Blog: David Little 
David Little (bio)
Director of Marketing
Keywest Technology
Thursday, 06 November 2014

Digital signage has become an important new communications medium. Here’s a look at the basics of why that’s so.

We often read so much about the technology of digital signage that we can forget what this technology is all about—getting communication results that go above and beyond non-digital efforts.

Sure the technology is cool, but most business managers want to add value to their efforts and ultimately to their businesses. That’s why digital signs are important.

Let’s get back to the basics of digital signage –specifically, why should professional communicators and managers turn to digital signage to convey their important messages? Actually, there are several reasons, including:

-To increase a company’s visibility. One of the biggest problems retailers have when it comes to self-promotion is cutting through all of the marketing noise generated by every other business –be it on radio or TV, in newspapers and magazines or from competing store front signs. Digital signage can cut through those distractions by attracting and directing the attention of the most important potential buyers of all –those in a store who are ready to spend money on a purchase.

-To help solidify relationships with customers and vendors. Consider an auto dealership waiting room with customers seated waiting for their cars to be fixed. With well-positioned digital signage messaging –as opposed to an ordinary TV displaying a cable news channel- the dealership can promote special offers aimed at its captive digital signage audience as a reward for choosing to do business with the dealership. Or, in a corporate setting, a digital sign in the lobby can be used to welcome scheduled vendors, guests and other visitors as they arrive –a simple move that builds goodwill.

-To deliver critical information more efficiently. In times of emergency, an existing digital signage network can be a lifesaver, providing critically important messages alerting employees, customers and other guests of exit locations, storm shelters and other vital information. Look for digital signage systems that have the ability to display local alerts instantly by sourcing third-party Emergency Alert Software (EAS) information, providing instant text alerts as well as coordinated signage that gives up-to-the-second information to all concerned.

-To save time. Preparing a static, printed sign is labor-intensive, expensive and time-consuming. The same message can be created and displayed far more quickly with a digital sign. Add to that the recurring expense of printing new signs as needs change versus simply updating a digital sign with a few keystrokes and it doesn’t take long to begin earning a tidy ROI from a digital sign.

-To attract greater attention than is possible with static, printed signs. The other drawback of print is that it is static. Human brains are programmed for motion. Our eyes are automatically drawn to moving objects. Digital signs displaying full of motion video are dynamic not static. They tap into something that is innately human to demand attention and hold it.

-To increase the efficiency of employees. Emails don’t work well, especially in a production environment. Imagine an industrial plant where management wants to communicate vital information to hundreds of workers. Perhaps it’s production quotas vs. actual performance; perhaps it’s mean time between accidental employee injuries; perhaps it’s delivery information regarding vital components that are en route. In all of these instances –and others too numerous to recount here- digital signage has the ability to convey important information to a workforce that is vital to employees maintaining a safe, efficient environment.

There you have it –many reasons why digital signage is an important, effective communications alternative that professional communicators and managers can no longer ignore. Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics.


Digital Signage...
1) Can increase your company’s visibility,
2) Can help solidify your customer and vendor relationships,
3) Can deliver critical information more efficiently,
4) Saves time,
5) Attracts attention better than static signs,
6) Can increase the efficiency of your employees.
 
And, digital signage can be less expensive than what you are already using.
 
What do you think?

Posted by: David Little AT 12:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 02 October 2014

Are you thinking about buying a digital signage system? How about upgrading your old system? If so, you have likely encountered some snark when it comes to software-as-a-service versus on-premises software. Which is best for you is totally determined by your needs and if it works for your budget. Object lesson: cheaper is not always cheaper in the long run.

Some digital signage companies like Keywest Technology have developed both SaaS and on-premises software based on Android, Linux and Windows. Since developing and launching our newest platform in the Cloud, we sometimes hear unjustified reasons for rejecting cloud signage. Here are some typical comments and questions (or objections) to cloud-based software vs. on-premises software.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: I’m afraid my data won’t be secure in the Cloud.

KEYWEST TECH: Find a digital signage SaaS provider who uses HTTPS for all data transfers. This layers the HTTP protocol on top of the SSL/TLS protocol, thereby adding military-grade encryption for both the up/down transfers. This is the same level of security that the World Wide Web uses everyday for millions of financial and other secured transactions. Additionally, any reputable cloud-storage company provides storage secured with encryption and other techniques. For these reasons industry experts report that such schemes are more secure than most corporate networks.

Additionally, more advanced cloud signage uses a technique called “cloud files” that actually keeps clients’ data, media, account and billing information in separate locations. This greatly reduces the likelihood of a successful hack.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: Digital signage in the cloud is a bandwidth hog!

KEYWEST TECH: This statement used to be somewhat true back in the “video streaming” days, but most modern SaaS systems today use pull technology, which caches the playlist on the media player and therefore uses bandwidth only for the original download and future updates. This is similar to the bandwidth of on-premises software that stores the playlists on local hard drives--except the cloud systems may have the advantage of using web-optimized media encoders that reduce the file size using more efficient H.264 technology among others.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: If you lose the Internet connection to a cloud media player, the screen will go dark.

KEYWEST TECH: If the cloud player is designed to cache the playlist, the lost connection should not affect the pre-loaded playlist, which continues to play "as is" with no loss of picture or content. When the connection is restored, new content gets updated seamlessly and automatically.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: Will I lose the ability to change my content on the fly with a cloud digital signage system?

KEYWEST TECH: No, you can change the content on the fly with SaaS digital signage just like with on-premises software. It may be true that the download takes a bit longer than an on-premises system, but we are measuring seconds and minutes at most here, not hours, assuming you have a typical broadband connection. Plus, with a cloud system, you can easily schedule downloads to occur at a time that is best for your network. This is not so easy with on-premises software unless you have a local server, which adds greatly to the cost of ownership and system complexity.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: SaaS costs way too much. All we need is a simple system.

KEYWEST TECH: Cost savings is a huge factor that a well-designed SaaS system should provide. We help our customers calculate the ROI (return on investment) and COO (cost of ownership) of both platforms we offer--cloud vs. premise. When you factor in the savings from reduced hardware cost, reduced downtime, minimal maintenance cost, and then weigh in the added benefits of a cloud service like anywhere accessibility, free upgrades, free content, free widgets, comprehensive database and real-time cloud sourcing of third-party data and content, interactive integration, ease of use, etc., the cloud systems win (almost) every time in the ROO (return on objectives) arena.

Saying this, Keywest Technology continues to provide multiple platforms because there are some digital signage applications that are just simpler and cheaper to go with on-premises software. However, you don't need to be a large enterprise to benefit from a cloud system. SMBs are benefiting from cloud digital signage everyday without the objections mentioned in this article.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE BUYER: Why should I pay for digital signage? After all, some offer it for FREE!

KEYWEST TECH: Some people think at first that "free digital signage software" is going to come rolling out of the box like an Apple and set itself up and proclaim it's ready to go, but here’s the skinny: you will spend maximum time and effort to make it all work only to learn that what you really want will cost you anyway. From our experience with clients who got sick of paying too much for "free" software, we suggest you "cut bait" and go with companies who don't use such gimmicky marketing tactics and instead go with providers who know how to deliver true value. Full-service digital signage solution providers—who deliver not just digital signage software—but support, system design, content design and marketing know-how, provide business value beyond a flashy sign.

Posted by: David Little AT 03:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Digital signage puts marketers and other communicators in charge of when and where their messages influence consumers. This may also mean changes in the way things get done and who’s responsible for those things.

Day after day, the media are filled with stories of who will do what if this politician or that party takes control. The headlines are filled with phrases like “seizing control” and “taking power” and stories about the ramifications of Democratic or Republican control of Congress.

“Taking control” is part of our daily lexicon, too. “He’s a take charge kind of guy.” Or, “She’s a control freak.” Everywhere you turn, life seems about controlling our words, our actions and our environment. At least it is in most spheres.

But I wonder, if you were to ask 10 communication managers how in control they feel about their marketing message, if even half could honestly say they’re in charge. Sure they design their messages and sign off on the creative product of their advertising agencies. But from that point on they start to lose control.

Marketers cast their messages out to the public through a variety of media, like the Internet, print publications, TV broadcast and radio, without really knowing whether or not the public is fully absorbing their messages. Today’s empowered consumer is far more likely to zap the commercials on their digital video recorder, change the radio station and turn past the newspaper and magazine ads, than they are to actually acknowledge the marketer’s message and take a desired action.

That’s why when it comes to taking control of marketing messages, no other medium appears to approach digital signage. With digital signage, marketers can influence shoppers when they’re in the buying frame of mind at or near the point of sale. They can day-part their messages, appealing to stay-at-home parents during one portion of the day and the after-5-work-crowd at another. Digital signage even allows them to control their messages on a micro-geographic level, targeting a neighborhood, ethnicity, age group, social strata or income like no other medium.

With digital signage, communication managers aren’t only in control of their message but also how, where and when that message is presented to a highly targeted market audience. Digital signage elevates the control over messaging to a level all managers dream of and few currently achieve. When looking at the practical results of this robust communication medium, digital signage is a game changer for advertisers.

Digital signage represents a new age for marketers and communication managers—and a new way of thinking about content, one that can address in real time the ways consumers think and act in the purchase environment. Digital signage is not television. It’s not Internet. It’s not radio. It’s not print. It’s a completely different medium and requires a fresh approach.

Look around you. Don’t let this game changer pass you by and risk intellectual paralysis by over analyzing the obvious. Digital signage is here to stay and is becoming the communication medium of choice for messages where consumer engagement and frequent changes in content are desired. Avoid hiring an agency with old-school paradigms; consider teaming with a full-service digital signage company that has a proven track record and will assume some accountability for your return on objectives.

Posted by: Admin AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 07 July 2014

The food and beverage market increasingly improves the customer experience by deploying POS digital signage, typically provided in the form of dynamic menu boards. Unless you live in a cave and hunt dinosaurs for your daily nourishment, you likely have been mesmerized by a dynamic menu board at some point in your search for food this week. However, this is just the beginning of the improved customer experience for restaurants—the possibilities are endless.

Let’s first consider the low-hanging fruit that makes dynamic menu boards so effective for restaurants. According to Nielsen’s third-quarter (2013) Digital Place-Based Video Report, ad recall for POS-type digital signage is typically in the 60% range, which is more than twice the average recall of static signs—menus or otherwise.

This is the reason you can so easily recall the rich color of a creamed latte topped with cinnamon spice at your local coffee shop. Or, depending on where you dine, maybe you can easily recall dynamic advertising for the most awesome, juiciest pub burger that can fit in the mouth of man. I saw such an ad not long ago and it just keeps playing in my memory like a favorite song.

Such recall makes it a natural choice for promoting those more seasonable and profitable food items at the right time and place. According to a Networld Media Group report, Digital Menu Boards and ROI, the average sales lift of any digitally promoted item on menu boards averages around 3-5%, which means that payoff for such a system most often occurs in one year or less.

The restaurant market definitely benefits from digital signage, although the possibilities only start with ROI and grow from there. Improving the customer experience is also about a return on objectives (ROO). Case in point: Medicine Eat Station in San Francisco. This upscale downtown tofu shop is using digital signage for ambience. The integrated sign system creates the atmospherics of “living in harmony with nature” that is accentuated by 4 vertically rotated 42” plasma panels built into the wall of the eating gallery. To accomplish this, high-definition video footage of the Sierra Nevada mountainscape is used for real-time imagery. The programming lasts for about an hour before it repeats. At first glance, it appears to be a still image. But wait, this is real-time imagery, meaning that the clouds slowly cross the screen. A 4,000-year-old Bristle Cone Pine occasionally wavers in the Sierra wind. Light and shadows change constantly, as if you are really there.

This is a great example of ROO, but unfortunately digital signage used as a canvas for art really hasn’t caught on yet. It is by no accident that Medicine Eat Station built this to look like one giant window. It is very cool to experience, meaning that it adds to the purpose of customer satisfaction, just like ambient music, lighting, colors, etc.

Money managers are already pounding their fists, shouting, “Where’s the ROI!” Of course, it’s possible to occasionally slip in an advertisement on the example above, but this might be detrimental to the return on objectives and may compromise the result. Digital signage is not just about sales lift; it’s also about creating a return on objectives. ROO creates a value that cannot be counted in terms of dollars and cents directly. However, ROO leveraged wisely does produce ROI.

Many more POS digital signage opportunities are possible for food and beverage venues. Imagine if you will these scenarios:

  •     A sports bar with digital screens showing “this week’s sports highlights” via pictures, video replays, etc., is a natural place to present promotions to a viewing audience already buying food and beverage. This kind of content adds to customer satisfaction and experience and is available through readily available prepackaged syndication.  
  •     Engage patrons with an on-screen sports trivia experience (or any other trivia for that matter) that encourages participation by offering a coupon for the right answer. This can be done by using a QR code to facilitate the “answer” to the on-screen question.
  •     In a QSR setting people are often interested in news, sports, and weather. These interests can be satisfied with existing TV programming and mixed with on-screen ticker announcements, such as today’s special, menu promotions, seasonal sales, etc.
  •     How about a trendy restaurant that displays works from local artists. The LCD monitors hang on the wall with picture frames wrapping them. Maybe patrons vote on the best art. Owners could join forces with local art schools, art societies and public support groups. Ultimately, this could tie-in to customer satisfaction and experience. Who is not uplifted by good art, and for that matter, good food?
  •     In downtown districts, many restaurants depend on people walking by. Instead of using posters turning yellow on windows, why not project clear and crisp digital images directly on the window! The technology exists but hardly anyone uses it. The projector cost is about the same as a large LCD screen, although projector bulb replacement would add to maintenance costs. If that’s a major concern, then laser projectors are an alternative with much longer maintenance cycles. These images could be today’s menu special, happy hour enticements, a new menu item that you can almost taste, a soothing cup of fresh ground coffee on a chilly morning or just good old branding that reinforces quality services, etc.
  •     Now let’s turn to the nightclub scene where people are hopping and bopping on the dance floor. Bizarre curved screens are splashed like clouds above them with computer-controlled graphics flashing to the beat. During breaks, projectors are switched over to digital signage where various branding and POS offers are made.

