. A practice you’d expect to see at a market or bargain pop-up store to keep overheads low.

For a larger retailer like JB Hi-Fi, it gives the impression consumers are getting products at the lowest prices – not prices that have been set in a boardroom months ago. It’s as if the saving from not commercially printing them is being passed onto you.

­This low-cost market ethic/aesthetic is also reflected throughout its stores. Seemingly little to no interior design. Stripped bare spaces piled high with products. Even the Apple concession looks a bit tatty and cramped. And unlike the Apple Geniuses with their pristine blue T-shirts, the JB team don’t wear uniforms. They wear what they want.

The explosion of “craft” has seen handwritten menus, chalkboards and staff recommendations used to add an obvious human touch to the retail landscape.

Many larger brands have a handwritten tagline under their logo. For example, Woolies’ “Fresh Food People”. For other brands, it is a more dominant element of their visual identity, such as Lush or IGA.

However, JB Hi-Fi – in-store at least – handwrites everything, making it feel much more personal and authentic.


Cost-saving or savvy branding?

You might be wondering whether handwriting signs in each store is cheaper and more efficient than designing a template, commercially printing them, and distributing them to all stores. I can tell you from experience it definitely is not. It would be infinitely cheaper and faster to take the latter approach.

But these handwritten signs are symbolic of what the JB Hi-Fi brand stands for.

The JB mission statement contains some clues: “To deliver the most extensive range, lowest prices, best brands, convenient locations, and most importantly genuine personal service from our specialist staff.”

It’s a brand that embraces individuality, doesn’t take itself too seriously and delivers genuine personal service. And what better way of expressing this than through the team’s handwriting? It literally connects you to a real person, with all their idiosyncrasies and imperfections.

Consistency is key

As with any well-applied branding, JB continues this handwritten vibe

beyond the physical store into other channels and offerings. The brand’s website and printed catalogues use a variety of hand-drawn and comic-esque fonts and graphics that extend the theme and feel suitably bargain basement.

The brand’s Instagram probably best captures the hand aesthetic with a scrapbook-like combination of team and product shots with haphazard typography. As you may expect, the sub-brand JB Hi-Fi Business drops the hand aesthetic altogether for a more buttoned-up approach.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a style guide for their handwriting or if part of the recruitment process involves having a go at writing signs.

Personal touch is at the heart of the brand. It makes us feel like they are just like us. They’re not trying to be fancy or rip us off.

Even JB’s corporate social responsibility program is called Helping Hands. It aims to make a tangible difference to the communities in which the employees of JB work and live.

Getting personal

If this has got you inspired, consider how you could channel a personal touch for your brand. Handwritten signs may be way off brand but there are other ways you can use design to get closer to your customers. This might mean using your existing visual identity in a more informal way or adopting more obviously ‘personal’ visual elements, like more authentic imagery, a wider colour palette, playful graphic elements or a more conversational tone of voice.

Using design to make more of a personal connection could do wonders for your brand. As the recent earnings results show, it’s certainly working for JB.

Martin Hopkins is a Creative Director at Principals.

This article first appeared in Inside Retail.

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