I hope you thought of at least one example to add to this list. When it comes to creativity and return of objectives for restaurant digital signage, the possibilities are endless.


David Little is a charter member of the Digital Screenmedia Association with over 20 years of experience helping professionals use technology to effectively communicate their unique marketing messages. For many more helpful digital signage tips, examples and solutions, keep in touch with Little at KeywestTechnology.com.

Posted by: Admin AT 02:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 16 June 2014

Digital signage in the workplace increases ROI in unexpected waysDigital signage for manufacturing plants is probably the least understood and talked about of all applications. However, when it comes to applications that yield qualitative benefits, digital signage can display critical production line alerts, plant metrics and reinforce safety information that make it an instrumental resource for any modern operation.

Oftentimes, ROI of digital signage for businesses is spoken of in terms of cost savings, measured impact on sales, improved customer experience, brand reinforcement and the like. But when it comes to manufacturing plants, ROI is often first realized with an improvement in safety. The cost savings of a safer work environment is huge, especially considering that just one injury costs a plant $78,000 on average.  This is where digital signage can shine in manufacturing, considering how well and easy it accomplishes repetitive and engaging communications that include safety reminders and alerts. 

Modern manufacturing often involves lean manufacturing initiatives, which digital signage can address with built-in production data integration. Digital signage often supports “set it and forget it” programming, so floor managers can spend more time on the floor accompanying their plant workers, which has a tendency to boost morale and promote teamwork. With digital signage on the production floor, displays easily communicate reliable and timely production metrics, such as, quality control, up-to-the-minute production totals, inventory levels, and assembly line alerts.

For manufacturers that employ Kaizen initiatives, digital signage is an asset. It can increase worker safety awareness, improve plant communications, alert workers to supply-chain concerns, and help reduce response time for production quality issues, more so than less-agile communication methods. It can also eliminate or greatly reduce print publishing that will help eliminate waste, too.

Company communication is also a major challenge on the plant floor. Considering that 40% of workers don’t have access to e-mail, plants often rely on word-of-mouth and bulletin boards to get their message across. This is not very effective or efficient. Digital signage placed away from the production floor where workers take breaks, socialize and eat have proven to effectively communicate company updates, reminders and messages. Employee contests and event highlights can be broadcast to increase worker morale, supporting overall the team atmosphere that foremen work so hard to achieve.

Imagine an industrial plant where management wants to communicate vital information to hundreds of workers. Perhaps it's production quotas vs. actual performance; perhaps it's mean time between accidental employee injuries; perhaps it's delivery information regarding vital components that are en route. In all of these instances -and others too numerous to recount here- digital signage has the ability to convey important information to a workforce that is vital to employees maintaining a safe, efficient environment.

Digital signage for manufacturing is an excellent reminder that ROI can occur in so many ways; let’s not forget it when we figure ROI for any industry.

Posted by: David Little AT 05:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 30 April 2014

When executed properly and in the right context, digital signage can leverage sticky content to inform, inspire and motivate. It provides a concrete reason for viewers to return their glances again and again.

What is sticky content? The term comes from Internet lingo. It refers to content added to a website that has the purpose of getting users to return to that particular website and hold their attention longer than just a glance. This is why we commonly see such things as Internet games, weather, news and horoscopes on personalized web portals.

There’s no question that the traits of sticky content can also be useful with many digital signage applications. As many longtime operators of digital signage systems and networks will tell you, advertising loops are not very “sticky” when removed from the context of point-of-sale locations (POS). After all, how many of us flop in front of the television and flip on the “advertising channel” for late night entertainment?

The question we explore today is how this principle of sticky content can be applied to digital signage, and because content matters, what is likely the best sticky content when using digital signage in point-of-wait (POW) and point-of-transit (POT) locations. It’s important to know and distinguish the psychological differences between viewers’ attention spans and perceptions in all three possible contexts of digital signage. If you need to brush up on content guidelines quickly, the Digital Sign Content Best Practices guide from the University of Michigan should help you.

Basically, sticky content is about piggybacking existing content onto another medium to yield a greater value. For example, NASA scientists are considering a plan to piggyback future astronauts on –or even inside- asteroids orbiting between Earth and Mars to shield them from cancer-causing space radiation during trips between the planets.

While the proposal has some disadvantages, it offers the space agency an appealing, elegant way to sidestep problems like building a rocket big enough to boost heavy, man-made shielding into space as part of the spacecraft.

The plan draws on an ancient concept: Piggyback on –or inside- a more powerful object to get to a desired destination. Whether it’s buckling up in our cars, riding an elephant into battle after traversing the Alps, or climbing into a hollow wooden horse and being rolled up to the gates of Troy, the concept of piggybacking has a track record for success.

In the world of digital signage, sticky content piggybacks to your message and plays an important role in yielding a greater viewer value because it delivers something people generally want—to be entertained. Nothing can really do this better than television.

Just as television can inform, motivate and inspire its audience to take action, so too can it enhance your digital signage message. Simply throwing a TV channel on a digital display doesn’t automatically leverage the public’s love affair with TV. However, when executed properly within the agenda of a communication strategy with measureable goals, digital signage content that embraces television can piggyback on its stature in our society to cut through the noise and deliver powerful messages to customers that otherwise might be ignored.

Of course there are both technical and legal challenges that make it imperative to work with professional providers who can properly setup systems, support installations, and create branded playlists with an appropriate mix of content—in other words, providers who are accountable for obtaining results. And fortunately, with today’s digital signage advances, this is much easier than traveling to Mars.

Posted by: David Little AT 02:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 03 January 2014

Disruptive technologies can greatly change society. For example, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone that had a massive impact on how and why people use phones. Yes, most of us still talk on phones, but we are using smartphones for just about everything else, too. How much longer will society tolerate anything less than "smart", and what does all this mean to the future of digital signage?

Life was certainly less connected before smartphones. For example, before most people knew that an Apple was more than a tasty fruit, I was fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your perspective) to have had one of the first smartphones on the market, a Toshiba Pocket PC. If you have never heard of this product, that's probably because it was made about the time you were born or otherwise too young to care.

What do I remember about this phone? Nothing glamorous. It was slow, clunky to operate, prone to glitches, required rebooting about as often as Windows 95, even crashing with the blue screen of death on occasion!

And when I think about this a bit more, I realize the same could be said about legacy digital signage systems.

It just so happens I was involved with the nascent digital signage industry in the 90s, the same decade the original smartphones were invented. Yes, when I think about digital signage in the 90s, I can easily conclude it too was slow, clunky to operate, prone to glitches, required rebooting about as often as Windows 95, even crashing with the blue screen of death on occasion!

However, if I were to sum up digital signage starting in the 90s right up to the last few years, one would have to say that despite all of its quirks and limitations, it was glamorous. How about you? How did you feel about digital signage in its infant years? Try this; think back to the very first time you saw a flat panel television. You were likely spellbound with its thin stature and seductive HD resolution. If not spellbound, maybe you remember being gagged by its price with those early plasma panels costing over $10K each.

Peering into 2014 and beyond, I think we can safely say that digital signage is beyond glamorous-it's a bona fide medium-at least for advertisers. For example, at the 2013 Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA) summit held in New York City, the panelists agreed that place-based advertising (think digital sign media) would continue to rise through 2017 (up from 5% to as much as 25%). "I think place-based will outgrow [other forms of media] because it lends itself to targeting customers," said Chris Paul, General Manager AOD of VivaKi. "It is just a matter of technology, terminology, and industry understanding being in sync before we see dramatic changes."

What kind of dramatic changes is Paul alluding to? Possibly, the 2013 ANA/Nielsen Survey has the answer. The survey states that in three years, the importance of integrated multi-screen campaigns is expected to dramatically increase, from 20 percent of digital media purchases today to a projected 50 percent by 2016.

We might consider at this point the attributes that would lead to such optimism on spending. According to the survey, spending increases on multi-screen campaigns will require three main things:

  • Verification that advertising achieved the desired result (noted by 71 percent of respondents)
  • Consistent metrics across screens (61 percent)
  • Verification that advertising was delivered to the right audience (59 percent)

Are you one of those that still think digital signage is a fad? Heads up! According to the AdNation News article, Digital Place-based Media, What's Ahead?, there are strong reasons to believe it's here to stay. The article reported a case study related by David Krupp, CEO of Kinetic, who shared information about Degree Women's "DO MORE" antiperspirant campaign.

 "By focusing place-based media in gyms, likely to be seen by women while they were working out, the study concluded that consumers had better recall (56%) and a stronger intent to purchase (62%) than the control group. Krupp described Degree as 'the right brand for the right environment' because in this place-based campaign, it reached a large scale of consumers, who were in the right mindset to recall the product."

So digital signage went from glamorous to a medium to a business almost overnight. It started out as an eccentric technology with a glamorous flair. Eccentric because no one was exactly sure what to do with it and how to best use it-plus it was unfriendly to use and awkward to manage.

But glamour alone does not build markets. Results build markets because investors put their money where opportunities look promising, and digital signage has been adept at getting results. Looking forward to 2014 and beyond, we can now make an educated guess at where digital signage is heading, and we need to look no further than the popularity of smartphones, online gaming devices, tablets and the Internet itself.

Child points to future of digital signageWhat do these popular technologies all have in common? The single thread that ties everything together comes in the form of engagement. Digital signage of yesteryear behaved more like our parents' TV-it broadcast a message to its likely viewers without a plan for interaction. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but the big opportunity for digital signage going forward has more to do with engagement. Engagement is the way forward for digital media of all kinds, including advertising, branding, infotainment, videos, movies, gaming, and social media at large.

David Little is a charter member of Digital Screenmedia Association with over 10 years of experience supplying professionals with trusted digital signage solutions. For many more helpful digital signage tips, examples and solutions, keep in touch with Keywest Technology.

Posted by: David Little AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 01 November 2013

While digital technologies threaten the effectiveness of television advertising, interactive digital signage can amplify the impact of your marketing message.

Television programming is far from passé. Matter in fact, more people than ever are watching TV. For instance, consumers around the world are watching nine more hours of TV than they did in 2011. When you add in films, the average person is now watching 25 hours of TV and movie content a week. That’s great news if you are an advertiser, right? Not so fast.

Something has changed over the last sixty years of primetime television; the days of gathering around a 100-pound TV and eating TV dinners in the living room as a family affair are mostly over. Nonetheless, just over half of us sit and watch traditional live broadcast on televisions in the living room. It’s what we are not watching that may be disturbing to advertisers.

But before we go there, let’s consider the remainder of TV watchers. According to the 2013 report, Motorola Mobility’s Fourth Annual Media Engagement Barometer, almost half of television programming is consumed in other places and on other devices, such as, tablets, smartphones, computers, game consoles and DVRs. For instance, in countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany, more people consume media via their tablet than the trusty old flat-panel television, regardless if they are in the house or elsewhere.

The problem for advertisers is this: Despite all of the hours people watch television—the actual time spent viewing commercials has dropped precipitously. The aforementioned Motorola study reveals that 29% of all content is viewed after being recorded. And if you are an advertiser, you don’t need to wait until Halloween to be scared of this fact: 68% of global viewers record programming to skip advertisements on commercial channels, rising to 75% and 74% in the UK and US, respectively.

In other words, the viewers who record their favorite television shows on a digital video recorder will fast forward past $12 billion in advertising in 2013. How much of your ad budget will contribute to that sizeable sum?

It should be clear that digital technologies have enabled viewer choice, which is proving to be a challenge for advertisers who are counting on eyeballs being present during sponsored breaks.

With so much at stake, it’s no wonder why marketers are looking for alternate advertising avenues –ones that can target their desired audience, deliver control over playback to defeat ad zapping, and provide interactivity to engage potential customers.

Digital signage offers an appealing alternative –or at least supplement- to traditional television advertising. Delivering valuable product information and appealing marketing messages to consumers with dollars in their hands advances the goal of your advertising message. That’s exactly what digital signage can do in a retail setting.

Add to that the impact of interactivity via a touchscreen interface, and you have a technology to draw in consumers, engage them in your message and ultimately direct their buying decisions. All of this can tie into an omni-channel marketing mix that provides multiple consumer touch points and inputs.

Compared to a digital video recorder and commercial zapping, interactive digital signage offers you a technology for marketing that works with you to capture consumer attention and dollars –not against you. Isn’t it time to consider giving your advertising the Midas touch?

Posted by: David Little AT 11:24 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 04 October 2013

“Context is king,” “results are king,” “content is king,” and on and on the media debate continues until everyone is blue in the face. And while "it's good to be the king," as funnyman Mel Brooks famously observed in "History of the World Part I," achieving that status can be complicated and treacherous.

In the kingdom of digital signage, things aren't much different. Creating fresh, compelling content worthy of regal status is no simple task. Large enterprises and even SMBs often turn to outside creative agencies or full-time in-house creative resources to build advertising campaigns that capture viewer interest and hold attention. Even though anyone can have a creative flair, some are endowed with creative genius, and thus exceptional work should not be taken for granted.

Regardless of the size of business, most communication managers recognize the benefits of digital signage but often lack the time, money and/or personnel to create fresh content on an ongoing basis. And fresh content is crucial if digital signage is to remain effective and relevant to audiences with specific and ever-changing needs.

Fortunately for us common folk, with a little planning and creativity, it's possible to sidestep these impediments and create a fresh stream of digital signage content on an ongoing basis.

In Part 2, I laid out in detail five tactics businesses can employ to reduce the expense of content creation, including: the use of templates; relying on digital signage software with automatic data import capability; leveraging existing digital media; integrating RSS feeds into digital signs; and taking advantage of cable or off-air TV reception. Here, I explain five more powerful tactics that can be of help in reducing the strain of creating fresh digital signage content.

Tactic 6: Consider offering internships to graphic art students from local community colleges, universities and institutes. Both paid and non-paid internships are a staple of the college experience, and local colleges and universities offering graphic art programs are filled with students looking for a chance to let their talent shine. Often, institutions will have requirements for companies offering internships to ensure their students are properly supervised and receive a quality experience. For a small business with a marketing manager who's able to invest the time to direct a student, offering an internship to a graphic art student to create fresh digital signage content can be a winner.  

Tactic 7: Select digital signage software carefully, and be leery of the too-good-to-be-true marketing gimmicks and charlatans the industry is fraught with. Trustworthy companies are typically involved with the industry’s two major associations. And never forget, you get what you pay for holds true even with digital signage. Ask: How difficult is it to use? How much support is offered and at what cost? How long has this company been in business? Will they be in business next year? Does the software use an offline or online user interface? Which UI matches my needs better? Companies with limited time to devote to digital signage should carefully evaluate how easy the content management software is to use, because poorly designed software will waste epic amounts of time.

Tactic 8: Leverage existing non-digital assets, such as, brochures, flyers, sell sheets and catalogs. The good news for small and large businesses alike is they're probably sitting on a mountain of existing “analog” material that can be repurposed for use as digital signage content. Yes—these resources will need to be reworked to fulfill a specific requirement for digital signage use -something most business people don't have the time or talent to do. However, graphics art departments or interns should be able to make quick work of repurposing these sorts of resources as digital signage content.

Tactic 9: Subscribe to a digital signage content service for news tickers, sports scores, weather conditions, stock data and more. Broadcast TV channels aren't the only media entities that can crawl text across their screens. Businesses employing digital signage also have access to these resources through specialized content providers. Best of all, unlike cable news channels that seek to offer a broad range of news headlines, businesses can subscribe to feeds that more narrowly match their areas of endeavor. Doing so will make the digital signage content relevant and elevate the stature of the business in the minds of those viewing the signs.

Tactic 10: Add video from a Webcam or weather camera. Many digital signage controllers make it easy to integrate video from a live video camera. Imagine the possibility of a retailer at a ski resort using this capability on its digital sign to show the length of lift lines or views from a mountaintop lodge. Or, those responsible for signage at an airport might wish to integrate video from a camera mounted atop the control tower to display takeoffs and landings. Like integrating off-air or cable TV, Webcams and weather cameras offer a regular source of fresh content without having to devote personnel to the task -aside from setting up the camera in the first place.

Using these tactics can reduce the burden placed on a business to create fresh digital signage content. Any approach that can keep content fresh without taxing limited personnel and financial resources will prove in the long run to be an important element of succeeding with digital signage.

Would you like to read Part 4? Please share your ideas on Facebook or email blog@keywesttechnology.com.

Posted by: David Little AT 11:12 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 29 September 2008

Part one pointed out that for many business owners even those who understand the potential of digital signage deciding to add digital signs to the communication channel raises a thorny issue: Who's going to create the content that feeds the sign network fresh information of interest to viewers in a professional format that makes a great statement about the business?

Certainly there are a number of third-party content aggregators that can provide fresh information by using real estate on the digital signage screen, just keep in mind that too much syndicated content and you risk squandering your core communication strategy. There is nothing wrong with syndicated content; it’s extremely desirable for many kinds of communication strategies. It’s just that too much of it and your message becomes diluted to the point that, well…what is the point?

Most importantly, fresh content that is focused on your company’s communication effort is paramount if viewers are to keep coming back for reasons that meet your company objectives. Creating the right mix and balance of information sources is the ‘secret sauce’ only you and your stakeholders can answer considering business type and viewer preference.

Now on to the elephant in the room: Who is creating the content that is going to drive the company vision, value proposition, market differentiators, news, promotions and entertainment? Here, I examine solutions that go beyond the obvious answer of hiring someone like a full-time graphic artist or ad agency – two steps many business owners are likely unprepared to make until they see results that justify investing in professional talent.

Before you read my ‘elephant busting’ content tactics below, keep in mind that the success of any digital sign relies on having a clear communication strategy with stated goals and ways of measurement that are accepted by stakeholders.

Tactic 1: Create and use attention-grabbing templates that carry a consistent theme, which match a specific campaign, product or company branding effort. Templates reduce the complexity of creating digital signage content. They can be constructed to accommodate nearly all of the information – whether it's menu items for a restaurant or special event listings in a hotel lobby – that a digital signage user needs to display. Once created, templates also minimize the time that must be devoted to the communications process because they can be used over and over again.

A well thought out template for digital signage will go far; plus, it can be repurposed for other campaigns with little effort. If you are short on manpower to accomplish this, consider your company’s website designer or nascent employee with starlet skills. Another possibility is to outsource the template design to a third-party firm. Either way, you are still in control of your key message.

Tactic 2: Select digital signage software that has the ability to automatically import data from company databases and content sources to relieve staff from re-keystroking data into the digital signage page. For example, a hotel might rely on event or property management software to track reservations, meeting room bookings and conference events. For instance, meeting room booking data, such as the name of the party renting the room could populate a text field in a template built for use on a digital reader boards outside individual conference and ballrooms.

Tapping into data automation is a great way to repurpose existing resources without needing a content manager, graphics artist, or a third-party service provider. Additionally, widgets or other software programs can be used to source news feeds, social media feeds, weather forecasts and corporate web pages. This could happen simply by sitting down with stakeholders and identifying pieces of data that could populate a digital signage template automatically without staff intervention.

Tactic 3: Leverage existing marketing, promotional and advertising materials to minimize the amount of original content that must be created. Existing content, including social media assets, TV, Internet or YouTube commercials, viral video and corporate video can be reused on digital signs when appropriate.

This may only require sitting down with the person in charge of marketing and finding out what media assets are available to repurpose on the digital signage system. If such media fits within your company’s communication objectives, your marketing department may be a rich source of Web videos, PowerPoint presentations, animations, logos and other valuable assets.

Tactic 4: Use RSS feeds to keep a stream of fresh content constantly updating on the screen. Depending on the business and the application, Internet RSS feeds from various sources can provide fresh, new content to attract viewers and hold their attention.

Better digital signage software will support RSS as a source feed. RSS feeds are often available directly from one’s website, which may be great way to reinforce corporate news. Additionally, there are countless sources of both local and national news feeds from many Internet providers on popular topics that could supplement a digital signage communication strategy.

Tactic 5: Rely on a traditional television programming to supplement your digital signage content. This may seem counterintuitive for a corporate digital signage channel, but TV is a proven medium that attracts attention. And placed in spots where employees take breaks, such as cafeterias or lounges could prove a dynamic way to provide both corporate messaging and entertainment all at the same time.

Some digital signage systems are available with optional TV tuners that allow programming to be imported into a digital signage layout. Integrating TV relieves much of the burden of creating a lot of fresh content.

However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. The cable or satellite TV source may not allow retransmission of its programming without first paying a licensing fee. Another is possible competitive conflict. For instance, how would the owner of a used car lot feel about unintentionally displaying the commercial of a competitor on his digital sign?

Relying on these five tactics can help any business owner – small or large – create the content that gets and holds the attention of viewers without taking on a new employee or vendor. In my next column, I'll offer five more tactics that can be used to help create content, and may finally chase the elephant out of the room.

 

Posted by: David Little AT 03:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 14 June 2013

The digital signage industry borrows its favorite cliché from the media folks, which is: “Content is king.” Maybe we should ask at this point, if content is king, who is doing the coronation?

When I was a younger man, a college professor warned me against the use of clichés in my writing. The problem with clichés, he said, is that they are by definition “hackneyed” and “trite." Leave it to a professor to send me back to my dictionary to figure out what he was trying to say.

Being worn out, however, seems to be a matter of opinion. After all, how many people drive cars with more than 100,000 miles, especially in today’s economy? How many patch the knees of their kids’ blue jeans? Who discards a dull knife?

To me, clichés become clichés because they succinctly bundle a truth into a few memorable words, which become used to the point of exhaustion because they so aptly describe something. To “reinvent the wheel” with an original phrase might leave you “looking for a needle in a haystack,” requiring you to become “busier than a one-armed paperhanger” when a simple cliché would have conveyed your point without the fuss.

The kingship of content is easy to understand. If you want someone to read your newspaper, listen to your radio show, watch your TV program or look at your digital sign, you’d better give them a reason. That “tried and true” reason is content. It better be fresh; it better be interesting; it better serve your audience’s needs; and it better look just as professional as the competition’s presentation. And just as important, quality content must be presented in the proper context or otherwise interesting content becomes irrelevant.

Those who are successful in the media understand these truths instinctively. However, the same can’t be said for the digital signage universe. Sure, there are digital signage ad networks being put in place by media groups. Professionals in these groups understand the importance of content, but there is another vast group of digital signage users who aren’t professional communicators. They run independent retail stores, car lots, local restaurants, bars, and any one of a thousand other small enterprises. These people “first and foremost” are business people concerned with all of the things that got them to the level of success they’ve achieved so far. Adding digital signage adds another responsibility, the implications of which may not be fully understood.

Obviously, these small business owners are adding digital signage because they understand the importance of promoting their goods or services. But they likely don’t have the time, understanding or expertise to develop the content that fully exploits the potential of the digital signage medium.

For small business owners, this raises a critical question: If digital signage is king, who’s doing the coronation? In other words, how does a small business owner with limited resources create –or afford to hire someone to create- digital signage content that attracts the attention of viewers, holds their attention and influence the process of making a purchasing decision? How do they make their content king?

While there’s no simple answer that meets the needs of all small business owners, there are some straightforward, logical steps to make clear, effective, professional digital signage content possible. I’ll review this summer some of those steps to help small business owners put together the messaging they envision for their digital signs. Till then, at the risk of using another cliché, “stay tuned.”

Posted by: David Little AT 05:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 07 May 2013

Adding up current 2013 gross shipments of digital tablets from all manufactures, the tablet market has quickly grown to be about the same size as the currently shrinking PC market. The tablet market is also witnessing rapid growth of desirable performance, useful features and handy apps, yet pricing remains attractive. This is potentially good news for businesses that are looking to fulfill their agendas with these practical devices for digital signage.

Many short or long term business objectives can be achieved using digital signage applications, which properly programmed, can bring greater efficiency, enhanced customer experience and potential cost savings for

  • restaurant menus and ordering
  • conference room management
  • interactive kiosks in retail or service centers
  • POS signage
  • shelf talkers

Sam Ruggles, business solutions manager for an Android-powered digital door sign system, recently noted, “A key benefit of using digital tablets for door signs comes from the reduction of labor redundancies by automatically updating and displaying event and scheduling information using existing data.”

Ruggles makes reference to the networkability of digital tablets. Networkability provides access to databases of popular event management software (EMS) programs, such as, Microsoft Exchange Server/Outlook, Dean Evans EMS or MICROS Opera PMS, which gives digital tablets an instant source of vital event information to display at key locations for conference, meeting and training rooms—all automatically. This minimizes scheduling conflicts and participant confusion, empowering staff to do their jobs with greater effectiveness without putting more effort into it.

Just as we see with any digital device, there are a myriad of options and features that may or may not be useful in a business setting. That’s why it is important to consider selecting first a digital tablet vendor before splurging and buying a zillion units that may not fit your application.

A business should look for a vendor that is skilled at creating either Android or iOS apps that can be designed and customized to meet specific needs. Moreover, this vendor should know how to properly network the device, and if necessary, write coding to achieve system integration. This is a vital key to making digital tablets work smarter for your business.

Besides expert programming to interface tablets to existing databases, EMS, PMS and POS systems, a valued tablet vendor can also provide mounting devices that keep the digital tablets secured in a public environment. These mounting devices can secure tablets on walls, shelves, counters, and most recently, on stand-alone pedestals that create quasi-kiosk applications. 

Another value-add from a competent vendor would involve the selection process for tablet hardware that best suits the needs of your business. Some tablets come with nifty ports that can enable system installers to plug in P-o-E (Power-over-Ethernet) to simplify the installation. Other useful features may include high resolutions screens and mini USB ports. Some features like cameras and docks, which are handy for consumers, only add cost and weight for business applications that may not require these features.

The fact is, there are endless ways digital tablets can help fulfill business agendas. The key to making this product work for you is finding a vendor that scales to your needs, has the expertise to program custom apps, and can properly integrate the hardware into a system for a winning solution.

Posted by: David Little AT 03:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 31 January 2013
Consumers have changed their diet of media consumption. If you haven't updated your media mix in the last few years, your advertising dollars are being wasted.

Happy with the results from your TV, radio and print advertising? Ever feel like you aren't getting the bang for the buck you envisioned?

Maybe it's time to rethink your media mix. The concept of an advertising media mix is straightforward: Since no one magazine, newspaper, website, or broadcast outlet is likely to zero in on your target customer, choosing a variety of media based upon their ability to reach your desired demographic is more effective.

At leading advertising agencies, building the right media mix has become a near science where days untold time is spent honing, polishing and refining media selections to create a mix with sufficient reach and frequency to deliver. Gaining a thorough understanding of their client's product and universe of customers, analyzing ratings data and circulation statements, and weighing certain intangible benefits each media candidate brings to the table, are but a few of the steps necessary to build the right media mix.

While the process has proven itself to be highly effective over the years, changes in technology that give consumers greater freedom to control media consumption demand new solutions and a rethinking of what goes into an effective media mix. Armed with remotes and digital video recorders, TV viewers easily circumvent commercials. Newspaper and magazine readers are now just a click away from the same content on the Web sans the full- or fractional-page ad adjacent to the article they used to pore over on the printed page. In effect, technology is short circuiting the rather simple media equation that implicitly promised advertisers the attention of customers as they consumed the content their medium had to offer.

Consider the impact of digital video recorders and remotes on the effectiveness of television advertising. A Nov. 13, 2012 AP article in USA Today reports that an estimated 45 percent of all households in the United States are equipped with digital video recorders (DVRs). If that weren't enough to give pause to TV advertisers, another article from the New York Times reports that estimates hold "that 50 percent to 70 percent of viewers playing back shows zip through the commercials."

The story isn't any better in the print world. "The State of the News Media 2012" from stateofthemedia.org puts it bluntly: "News websites saw the greatest growth, while print audiences stood out for their continued decline, which nearly matched the previous year's 5% drop."

We might ask at this point if Americans lost their stomach for news digestion, or have they simply changed their diet? A Pew Research report states that the later is the case. For example, the transition to a full-on digital diet is changing consumption patterns dramatically. More than three-quarters of US adults own a computer. Additionally, about 44% now use smartphones and tablet adoption among adults is hovering around 18%. According to PEJ research, nearly one quarter of the US population gets its news on multiple digital devices. In other words, our digital diet has become a full-course meal.

However, there is a bright spot on the horizon if you have something to advertise, especially for those who are willing to rethink what makes up the media mix. An emerging technology that brings together dynamic display and media control at the point of purchase may be just the ingredient advertisers need to reinvigorate their media mix.

This dynamic medium is referred to most often as digital signage by the industry; however, it goes by different names. In the retail environment, it's called In-Store Digital Media (ISDM). At hotels and resorts, it's known as digital reader boards. In public venues, like a sports arena, it's often called "TV" if the screen is small and "Jumbotron" if it's large. But regardless of what you call it, advertising to people when they're away from home, -often at the point of sale or somewhere close to the product- is where you may find the most bang for your advertising buck.

"Digital signage is the next evolution of multiplatform advertising," according to Frank Dickson, Chief Research Officer with MultiMedia Intelligence. "The integration of IP-based network management allows entire screen deployments to be centrally controlled, allowing for dynamic and simultaneous control of text, video and graphics."

And it's not just about advertising. Digital signage advertising adds value by providing additional information that interests consumers; it can enhance retail ambiance, provide interactive experiences that engage shoppers and provide a better experience.

Maybe it's time you rethink your media mix alternatives. This may be the moment to redirect a portion of your advertising budget away from declining media mainstays and into alternatives on the rise, like digital signage.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:32 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 17 December 2012

Digital signage is an industry dependent on evolving communication technologies. The really cool part is that every one of us has a hand in this by the way we are using digital devices in our day-to-day lives. 2012 has been a banner year for digital signage as the industry adapts and integrates these technologies in many helpful ways.

Looking back on this year, there have been so many improvements in the field of digital signage technology worthy of note that it would fill a book to discuss them all. Let’s consider just one major newsworthy discussion of 2012—Android.

Why is Android good news for the digital signage market? Simply put, economies of scale. With the growing adoption of tablets by both consumers and businesses, über-exothermic market growth is forecasted through 2016 at 20.9 percent CAGR, according to an IDC report released on December 5. Since the digital signage industry readily adapts consumer display technologies, this will ensure a good selection of high-quality products as manufactures attempt to outgun each other with more powerful, higher resolution devices.
 
Forward thinking digital signage innovators will be able to repurpose these portable devices for a myriad of uses all the way from self-standing kiosks to shelf-talking display systems—all at a price that would put a smile on the most tight-fisted accountant.
 
Looking to 2013 and beyond, we will likely see additional integration of Big Data in digital signage applications. Some may instantly think of Big Brother and other notions of invasion of privacy that is always a fuzzy line, but the utilization of Big Data by advertisers is really more about making better guesses at what might provoke one’s interest and engaging with content.
 
Big Data is collected as we use digital devices, apps and the Internet on a daily basis, but it is rarely tied to us in a personal way, unless you have given permission through a loyalty program or the like. Of course, just using certain digital services may be part of a permission-based data collection scheme, and it is not hard to go too far before ad intrusion becomes an annoyance, which is one reason some speculate on the fate on Facebook’s future. We are yet to learn how much Big Data the general public will tolerate. Interested in finding out? You can experience it firsthand by viewing your Facebook page (assuming you have one since over 1 billion people do) over the next year as they incorporate Big Data through 2013.
 
Big Data is our digital fingerprint that knows our digital habits, regardless of what OS platform, Internet browser or mobile device one prefers to use. When we boil Big Data down for digital signage applications, it becomes a process of getting better at engaging us and helping us find products, people, service, news and entertainment that matter to us.
 
Digital signage by its very nature can be used to seamlessly aggregate and use data already existing on customers. This data can be purposed to actionable instances that offer personal assistance for many in-store processes, such as, product assistance, product comparison, customer service, loyalty incentives and social interactions, if we feel like sharing something.
 
View infographic on the future of Big Data:
 
http://www.onlinebusinessdegree.org/2012/12/06/the-future-of-big-data/
Posted by: David Little AT 04:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 07 November 2012
As I peek at 2013 coming just around the corner, I cannot help but notice how downward price pressures are intersecting with demand and driving digital signage market growth. As many benefits continue to be realized, I believe some are more important than others and point to what we can expect in the coming year.

As in any tech-fueled market, reducing cost while increasing efficiency are major factors that come into play when talking about market growth. This fact is highlighted by realizing that digital signage fits well into the corporate mantra of "doing more with less."

With digital signage, doing more with less is certainly one of the big benefits. And with noticeable price reductions in 2012 that are certain to continue in 2013, I concur with recent reports from IHS iSuppli, Platt Retail Institute and others who believe the demand will continue to build at a healthy pace.

Price reductions are being realized in every area of digital signage. For example, as hardware is getting more specialized for media playback on consumer-type products that are mass produced for a worldwide market, the digital signage industry either directly or indirectly benefits from the use of this mobile and media-centric technologies that have a considerable scale of economy in production. This scale of economy is being reflected in today's prices of media players and displays used for digital signage. Even on the software side, the use of Linux and the recent emergence of Android on media players leads the way to extremely low cost albeit more basic offerings, putting a small turnkey system at about the same price as taking the family out for a nice dinner.

The most cited benefit of digital signage is to place information anywhere it needs to be updated often-automatically through an existing IT network-increasing workplace efficiencies by reducing time-consuming micro tasking of personnel who can now be reassigned to less redundant activities. The added benefits to the workplace doesn't just save time and labor, it also increases the effectiveness of communicating, making digital signage a win-win proposition for both managers and consumers.

You don't need a psychology degree to understand moving images are more appealing to one's eye than static images. Combine this with media designed for a certain demographic and then scheduled to playout accordingly at the right place and time, now the effectiveness of the medium increases exponentially.

I believe we're now at the tipping point where digital signage is no longer a nice to have but more like a got to have, e.g., "By using digital signage I get more bang for my buck by reducing production cost upwards of 50%. And this efficiency increases the more I choose to update my message." Simply put, digital signage today just makes good business sense on many levels.

So what's the bottom line for 2013? Well...the bottom line. Communicators using digital signage are better informed and more experienced today, which equips them to make wiser business decisions that are based on ROI or ROO, and this will drive the future of digital signage in 2013.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 26 September 2012
A recent survey reveals many retailers aren't exactly where they want to be with their IT technology, including digital signage. These five tips can help.

Retailers realize the important role IT technology, including digital signage, will play in their continued success, but many say they aren't using technology to its full potential.

Those are two important findings of a newly released survey from CompTIA, a non-profit association for the IT industry. The report "Retail Sector Technology Adoption Trends Study," finds that 72 percent of retailers surveyed see technology as important to their business -a level that is expected to grow to 83 percent by 2014. However, only 7 percent say they are exactly where they want to be with the use of technology. Twenty-nine percent say they are close to their ideal application of technology.

The study also reveals that digital signage is seen by retailers as an important part of their IT mix. The CompTIA study finds a third of retailers said they currently use digital signage, and 20 percent intend to begin doing so soon. Seventy-one percent of respondents said the most popular application of digital signage was for announcements of sales and other promotional offers.

Given the survey findings regarding satisfaction with how well technology is being used and the importance of digital signage to retailers, the need for some advice on how to make the most out of digital signage technology seems apparent. These five tips should help put retailers on the right track.

First, digital signage technology is irrelevant without great content. Obviously, it's not enough to hang flat panel monitors and install digital signage players. Care must be taken to engage customers with interesting, appealing content.

Second, digital signage content must remain fresh, especially in a retail store where many people will visit repeatedly over time. Remember to mix it up. Playing back the same content day after day soon grows stale and may actually drive customers away.

Third, digital signage requires someone to take responsibility for it, both in terms of content and technology. Granted, these probably won't be the same people, but that makes no difference. What is important is that digital signage isn't just another in a long line of responsibilities some IT person has on a checklist.

Fourth, digital signage should offer consistency of messaging across multiple locations but still allow for an element of local control. For large retail chains, centralized control over signs at individual locations from a corporate network operations center will help to ensure messages remain consistent at all locations or groups of locations. However, it also is important to provide some local control to meet fast-changing communications needs at individual store locations.

Fifth, digital signage messaging should complement the overall communications strategy of the retailer. Sending disparate or contradictory messages to potential customers via TV advertising and on-location digital signs can be perplexing to customers at best and actually discourage them from visiting the store again worst.

To be sure, retailers who say they are not getting what they want from the IT technology they've implemented are concerned with far more than just digital signage technology. But to the degree that they use or plan to use digital signage in the future, the five tips offered here should improve their satisfaction with how this powerful communications medium is performing.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 24 September 2008
Changes to the nation's emergency communications infrastructure offer authorities a way to reach out to people on their cell phones, but digital signs remains a vitally important part of the mix.

Summer is the time for fun, sun and relaxation. It's also a good time to pause and think for a moment about the emergency messaging system your company, school, governmental agency or institution has set up to warn workers and visitors of possible danger.

Why contemplate trouble during such a carefree season? Simple, the summer lull gives many people a bit of a break from the volume of work they deal with the rest of the year. Emergency messaging needs also become top of mind simply because of the number of severe thunderstorms and tornados that strike during the summer.

This summer in particular is a great time to reevaluate emergency messaging because of the work being done by the government and industries, such as the wireless and broadcast industries, to modernize the Emergency Alert System so agencies like National Weather Service and even state governors and the President of the United States can reach out to individuals' cell phones and other mobile receivers to deliver vital information in a crisis.

With these improvements to the nation's Emergency Alert System, one may wonder why digital signage should be added as a medium to convey emergency messages. In other words, if someone's cell phone is going to warn them of imminent danger from a violent storm, what role is there for digital signage?

It appears there are at least three very good reasons that digital signage continues to play an important role in conveying emergency warnings. First, while many people have cell phones, laptops and tablets, there's no guarantee that they will have them with them when an alert is issued. In fact, some people may work in a setting where they are required to turn off their cell phones and may not even be able to access them at all in stricter work environments.

Second, while cell phone coverage continues to expand, there remain many places where service is intermittent or non-existent. For example, some National Parks continue to have spotty cell coverage. Those visiting a lodge may not have access to their cellular provider but could see warnings of a wildfire along with instructions of what to do on digital signs located around the lobby.

Third, digital signs give enterprises the opportunity to target specific warnings at a targeted group of people. For instances, while a national EAS system that reaches out to individual cell phones might be great at warning people of an imminent terrorist threat, what is the likelihood that it will be used to communicate to 20,000 students and faculty in a particular university campus that there is school shooter outside their building? Digital signage, however, can be used to deliver the precise warning required to that group of students and faculty.

Digital signage will continue for the foreseeable future to play an important role in disseminating emergency messages to the public. Why let another summer go by without reevaluating how your enterprise will communicate to employees and patrons in the event of an emergency? And as you consider the options, remember that adding digital signage to the mix could mean the difference between life and death.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
A new report from NPD DisplaySearch finds a sequential quarterly decline in flat panel LCD displays that are commonly used in public display applications, but the popularity of the same panels among consumers means the falloff in shipments isn't necessarily bad news for digital signage.

Global shipments of flat panel LCD displays used for digital signage and other public display applications declined in the fourth quarter of 2011, marking the first sequential quarterly decline in three years, according to recently released data from NPD DisplaySearch, a global research and consulting firm specializing in the display supply chain.

The decline comes after a two-year period of impressive growth for the public display (also called the "large flat panel display") category. Between 2009 and 2011, this market segment witnessed 65 percent growth in unit volume production, the display market research and analysis firm said.

The data, part of the "NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly FPD Public Display Shipment and Forecast Report," show LCD display shipments were pulled down by a dropped in the 26-inch to 37-inch category.

The decline raises an obvious question: "Is the public display market in general, and digital signage market in particular, sliding back into recession?" The answer, however, is far less clear.

As NPD DisplaySearch acknowledges, the sequential drop came in what it describes as "the least well-defined" slice of the market, namely the 26-inch to 37-inch space. Why is this the least well defined category? Simply stated, this segment is popular with the flat-screen TV buying public as well as with integrators who often install consumer TVs for digital signage applications. Many panels used for public display fall in the 32-inch category. Thus, without a clear delineation between the 32-inch displays used for digital signage and those used to watch television in the home, it's not possible to unequivocally attribute the sequential quarterly decline to digital signage and public display.

As Chris Connery, DisplaySearch VP of PC and Large Format Commercial Displays put it in a press release announcing the report, "The challenge comes when trying to fully quantify these markets since many times commercial installers use consumer-grade TVs for quick hang-and-bang solutions."

So, if it is not possible to tell from the data whether the sequential decline indicates a rocky road ahead for public display and digital signage, what information of value can be taken away from the latest NPD DisplaySearch findings for those with an interest in the digital signage market?

I would suggest the findings draw attention to the importance of affordable, flat-panel LCD TVs to the growth digital signage. To be sure, certain digital signage applications require higher-end, professional features, such as high brightness backlights, smaller bezels, and even touch-screen capability for hybrid, interactive digital signage. But a large number of applications don't.

Relatively inexpensive consumer flat-panel HDTV sets using LCD screens are more than adequate for many uses -particularly when compared to the heavy, boxy, low-resolution CRT-based displays they are replacing.

Rather than look at the sequential quarterly decline with fear about the road ahead, it may be more prudent to look at it with a bit of caution and also a recognition that the decline may be more attributable to a falloff on the consumer side of the equation.

It may also make sense to understand that there might be a silver lining for the digital signage market. After all, if the decline is occurring because consumers are buying fewer units, vendors will have an incentive to lower display prices, which will make it more affordable for businesses, retailers, corporations and other entities to consider adding digital signage to their communications strategies.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 15 June 2012
The latest data from PQ Media reveal 2011 was a good year for digital out-of-home advertising, and 2012 is on track to be even better.

While stock markets around the world retrace, the financial picture of Greece and Spain flounders and the world holds its collective breath waiting to see if there'll be an attack on Iran and a spike in oil prices, there is a piece of outstanding economic news for those involved in the place-based digital media market.

2011 was a great year for digital out-of-home advertising, and this year is setting up to be even better. Data from PQ Media released in April show that global digital place-based networks, billboards and signage operators saw revenue grow by 15.3 percent to $6.97 billion last year. This year, the revenue figure is projected to be even better, growing 19.2 percent.

In the United States, DOOH operator revenue climbed by 11.2 percent last year. According to PQ Media, an econometric research and consulting service in Stamford, CT, digital billboard operators saw double-digit revenue growth and operators of place-based networks saw a high single-digital rate of growth.

According to the PQ Media "Global Digital Out-of-Home Media Forecast 2012-16," the compound annual global growth rate for the five year period will be 13.7 percent. Much of the revenue growth appears tied to a recognition of how important it is to reach consumers outside the home where they make purchases. "While TV remains the 800-pound gorilla of ad-based media due to its reach, scarcity and measurement, DPNs (digital place-based networks) offer brands opportunities to extend their reach by engaging target consumers with contextually relevant content in venues outside the home," said PQ Media CEO Patrick Quinn.

Digital signage networks were one of the fastest-growing ad-based media in the United States last year. While PQ Media acknowledged a deceleration in the rate of growth in the second half of 2011 due to cyclical economic events, it found digital place-based networks experienced a revenue increase of 10.7 percent from 2006 to 2011.

According to PQ Media, digital place-based networks are likely to benefit indirectly from the Summer Olympics in London and the U.S. political campaign this fall. Both traditionally inject significant revenue into local television stations as well as cable and broadcast networks. This time around, however, PQ Media foresees a scarcity of TV inventory. As a result, major brands squeezed off television could be forced to consider other video platforms, such as digital place-based networks, said Quinn.

The latest revenue tally from PQ Media is another in a growing string of positive developments over the past couple of years for the digital signage industry. Together, they wins demonstrate that digital placed-based media is a viable and being taken seriously by companies with products to sell and the advertising agencies they hire.

The growing availability of audience metrics for digital place-based media is adding a sense of legitimacy about this new medium for those who control where ad dollars get spent. The PQ Media ad revenue numbers, therefore, shouldn't be too surprising.

Going forward, the next big test for this medium will likely be whether or not those responsible for buying ads will reallocate dollars from television to digital place-based media.

With the possibility of too few available commercial slots on TV in the second half of the year, there might be a hint as to whether digital place-based media can begin taking on the "800-pound gorilla" and winning.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 01 June 2012
Digital signs give retailers a powerful way to communicate with retail shoppers as they act out on their impulses to buy unplanned-for items.

If there were ever a question about whether or not it makes sense to communicate with customers via digital signs in retail stores, a new survey from the Integer Group and M/A/R/C should leave no doubt.

According to The Checkout, an ongoing shopper behavior survey, nine out of 10 shoppers report buying an item not on their shopping list. The research reveals several reasons why. Sixty-six percent of respondents reported buying off-list items because of a special sale or promotion; 30 percent said they did so because of a coupon offer; and 23 percent said they wanted to pamper themselves.

Digital signs are a great vehicle for retailers to tap into the opportunity this consumer behavior presents. They are a natural when it comes to presenting special promotions. Ditto for coupons. They can be tied into coupon-dispensers or used to display virtual coupons based on QR codes that can be photographed with a mobile phone camera and displayed at the checkout stand. And they certainly are a powerful medium when it comes to presenting products in their best possible light to tap into the desire by many shoppers to pamper themselves.

Craig Elston, senior vice president with Integer summed it up this way: "Our data shows 61 percent of off-list shoppers purchase an additional one to three items. This shows that if you reach a particular shopper at the right moment with the right message --for example, using in-store signage to play into their desire to pamper themselves, it can end with that item being added to their basket."

For retailers, this sort of data is critically important as they evaluate their marketing budgets and make decisions about the return they can expect for their investment in digital signage technology. Without data on consumer buying behavior and how many more items shoppers are likely to buy, calculating an ROI equation of digital signage becomes an exercise focused on identifying costs of competing alternatives and determining which is the most attractive.

With findings like those presented in the latest Integer Group- M/A/R/C research, it is possible to add an evaluation of potential added revenue to the mix. It would be helpful in future studies if these researchers or others could compare the effectiveness of competing signage solutions, i.e. traditional printed signage, Duratrans backlit signs, digital signage and others. Insight into the average dollar value of additional items purchased would be helpful as well.

Even without that data, however, it's not a stretch to say that all things being equal, digital signage should produce the most attractive ROI in retail. After all, it is more responsive to changing messaging needs, is less expensive to use in terms of updating messages, and can be centrally controlled with local input to provide messaging consistency across retail chain locations while still offering an avenue for individual stores to respond to local needs.

The new Integer-M/A/R/C data should motivate retailers to re-examine how they are informing, educating and enticing consumers at the point of purchase. If dynamic messaging on digital signs in retail isn't part of the mix, retailers should reevaluate their approach to maximize their presence at the point where shoppers reach into their back pockets or purses and act on their impulse to buy.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 11 May 2012
New research from IHS iSuppli indicates growing adoption of digital signage around the world as professionals in the retail, hospitality, healthcare, corporate and government sectors look to the medium to communicate to audiences on the go.

Political watchers probably are familiar with that often-asked question -and even more often asked in an election year: Is the country on the right track or the wrong track?

I would propose that those who make their living communicating marketing messages, ads, information and even entertainment on digital signs should frequently ask themselves a similar question. Is digital signage on the right track or wrong track? In other words, is digital signage a growing, vibrant communications medium that is headed in the right direction as a viable communications choice? Or, is it losing favor?

A new forecast from display market research specialists IHS iSuppli suggests that, indeed, digital signage is on the right track, at least if its adoption is any indication. According to the forecast, digital signage will see impressive growth. Worldwide shipments of signage and professional displays this year will reach 17.2 million units, up from 15.4 million in 2011 and 13.5 million in 2010. For the year, the unit shipments will reach 12.6 percent, and by 2016 they are expected to reach nearly 26 million units, IHS iSuppli forecasts.

The research firm attributes the healthy growth to a few factors, including a greater need for digital signage in public spaces and the rapidly declining price of LCD panels.

The IHS iSuppli forecast also identifies the largest digital signage markets for 2011. They include retail, hospitality/healthcare and government/corporate. The forecast also finds the education, outdoor and control room/simulation markets to be important.

So why are those with a message to communicate increasingly adopting digital signage? A few reasons are clear. First, digital signage has the unique ability to reach the public with clear, impactful communications when they are on the go.

Second, because it's a place-based medium, digital signage communicators can identify areas to locate signs that likely will be frequented by their target audience. For example, a restaurateur has a pretty good idea that the people entering the restaurant have eating on their minds, and the registrar of a college knows students entering the administration building at the beginning of the semester are likely interested in class registration information.

Third, digital signage offers communicators the chance to change messaging frequently -at little to no expense- which makes the medium responsive to rapidly changing requirements.

For all of these reasons and several others that have been well discussed in this space in the past, digital signage increasingly is being selected as an important part of an overall communications strategy.

As this nation enters the political season, journalists surely will report on the public's response to the right-track-wrong-track question. I'm sure each time I hear one of those stories, I am will be reminded of this column and the clear evidence from IHS iSuppli that digital signage is indeed on the right track as a communications medium.

While prognosticating about the results of any of this political season's races is a craps shoot, one thing is predictable. Digital signage as a communications medium will remain on the right track as long as professional communicators need to reach people on the go with their important messages.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 30 April 2012
Smartphones and tablets present digital signage with new opportunities to evolve.

The broad adoption by consumers of media tablets and smartphones, such as the Apple iPad and iPhone, is certain to impact digital signage in ways that today aren't fully imaginable.

However, there are a few important data points about these devices that offer a clue as to what some of the effects will be and their potential magnitude.

First, the number of media tablets and smartphones in use is staggering. In the two years since they have become available, 55 million iPads have reached consumers' hands. IHS iSuppli forecasts 275 million tablets worldwide (all tablets, not just iPads) will be sold by 2015. At home in America, 65 percent of the population, some 200 million, will have smartphones and/or tablets by 2015, an In-Stat study says.

Those numbers mean that whatever the ultimate impact will be of these devices on digital signage, it's bound to be huge.

Second, these devices are changing how people like to interact with technology. Multi-touch screens, a critical component of the success of tablets and smartphones, will likely become an important component of some digital signage applications, too. After all, people by the millions are being trained by their devices on how to interact with screens.

Soon the desire to have multi-touch will shift from a want to an expectation in the minds of consumers who access information via a screen. This naturally will carry over to digital signage, particularly hybrid digital signage used in interactive kiosk applications.

It's worth noting that the popularity of multi-touch is nearly overwhelming -literally. In late March, IHS iSuppli reported that the "runaway success" of the iPad and iPhone has created a boom in the shipment of touch screen display. That in turn will cause the market for the silicon that makes multi-touch possible to nearly triple in size over the next five years -from 865 million touch screen controller integrated circuits in 2010 to 2.4 billion in 2015.

Smartphones and tablets also will likely affect digital signage by giving this emerging communications medium a way to reach out to consumers in the proximity of a digital sign and wirelessly deliver information, coupons and QR codes. With so many smartphones and tablets in the hands of consumers, doing so seems like a natural way for marketers and other communicators to extend the digital signage experience beyond the public square and into the purses and pockets of the general public.

To be sure, my crystal ball is as clear as the next fellow's. But it seems to me you don't need to be Nostradamus to look a little bit down the road and see that smartphones and tablets will play an increasingly important role in the direction of digital signage.

While predicting exactly how these new devices will shape future digital signage developments is impossible to say, it is certain that digital signage vendors and the people who communicate with these signs will be hard at work seeking to find ways to benefit from the swelling ranks of their users.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 13 April 2012

Digital signage communicators must begin looking for ways to leverage the ubiquity of smartphones and media tablets.

If you are like me and drawn to science fiction, fascinated by quirky views of the future, you might remember a mid-1980s TV show called Max Headroom. While the particulars of the series have blurred in my memory over the years, the one thing that hasn’t is the ubiquity of television in the society portrayed in the show.

I’m not talking television simply being convenient; in the world explored in the series, TV literally seemed to be everywhere. Not just in homes and apartments, but on the streets, resting on a pile of trash, in the trunk of a car. You get the idea. It was impossible to get away from the blasted things.

That feeling of society being overwhelmed by the tube –now there’s an antiquated term- seemed so impossible, so remote, so “sci-fi” just a couple of decades ago. But today, I would argue, we are well on our way to similar television omnipresence.

In May 2011, the Nielsen Company estimated the number of TV households in the United States to be more than 114 million, or 96.7 percent of all households in the country. In January of the same year, Nielsen estimated there to be on average 2.5 TVs per U.S. household. Impressive, but nowhere near ubiquitous –at least not by “Headroomian” proportions.

But TV households don’t tell the whole story. According to an online Time Business article published a few weeks ago, Apple has sold 55 million iPads in the two years they have existed. When all media tablets –not just the iPad- are factored in, market research firm IHS iSuppli projects that 275 million tablets will be sold by 2015, or about 16 times the number shipped in 2010.

Getting a little closer to ubiquity? Perhaps, but don’t forget about smartphones. A CNN report from July 2011 quotes a report from the Pew Internet and the American Life Project estimating 35 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Another study from research firm In-Stat, quoted in an August 2011 CNET article, forecasts that 65 percent of Americans, some 200 million people, will have smartphones and/or tablets by 2015.

Now, it seems to me, we are approaching the Headroom threshold of TV ubiquity. Granted they are more likely to take the form of a sleek tablet, smartphone or flat panel TV than a beat up set teetering on a mound of broken TVs in an alleyway, but ubiquitous nonetheless.

This sort of near omnipresence would seem to raise a fundamental question for digital signage communicators: What is the value of communicating via a digital sign, if hundreds of potentially competing screens are literally a few feet away in the pockets and purses of passersby?

I would argue digital sign communication is not threatened by the broad availability of smartphones and media tablets, but potentially enhanced in at least three important ways.

First, those portable devices offer a means for digital signage communicators in the future to continue their dialog with their audience once they leave the store, arena, lobby or other venue.

Second, if television-viewing habits are any indication, many people don’t replace their TV viewing with online viewing, they complement it. Millions of people today regularly interact with their friends online via Facebook and other social media about a show while they are watching. It’s not too far-fetched to envision similar sorts of interaction while in front of a digital sign, depending upon the circumstance.

Third, total viewing time of video entertainment is increasing. Rather than cannibalizing an existing audience, new media devices are driving greater viewing. For digital signage communicators, this increased viewing means it should be easier, not harder to attract people who have demonstrated a willingness to watch media on flat screens.

To me, it seems the Headroom-like availability of screens on the whole will complement the communications efforts of those who market and message with digital signs. Not embracing the ubiquity of these screens and looking for ways to leverage them would represent a major missed opportunity.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 23 March 2008
Smart TVs with interfaces based on voice control and other cool technology may one day change how digital signs integrate interactivity.

It wasn't too long ago when a digital sign consisted of a TV set and a VHS deck or DVD player. In what seems like a flash, tube TVs are passé, and VHS cassette players are beginning to look a little like antiques.

Driven largely by the overwhelming popularity of HDTV in America (recent research from Leichtman Research Group finds high-def sets are now in two-thirds of U.S. homes), flat panel displays are achieving ubiquity. Along the way, they transformed the look and appeal of digital signage.

As striking as that change has been, digital signs appear to be on track to see an equally dramatic change over the next few years, once again driven by the consumer television set. At the recently concluded 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, several television vendors rolled out their vision of what a "smart" TV should look like.

Among them were Samsung, LG, Sony and Lenovo, each with their own versions of smart TVs. Google already has taken a run at this market, and Apple is long rumored to be working on its own smart TV with a consumer interface similar to its Siri personal assistant for the iPhone 4S that would let owners control their TV with their voice. Samsung, too, reportedly is at work on adding voice and motion control to new televisions.

For the interactive digital signage industry, these new smart TVs will open doors to greater possibilities for digital sign-based interactivity and further reshape consumer expectations. How long will it be before we see digital signs that allow a hotel guest not only search a list of available restaurants from a digital sign in the lobby but also make reservations simply by speaking to the screen?

Beyond voice interaction with smart TVs, what other benefits might this new generation of televisions bring to digital signage interactivity? Perhaps, these TVs will lead to easier syncing with personal smart phones and tablets offering the public interactive takeaways from the sign. Or, they might make it possible to migrate the digital signage experience from outside the home into the living room -sort of an offshoot of the TV Everywhere concept being promoted these days by pay TV operators, such as cable TV companies.

To be sure, my crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else's. However, it seems obvious that this next-generation television technology will open up new and exciting possibilities for those who communicate via interactive mobile devices. I'm not suggesting these opportunities to employ a higher degree of interactivity will be available in the short term. But when they do come, what it means to communicate with a digital sign will undergo a dramatic transformation.

Where we are today and where we might be headed in the not-too-distant future with this new technology might be as stark of a contrast as the difference between Tom Hanks feverishly plugging in numbers to an early microcomputer in his role as astronaut James Lovell in "Apollo 13" and Leonard Nimoy as Spock saying from his science station aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, "Computer, compute to the last digit the value of pi," and the computer replying: "You're kidding, right?"
Posted by: David Little AT 07:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, 16 March 2012

Modern digital signage players support three ways of transporting files from here to there and back again.

Transport, transfer, conveyance, movement –that is, getting from here to there and back with the “stuff” of digital signage may seem a bit mundane to those who are knee-deep in the digital signage deluge. But to many, it’s probably never been given a second thought.

This column is devoted to the topics of moving digital signage “stuff,” what that “stuff” is and how to do it. If you’re a digital signage veteran, you might want to move on; but if you just recently discovered digital signage and are new to the party, read on. You’re bound to find something useful.

So, what is the “stuff” of digital signage? A few things come to mind, including the playlist –in other words the sequence of all events that will be played out and displayed on the sign as well as commands that trigger a device that’s external to the digital signage player, such as a monitor, to do something – a master schedule that can include multiple playlists and the actual media files, including video, audio, text, graphics and animation, required for playout.

Transporting this material can be accomplished in three basic ways: first, via IP over the public Internet; second, via IP over a local area or wide area network; and third via a portable digital storage device, such as a USB drive or SD memory card, and the use of your Keds, which otherwise is known as “sneakernet.” There are more advanced methods of transport include cellular and IP multicasting via satellite links, but these methods are not very common and are outside the scope of this article.

Clearly, different digital signage applications require different approaches to the transport of media, schedules and playlists. A retail store, for example, with a basic installation of one or two digital signage players is a perfect candidate for the sneakernet approach. It’s quick, convenient and removes a layer of complexity that would be required otherwise if a LAN/WAN or Internet transfer were employed.

A bigger installation, such as a large hotel with convention and meeting facilities scattered throughout the complex, would be better served using IP transport via a LAN or WAN.  No one must carry a USB drive from player to player because schedules, playlists and media files are easily transported to individual players or groups of players on the network. Each player is assigned its own IP address in this scenario and can be pinged from a central computer on the network to determine that it is functioning. Existing content and control files can be inspected, and new schedules, playlists and content transferred with a simple mouse click.

Digital signage applications that are larger still –say statewide, national or international in scope- are candidates for transport via the public Internet. With the proper security measures in place, the Internet offers a highly efficient way to transport digital signage “stuff” around the globe.

There is another important part of this transfer story that must not be ignored. Digital signage playback can require a tremendous number of files that must be organized and stored so they can be easily retrieved by the player when needed. Whether files are transferred via a USB storage device or an Ethernet connection, the right version of the file better end up in the right folder. Otherwise, the playlist won’t find the media needed for playback.

Add to this the complexity introduced when multiple people build content and playlists for a sign or groups of signs, and the need for software that tracks versions of media files, manages permissions for who is authorized to make changes and maintains consistency in file structure and placement between the player and content workstations becomes all the more important.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 10 February 2012
Enhancing digital signage content may be as simple as tapping the power of social media.

Here is a remarkable statistic published online by USA Today's Technology Live website in October 2010. As of that date, there were 6.8 billion people in the world, 1.96 billion Internet users and 517 million Facebook users.

As Byron Acohido, author of the piece noted: "Put another way: about 7 percent of the world's humans are on Facebook." Just over a year later, Facebook notes on its statistics page that there are now 800 million active users of the social media network.

How many of those Facebook users carrying smartphones will visit somewhere that relies on a digital sign? One can only imagine the number for a particular venue. But consider this: Facebook's statistics page says there are 350 million users who actively interact with Facebook via their smartphones. So it's a pretty safe bet that the closer the demographics of the audience for a digital sign match those of typical mobile Facebook users, the more likely there's a vast opportunity to be realized.

The likely proximity of a smartphone to a digital sign creates an important opportunity for anyone communicating via a digital sign who possesses a bit of an imagination and a willingness to experiment. Consider a noisy environment, such as a popular bar, dance club or even certain restaurants. Could designating on-screen real estate of a digital sign to a special Facebook page, give a business owner a way to help patrons connect with one another on screen and in so doing cut through the noise, attract the attention of customers and promote goods or services in other zones on the sign?

Leveraging social media in this way could be as simple as giving patrons a virtual bulletin board on which to post vetted observations and pictures or as complex as giving them a way to play bar games, like trivia, with one another. Imagination, budget and creativity would seem to be the only limitations.

The good news for small businesses looking to take advantage of this opportunity is many are already quite familiar and fluent with Facebook. According to the quarterly Merchant Confidence Index released in February 2011 by MerchantCircle, 70 percent of local merchants are using Facebook for marketing -up from 50 percent the preceding year. In fact, MerchantCircle, among largest social network of local business owners in the United States with more than 1.6 million members, found Facebook has passed Google as the most widely used marketing method for local merchants.

In addition to its wide use by local merchants, the rapid growth Facebook saw over the past year saw among merchants is positive. It appears to indicate local merchants have proven themselves to be quite willing to explore the potential of this social network. Thus taking the next step to integrate a Facebook page as digital signage content doesn't seem to be too far of a stretch for merchants with a knack for the platform.

It's also important to note that Facebook isn't the only social media platform that can be leveraged for digital signage content. Twitter, too, easily fits into the same mold as a convenient way to let patrons publicly interact with one another on a digital sign via their smartphones. Like Facebook, Twitter also is familiar to local merchants. The Merchant Confidence Index found about 40 percent currently use the platform, which is up from 32 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

As business owners, outside creative agencies and internal graphics departments consider what digital signage content to present to the public, they would do well to remember that adding engaging, attention-grabbing element to their digital sign may be no further away than a Facebook page or Twitter account.
Posted by: David Little AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 26 January 2012
Whether working with an in-house art department or an outside agency, here's a handy checklist to make sure your digital signage content achieves what you want.

Digital signage is going mainstream as a medium. Simply look around in retail stores, shopping malls, arenas, gas stations, hotel lobbies, restaurants, and just about any other place you can image, and you're bound to see one or more digital signs.

However, even though digital signs are growing in popularity, they are likely to be a rather new medium for the majority of graphic artists and other media creators, like graphic designers and animators, which you may turn to to create compelling content to achieve your communications goals.

Perhaps, you will be working with in-house graphic artists whose expertise is the design of brochures, reports and other printed collateral. Or, you may find yourself working with a creative agency that specializes in television commercials. Both are creative, talented and have an abundance of knowledge and experience to bring to the table. Your challenge will be communicating the unique demands of digital signage to them and directing them so they deliver the content you need.

Following some or all of the recommendations on this handy checklist should help you focus your creative team's talent regardless of their prior experience, or lack of experience, in creating digital signage content.

  • Clearly state what you wish to accomplish. Explain precisely how the signs are to be used. Will they be informational in nature? Do you want to sell a product or service with the signs? Is the communication mission straightforward like that of a menu board or more nuanced?
  • Define your target audience. Layout as much demographic information, i.e. age, sex, ethnic background, and psychographic information, including interests, attitudes and opinions, of your intended viewers as possible.
  • Identify where the sign or signs will be located. Giving your creative team this information will inform decisions they make later about the appearance, placement and dwell time of content they will create.
  • Explain desired quality. In today's world, it is hard to imagine that the display or displays to be used won't be HDTVs. But even if that's the case, will they be 720p, 1080i or even 1080p displays? That information will be helpful when content is created and may reduce the need for up, down or cross conversion of video, graphics and animation content.
  • Visual SPAM. Because digital signage is becoming more common, the level of "visual noise" is also increasing. This should be considered along with the sensibilities of the target demographic. Work with your designers in creating a pleasing visual environment that will be more readily received by a discerning audience. Avoid excessive in-your-face content that may wax against the shopping experience by overloading the senses. Too much eye candy is not a good thing -it can give eye pain.
  • Define duration. On a macro level, your messaging will be used for a finite period before it must be updated or changed entirely. On a micro level, individual pieces of content will dwell on the screen before being updated by the next item in the list. Information about both will help your team in creating content that can accomplish its communications task in the allotted time on screen as well as give the team a way to begin building a workable content production schedule.
  • Discuss the number of onscreen zones desired. Start out by giving your team an idea of how many discrete areas of onscreen real estate you envision to communicate your message and what you believe should be communicated in each. Don't consider this the last word on the topic. Rather use your list as a point of departure to discuss and ultimately define how many zones actually will be used.
  • Identify existing content resources. While you will want your content to be fresh, engaging and designed to meet your communications goals, there is no sense reinventing the wheel when existing resources can be used or repurposed. For example, if you intend to communicate to owners of high performance cars as they wait in a car dealer's service area, an existing RSS feed of Formula One, Indy Car and NASCAR race results and news might be available already for an onscreen crawl.

Whether or not your designers are experienced with digital signage, they will appreciate the guidance you give by discussing the items in the checklist. More importantly, reviewing the points in the checklist will help ensure you receive the content you need to achieve your communications goals.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 17 September 2008
Like any other aspect of business, successfully deploying digital signs hinges on achieving an acceptable return on investment on both the technology and the content to be displayed.

The use of digital signage is varied and diverse, which means the background, knowledge and skill brought to creating content to be delivered via this powerful medium is just as diverse and varied.

Consider the stark differences between a four-star hotel chain that's decided at the corporate level to use digital signs throughout its properties to welcome guests, offer wayfinding and promote various features and amenities. Now think about the local sports bar that's added digital signs to promote featured drinks and menu items while patrons quench their thirst and watch the game.

These are two entirely different types of businesses, with dramatically different resources to spend on digital signage content, varied levels of experience with using media to reach the public and quite diverse ideas about what they would like to accomplish with digital signs.

Regardless of these differences, however, the hotel chain and single sports bar -along with all other digital signage users- should share one common characteristic when it comes to digital signage: They need to determine their return on investment -not simply on the hardware and software needed but also on the digital content to be used.

Determining ROI on digital signage hardware and software is pretty straightforward. Simply divide the expense of both by their anticipated useful life in months or years. (For this example, I'll use months.) Then subtract this monthly expense from the revenue generated by the digital signs and divide this difference by the monthly expense.

For example, the ROI of a simple, single-sign system costing $6000 for hardware, software and display would look like this. Assuming a useful life of five years, or 60 months, $100 of expense should be assigned to each month of the system's useful life. If the sign generates an additional $150 in business per month, then the ROI in this example is 50 percent [that is $150 (revenue) - $100 (monthly expense of signage) = $50/$100 (monthly expense of signage) = .5].

The same sort of ROI equation can be applied to digital signage content; however, there are a few wrinkles to consider that make doing so a little trickier. First, consider that the useful life of content will be far shorter than that of the hardware and software. To be effective, that is to consistently attract the attention of patrons, content must be fresh and relevant. Thus, in a retail setting, the useful life of content will likely be measured in weeks, and possibly even days during certain times of the year.

Second, the expense side of the equation is a little more complex when it comes to digital signage content. For instance, will content be created in-house or by an outside agency? If in-house, will a new employee be required, or will an existing graphic artist take on the responsibility. Will elements of content created once be repurposed again and again in successive campaigns, thus requiring apportionment of content expenses across multiple uses? Will "free" content, such as an RSS feed, be leveraged in some campaigns and not others, thus impacting digital content expenses differently? Will the digital content be used across in multiple locations so a portion of the expense can be assigned to each location?

Third, digital signage content frequently has nothing to do with commerce. When revenue generation is not the goal of the sign, determining the ROI on content gets a little squishy. Considerations such as goodwill created among the public are much harder to quantify than dollars and cents.

Even though determining the return on investment of creating digital signage content can be difficult, it is essential. After all, doing so is the logical first step in assessing the value of any given digital signage content campaign.
Posted by: David Little AT 02:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 15 December 2011
There's no need to fear the cost of developing effective digital signage content if you rely on a few simple strategies.

Often companies adding digital signage -particularly smaller companies with limited media experience- don't give adequate consideration to feeding the insatiable appetite for content that's part of using digital signage to communicate with the public.

Many are surprised to learn just how much content may be needed on a monthly basis to keep their communications fresh and appealing, as well as the effort required to maintain consistency with their company's larger branding goals.

In fact, some may actually be scared off from adding digital signage not because of the capital expense of the technology but because of anxiety over adding personnel to create the content to deliver their desired messaging.

Whatever the case, however, there are strategies that can be used to develop well-conceived communications without hiring a full-time graphic artist or designer. Here are a few ideas about how to accomplish just that.

The first thing to do is to plan ahead. Both time and money can be saved when a solid marketing or promotional strategy is developed with clear goals and objectives. In other words, before there is ever the need for content, understand precisely what is trying to be achieved with the communications. That way, any creative person needed to create content has a clear direction to guide his work.

Next, be willing to use and maximize all available resources. One great foundation is investing in digital signage software to manage content effectively and efficiently. Another is to take an inventory of existing content resources, such as logos, photography, video, animations, and other media resources that the company has already paid for and can excerpted, repurposed, or at the very least, guide the creative efforts of a designer tasked with developing creative for digital signage display. And don't forget that there are royalty-free resources, such as photos, video and clipart libraries online that can be an economical way to supplement the effort.

Then think outside your box. In other words, think about getting estimates from freelance designers for work they can do in the future as budgets allow. Consider the power of hiring a part-time freelancer to create digital signage content templates that can be used over and over again. By shopping around for estimates, you will get a feel for the average costs of custom content creation and templates. Remember it is possible that a large percent -80 percent or more- may be able to be handled by populating such templates.

Don't forget when getting estimates from freelance designers to ask about the cost of entering into a monthly content agreement or contract. You might be surprised at the discount you can negotiate with a designer in exchange for offering a steady amount of work on continuing basis.

Finally, try tapping into creative co-workers, friends and family members around you. As one designer suggested, "Who knows? The best creative solution may be sitting right behind you."

The bottom line is companies that can benefit from digital signage shouldn't be intimidated by the cost of adding a full time designer to create the content that will be necessary. With a bit of resourcefulness there are a variety of ways to hold costs in check and still develop effective digital signage communications.
Posted by: David Little AT 11:57 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Here are five simple tips you should consider before ever building digital signage content.

Content makes or breaks digital signage. Without it, a digital sign is a blank slate. With well-conceived content, digital signage is transformed from mere displays, computers and cables into a dynamic communications medium with an ability to inspire, inform and motivate that is unsurpassed.

Given the importance of digital signage content to succeed, I sought out some advice from an expert in content to find out if it was possible to develop a short list of tips to help guide content development, regardless of the specific message to be delivered. I turned to Brian Bibler, director of creative services for Keywest Technology, for help.

Brian, who has years of experience prior to joining us with helping clients to build successful creative for all types of marketing campaigns, provided me with these five tips on how to make digital signage content that's successful. They include:

1. Lead any and all content considerations with the brand. Follow the goals, initiatives, and objectives. Only then can an effective creative content strategy to deliver the brand promise be developed within any content campaign.

2. Think outside of the box. Technology has redefined the way we communicate, and signage is no different. Each campaign literally begins with a blank digital canvas, and the methods used to execute the vision for the campaign is only limited by what the imagination can conceive.

3. Know your audience. Getting "lost in translation" is a very real pitfall and can derail a well-executed campaign.

4. Remember, less is more. A good campaign delivers a targeted message through an innovative, clean and easy-to-read approach. Strategically guiding the audience through the campaign/promotion will guarantee the brand message will be received and retained. Images should be captivating, text should be concise and dwell times should give audiences enough time to absorb without losing interest.

5. Do your homework. It's no secret we've become an instant gratification society. Take the time to research styles, designs and trends. Find out what is currently getting attention and the methods that are being used to do it. For digital signage, a great place to start is Times Square in New York City.

Digital signage technology can be highly effective in communicating a message, but without properly conceived and executed content not only will it fail to reach its full potential, but it will actually diminish the public's perception of the business, organization or institution using the technology. Brian's first tip -- leading all content considerations with brand -- speaks to this.

Without making all content decisions guided by the brand, digital signage messaging will likely be confusing to consumers and counterproductive in achieving the underlying goal of the communications effort, namely, delivering on the promise of the brand. Leading all decisions about digital signage content with the brand will avoid those pitfalls.

Similarly, keeping all five of Brian's tips in mind before developing content for digital signage will go a long way to ensuring that the messaging delivered communicates what is intended in a way that's fresh and engaging as well as consistent with the larger promise of the brand.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 04 November 2011
From ubiquitous touch screens on smartphones to directing interactive control with a glance, this dim sum of digital signage delicacies has something for everyone.

This column is a bit of a digital signage dim sum -a tasting of various thoughts, facts and musings that taken together should make for a tasty treat.

Item one; nearly all smartphones will have touchscreens in the not too distant future. ABI Research released a projection in late August that sees 97 percent of all smartphones having a touchscreen by 2016. To put that into perspective, in 2006 only 7 percent of the smartphones shipped had touchscreens. The research firm attributes much of the coming proliferation to the availability of low-cost capacitive touch controllers that can reduce the cost of adding touch-based interactivity by as much as 30 percent.

Question. When touch-screen capability is ubiquitous in smartphones, will interactive touch-screen capability simply be expected by consumers? Will signs without it, leave consumers wondering what's wrong, or worse, simply walking away to a friendlier, more interactive alternative?

Item two; a blending of digital technologies may point the way to the future for out-of-home advertising. Global lifestyle and environmental communications agency Kinetic, said in September that is was launching Fuel, "a response to the increasing scope of Out of Home advertising including opportunities to integrate digital interactivity, dynamic displays, experiential and bespoke design into client brand campaigns."

In announcing the launch, Kinetic's UK chief operating officer said the move "reflects the changing nature of Out of Home media and the huge opportunities that emerging technologies add...."

Question: How long until others notice and begin to leverage complementary interactive technologies with digital signs to produce an even more effective communications experience or more powerful marketing opportunity? What sorts of opportunities will be available when a sign can communicate wirelessly with a smartphone, for example, and vice versa?

Item three; a telling glance can direct a sign. Researchers from the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in South Korea in mid-September demonstrated a technology that allows someone to have interactive control over a television -and digital signage is not too far of a stretch of the imagination- by tracking their gaze. The technology, shown at the International Broadcast Convention in Amsterdam, uses a camera to track where one of the pupils of a viewer is directed to give the viewer interactive control. In one demo, a viewer's gaze was used to pull up the vital statistics -age, name and hometown- of various dancers as they performed on stage. Still a prototype, a finished version is years away.

Question: Will the gaze of a digital signage viewer one day replace touch as the gateway to interactivity? If so, what possibilities will this new interactive interface open to communicators and marketers?

That's about all for this digital signage dim sum tasting. I hope this presentation gave you some food for thought. At the very least, I hope it didn't leave you with any digital signage dyspepsia.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 28 October 2011
All of the hardware and software technology in the world won't make digital signage successful without the most important ingredient: effective content.

"Content is king!" How often have you heard that phrase? Perhaps, too often. You might be thinking to yourself that phrase is trite, hackneyed or just a cliche?

While I wouldn't argue the point that it's well worn, I would take issue with the notion that it has lost its meaning from overuse. When it comes to digital signage, content is king -or more accurately, the single most important ingredient to making sure your use of digital signage is successful.

Without the right content, properly presented and thoughtfully executed, digital signage software, players and monitors might as well not even be taken out of the box. That's a pretty bold statement for someone whose livelihood depends on the sale of the digital signage technology, but it's the truth.

At its fundamental level, digital signage is a communications medium -just like television, newspapers, radio and magazines. For it to fulfill its reason for being, it needs to communicate something -news, information, marketing messages, ads, directions, greetings or whatever else you can imagine. If it doesn't, it is a failure. The same thing is true for the other media mentioned. How long could a publisher of a newspaper or magazine or the owner of a radio or television station afford to stay in business if their given medium failed to communicate? Who would buy their product or tune in? The answer is obvious.

In the next several articles, I will dive into some useful specifics about digital signage content, such as: how to go about creating effective digital signage content; developing a communications strategy for your digital signage messaging; ideas to measure the effectiveness of that strategy and when to make tweaks to meet your goals; key design concepts for static and interactive digital signage content; and how to develop winning digital signage content without breaking the bank.

However, before I launch into those specifics, I'd like to share a simple story about something that happened to me to illustrate how important content is to communications when it comes to signage.

After concluding business in New York City a few years ago, I arrived at Newark Airport for my return flight to the Midwest. Being a veteran traveler, I know the drill well. Arrive two hours early to allow sufficient time for check-in and to clear security. I actually got to the airport more than three hours early.
I arrived at my gate long before my flight was schedule to depart.

Unfortunately, I was greeted with a message on the sign behind the gate agent that said "Delayed." It took a few minutes, but when I finally got my turn in line to talk to the agent about the situation, I learned that the plane due in for my flight hadn't even left where it was coming from and wasn't expected to do so for some time. I was told, however, to check back and look at the sign for the new departure time, which would be posted just as soon as more information was available.

Deciding to find a restaurant to pass the time, I did the quick scan of the location and found one near the gate, but not within sight of the gate. Not long after, the sign at the game displayed a new departure time of 9:30 p.m., so I headed out to the restaurant.

At 9 p.m., I left the restaurant and leisurely walked over to my gate, only to find that there was no longer any mention of my flight on the sign and the seats around the gate were strangely empty. When I approached the gate agent and inquired about my flight, I learned that somehow the delayed plane made up time in the air, arrived, passengers deplaned, my fellow travelers boarded and the plane took off for home -without me. I was out of luck, had to spend the night in a hotel and return the next morning.

The moral of the story for me is simple: Don't wait for a flight anywhere outside of a clear view of the gate. The moral of the story for anyone interested in communicating with signage: Be clear and accurate with your messages. They are important and can impact the lives of those who are viewing them.

I wish whoever was responsible for posting that information on the sign would have realized that content is king. Unfortunately for me that evening, the king seemed to have abdicated his throne.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 04 October 2011
Short of a total economic collapse, the digital signage market is in better shape today to weather a new downturn than a few years ago.

Will Greece default on its debt, destabilizing Europe's financial markets and plunging economies around the world back into recession? Or, will the politicians and bankers, find some way to avert the crisis and pull nations back from the precipice?

Frankly, I don't have the slightest idea, and I'm not so sure anyone else does either. But one thing I am confident in is that the conditions are right for the digital signage market to pull through any double-dip in much better shape than it did the first time around during the 2008-09 recession.

Global Industry Analysts, which recently published "Digital Signage Systems: A Global Strategic Business Report," describes the impact of the last recession on digital signage thusly: "...the global digital signage systems market witnessed sizeable deceleration in growth momentum during the years 2008 and 2009, as direct fallout of narrow creativity levels in a weak economy, and credit shortages for funding new and risky ventures during the period."

But this time around -if there is to be a this time around and if the size of economic contraction is not too severe- I believe there are at least five reasons why digital signage is likely to do better.

New kid on the block no more. Even though the last contraction began just three years ago, a lot has changed on the media landscape. For my purpose, two developments bode well for digital signage. First, professionals in the advertising business no longer regard digital signage as a "risky upstart." With documented audience numbers, it's transitioned into the media mainstream. Second, when budgets are tight, companies looking to sell retail products will be more likely to want to influence shoppers with persuasive messages closer to the point of sale.

Lower costs melt from economic frost. Displays as well as digital signage hardware and software is less expense than three years ago. As Global Industry Analysts puts it: "Low hardware costs, and declining software development costs have made systems, such as, media players, and display units like LCD displays cheaper and affordable." The emergence of software-as-a-service as a digital signage business model also is tipping things in favor of those who are cost-conscious.

Flat is where it's at. It's hard to overstate the profound affect media tablets like the Apple iPad, Motorola Xoom and other multi-touch flat screens is having on the way people like to consume digital content. Digital signs, which already bore a striking resemblance to another consumer favorite -i.e. television- when the last recession struck, now have an inherent kinship with media tablets. If they're hybrid digital signs with interactive touch-screen capability, so much the better. Savvy marketers and advertisers recognize these similarities and are likely to exploit them on digital signs to gain a leg up on the competition -even more so in the heightened competitive environment of a slowdown.

Buy low. For those businesses that are flush with cash, a recession can be a golden buying opportunity, if such acquisitions or new product rollouts lead to greater market share. Many traditional media companies that learned some hard lessons about the apparent strengths of their core properties the last time around, have had time to recover. I wouldn't be surprised to see some use a double dip as an opportunity to bolster their core brand with digital signage offerings.

Emerging is verging on splurging. Even if the Greek debt crisis sets off string of economic failures in the West, that doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the world will suffer. As Global Industry Analytics puts it: "Developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Middle East are forecast to drive future gains in the (digital signage) market. The retail boom in countries like China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, UAE, Hong Kong, and India, among others, provides a strong business case for new installations of digital signage systems."

Please don't misinterpret my optimism about the digital signage market as a lack of concern about the bigger economic picture. Of course, a double-dip would be a terrible development for millions people.

That said, when I look at where the digital signage market is today, I can't help but be bullish on the future of this communications medium.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Results of a new survey from GfK MRI reveals six in 10 U.S. adults have seen place-based digital video advertising within the past 30 days.

How important is out-of-home advertising (OOH) becoming in the United States? Results of a new study from GfK MRI finds quite important actually.

Nearly 61 percent of U.S. adults report having seen a place-based digital ad on a video screen in a public place in the past 30 days, the research found. Of those, 64 percent expressed interest in this type of communications.

Pause for a moment to consider these findings. How often did you see a digital sign in public 10 years ago? How about five years ago? Not only do these findings reveal that some 138.5 million U.S. adults have seen a video ad on a digital sign within the past month, but they also demonstrate that out-of-home video displays and ad networks have slowly and quietly crept into a place of prominence in our culture that likely will soon evolve into ubiquity. How in the world did we get here?

It would be easy to enumerate a list of reasons. I've done so in the past in this space. Reasons like reaching consumers at the point of sale with targeted video messaging, the availability of new place-based media audience metrics and evolving attitudes of professional media buyers come to mind.

But there is a much more fundamental reason that digital signage and place-based advertising has grown to the point that six in 10 Americans report seeing a video ad on these screens within the past 30 days. That reason is place-based advertising and digital signs work -without a question- and that fact is being realized by everyone from merchants to vendors, ad agency executives to mall owners.

Don't overlook the significance of this recognition of the effectiveness of the powerful duo of digital signs and video advertising. Years of effort on multiple fronts ranging from actually deploying digital signage networks, to measuring audiences to educating those in control of ad budgets about this emerging medium, is coming to fruition. Findings like those of GfK MRI indicate that this form of advertising is on the downhill side of the transition from avant-garde to tried-and-true. With this acceptance comes success. "Place-based digital is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the advertising industry," a press release announcing the survey findings quotes Scott Turner, SVP of Agency and Advertiser Sales at GfK MRI, as saying.

The survey also examined where respondents reported seeing place-based video advertising. The No. 1 location was grocery stores with nearly 32 percent saying they had seen a video ad in the previous 30 days. Quick service/casual dining restaurants, warehouse/club stores, shopping malls, pharmacies and coffee shops/cafes or delicatessens, followed in that order, as the most likely place consumers viewed place-based video ads.

As time goes on, I would not be surprised to see the list of locations where consumers recall seeing place-based video ads grow significantly. Already digital signage networks at gas pumps are a reality and convenience store signage is popping up around the country. Other place-based locations are sure to follow. Even as the number of locations grows, new ways to exploit the power of digital signage advertising will be developed, such as smartphone-driven interactivity, which will elevate this medium further.

Digital signage and place-based video advertising has come a long way to achieve this level of prominence. The future is bright, and there surely is more success to follow.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Schools and universities are flocking to digital signage to fulfill a variety of communications tasks.

As the summer rapidly comes to a close, children, adolescents and young adults prepare to return to school to resume their education.

While that annual ritual continues much in same way it has my entire life, many other aspects of the school experience are different. For instance, why should a student learn the Dewey Decimal System when there's Google and the Internet? Remember that distinct smell and soggy feel of newly mimeographed tests? A relic of a bygone era. How about recesses filled with competitive games of soccer, kickball or basketball? Is it even OK to have winners and losers anymore?

Here's another you're sure to remember: The disembodied voice of the principal emanating from a small speaker on the wall filling the classroom with various announcements. That, pardon the pun, is old school. It's gone -or at least augmented by technologies like student-run TV production and digital signage.

While it's not surprising that digital signage is replacing outmoded methods of communications around schools, what some might find shocking is the scope of digital signage deployments on campuses. According to an article published in ecampusnews.com in July, some 1,500 campuses added digital signage last year, and an additional 2,200 campuses are forecasted to do the same in 2011.

Digital signs at elementary schools, high schools and on the campuses of colleges and universities are used for a variety of applications, including -but not limited to:

* Informational: Where bulletin boards, lockers and even telephone poles on campus were once covered with fliers recruiting students for activities, advertising a new band on tour or conveying some other piece of important news, digital signs are offering a more attractive way to get the message out more quickly and easily.

* Wayfinding: Frequently visitors to a college campus or even a massive high school don't know how to get where they want to go. Digital signs not only can greet visitors, but also make it easy to find a gymnasium, theater or even an auditorium where voting in a local or national election is being conducted.

* Menu boards: With digital signage, controlling the display of what's for lunch at the school cafeteria becomes consistent and less labor intensive, if deployed across an entire school district. Think of the manual steps that must be taken to use the old plastic lettering -repeated over and over again across the district. Then there is simplifying the steps to coordinate this huge dance.

* Create ambience: Some school districts and universities use digital signage to create a desired environment. For example, one Midwestern high school honors program focused on business education relies on a digital sign outside each classroom to showcase the work of students and to give them a place to make special presentations. The digital signs, thus, are both functional and instrumental in creating the desired look and feel the school district desires.

* Emergency alerts: Displays on a digital signage network makes informing faculty, staff and students of potential severe weather and other emergency situations quick and easy.

So, here's the scoop: These digital signage applications are transforming how many different communications tasks are being fulfilled in educational settings. Digital signs are replacing outmoded approaches while at the same time making it easier to communicate an effective message. It's no wonder thousands of campuses and school districts nationwide are turning to digital signage.
Posted by: David Little AT 12:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 10 September 2008

In early July, the Digital Place-based Advertising Association released results from a survey showing just how important digital-out-of-home media is becoming to professional media planners.

Digital placed-based media, long in its ascendency as a legitimate advertising medium, appear poised to enter an entirely new realm of acceptance among professional media planners, according to a survey released in early July from the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA).

According to the survey, 86.3 percent of media planning respondents said they intend to use digital place-based media as part of their media plans in 2012, a jump from 75.5 percent who said their 2011 media plans include digital place-based media and 65.3 percent from 2010.

To be sure, the percentages revealed by the survey show digital placed-based media has come into its own as a legitimate advertising vehicle. But what is even more stunning is that the survey found 44 percent of media planners plan to shift dollars once allocated to the granddaddy of electronic media, namely television, to fund their digital place-based media buys.

TV ranked second among existing media that media planners intended to tap for funding their digital place-based media plans. Topping the list was outdoor advertising from which 54 percent said they would shift funds. Digital/online ranked third with nearly 23 percent identifying it as the source of funds. Fewer than 20 percent said they would not shift dollars to fund their plans for digital place-based media.

According to a press release announcing the results of the survey, DPAA president Susan Danaher sees that 20 percent figure as particularly significant because it indicates media planners view digital place-based media as being included from the outset as part of their of media plans, not an afterthought to be funded by simply reallocating dollars.

I see these survey findings as the latest in a line of data points indicating that digital-out-of-home advertising is coming into its own as an advertising medium. Others include progress in audience measurement technologies and techniques and the collection of audience metrics by The Nielsen Company.

These DPAA findings confirm that digital-out-of-home advertising has long ago transitioned from a quirky concept that a handful of avant-garde media planners would experiment with to the mainstream of media alternatives.

The findings also raise in my mind a question about the 14 percent of media buyers who don’t plan to use digital place-based media. It would be easy to assume that they simply will be latecomers to the party when they ultimately recognize the value digital place-based media bring their clients.

But I suspect at least a portion of the holdouts may work on accounts for whom digital place-based media just doesn’t make sense, i.e. an online insurance company with no field agents, a credit monitoring service company or some other business with no physical presence in the proximity of its customers.

The survey was taken online May 6-June 6 by the association among about 1000 strategic media planners nationwide. One can only wonder if media buyers with clients who have no face-to-face customer interaction were removed from the sample what tiny percentage  would have no plans for digital place-based media next year.

Posted by: David Little AT 04:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 04 August 2011

A new report from IMS Research forecasts dramatic growth in digital signage over the next few years thanks to growing acceptance of the medium as a valuable ad delivery mechanism.

Whether your operation is a mom-and-pop store or a highfalutin retailer, take note. Digital signage is expected to see some remarkable growth over the next few years and much of that growth will come from retail.

A newly released report from IMS Research concludes that after a couple of sluggish years, the worldwide digital signage market will see growth in excess of 40 percent in 2013 to reach a total of $7 billion. And an important component of that market will be in the retail sector.

According to the research firm, which laid out its forecast in "The World Market for Digital Signage, 2011 Edition," an important reason for the growth is that digital signage is now entering the mainstream of media, which are regularly considered and evaluated by ad agencies and marketers for their advertising purchases.

"There is increasing recognition that it is a valuable tool for directly interacting with audiences, and providing a compelling additional dimension to augment overall advertising placements across media," a press release announcing the findings quotes Shane Walker, director of the Consumer Electronics Group at IMS Research, as saying.

With that growing recognition of the value of digital signage as an advertising medium, it's not too surprising that IMS Research found strong growth in the retail sector.

The new study shows that of all the vertical markets for digital signage, retail continues to be the largest, accounting for just under 25 percent of all digital signage hardware and software sales. By the end of 2015, IMS Research forecasts retail will remain the dominant sector of the digital signage market, reaching nearly $2 billion.

Long recognized as a fundamental strength of digital signage in retail, the ability to reach shoppers at the point of sale with a message aimed at influencing their final buying decision is likely to benefit from a trend that is in its infancy at home, but soon is likely to become commonplace: TV Everywhere.

Cable, Telco and satellite television providers have been promoting the concept of TV Everywhere for the past year or so. Perhaps you are familiar with the commercials. A TV viewer witnesses a raging battle between two robotic-looking creatures in his kitchen. As one appears to get the upper hand and slams his opponent through the wall, the viewer pauses the action with his remote control and walks into an adjacent room, where he hits the play button and the fight resumes.

Commercials like these are building awareness among television viewers that they are no longer chained to one TV set to watch a show. Rather they now for the ability to not only resume programming they are watching from set to set as they walk through their homes, but also access and resume a program on their laptop computers, smartphones or media tablets that they started to watch on their TVs.

Now extend this "TV Everywhere" concept to the realm of commercial messages and take that every-access notion to the retail store aisle with a digital signage end cap. Imagine how brand awareness campaigns in the home could morph into a product-specific offer at the point of purchase.

As Walker of IMS Research put it in the press release: "The tools are available today to create a consistent campaign that can reach an audience multiple times while in transit through billboards, street furniture, metro displays, video walls and in-store kiosks, all the while becoming more targeted through mobile device interaction. This experience will culminate in the customer reaching a touch-enabled screen at the point-of-sale where inventory can be checked and an order placed."

Posted by: David Little AT 07:05 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
A new study finding many people are worried about businesses checking their identity online might shed light on how the public perceives digital signs that interact with their cell phones.

A new study from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California finds that 48 percent of Internet users 16 years old and older are worried about businesses checking their identity on the Internet.

By way of comparison, the research -the "Digital Future Study"- reveals that only 38 percent are concerned about the government checking up on them online. What's going on and why is this relevant to digital signage, you may be asking.
On the surface, the concept is quite appealing. Digital out-of-home signs enabled with the right wireless technology could give smartphone-toting shoppers a way to interact with what is displayed and even deliver special promotional messages to their handsets.

Where things get a little dicey for this technology is with the correct notion that wireless cellphone communications is two-way. Some are likely to worry that the wireless link is somehow enabling the sign to retrieve personal information. Others, probably more accurately, won't give it a second thought. Still others may view it as a positive because the interaction via cellphone lets those responsible for the interactive digital signage content to collect information about search requests and modify what's presented to better serve consumers.

The "Digital Future Study" seems to suggest that a large percentage - nearly half - of shoppers may look suspiciously at digital signs linked wirelessly to their smartphones. A press release announcing the release of the study June 3 quotes Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, as saying many people "are worried that the Big Brother in our lives is actually Big Business."

"Internet users have major concerns about corporate intrusion - and who can blame them?" the press release quotes Cole as saying. "Considering the recent revelations about covert surveillance of personal behavior through GPS tracking and other related issues, we believe that user concerns about the involvement - some would say encroachment - of companies into the lives of Internet users represent a significant issue."

Indeed, it was recent revelations that Apple and Google Android smartphones were surreptitiously tracking the movements of customers that originally prompted my questioning whether or not wireless connections between digital signs and smartphones might do more harm than good.

With the public being bombarded by commercial messages pitching services to protect against identity theft, news that cellphones are keeping tabs on peoples' movements and being asked by cashiers for their phone numbers simply to make a purchase at a grocery or hardware store, it's not too surprising that so many people are vary of Big Business knowing their identity. Nor would it be very surprising if many members of the public look askance at the signage-cellphone link.

No one can be certain if that will be the case. But I think findings like those of the "Digital Future Study" suggest marketers and other communicators responsible for deploying digital signage should think long and hard about the risks and the benefits of adding the ability to link with wireless smartphones before moving forward.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:53 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 24 June 2011

Whether it's Sunday night or some other period of time when staffing is at a minimum, digital signage networks should be ready to respond to emergencies with timely warnings.

Twice within the past four months, I have been out of town on business when my general locale came under a tornado warning -not a watch, but a warning- issued by the National Weather Service.

For those who don't live in parts of the country where tornados generally occur, the distinction between a watch and warning is the former indicates conditions are favorable to producing a tornado, while the latter means a tornado has been spotted on the ground.

The thing about a tornado warning in metro areas is that although sirens will wail to announce the danger, they don't dispense information about where the tornado is located, the track that it is following and other threats that often accompany tornados, such as the presence of damaging hail. In other words, you know there is danger, but you don't know if you're in the bull's eye or some outer ring on the tornado's target.

Radio and television broadcasters typically fill in the details by telling or showing the public timely information to help them respond appropriately. However, both recent occasions when I encountered a tornado warning happened on a Sunday night, a time when many radio stations are playing nationally syndicated programs or automated music playlists and many TV stations are working with a skeleton crew. On both occasions, all stations, save one, were slow to respond with their typically excellent presentation of weather warnings.

Having experienced firsthand a dearth of information in an emergency situation made me think of all the digital signage networks in use that may suffer from their own "Sunday night syndrome."

Please understand, I am using "Sunday night" as a metaphor for whatever day or stretch of time your organization is typically off-duty or understaffed. The day of the week or specific time isn't important, just the fact that your organization is at rest.

Are plans in place to communicate critical emergency information via your digital signage network in a timely fashion during those periods? Sure, most buildings on a college campus may be closed after midnight, but what about the anatomy lab or design studio where students have gathered at the only time they can to study? What about workers on the graveyard shift at the factory? Or for that matter, the drivers on the interstate like me who see "Click it or Ticket" roadside digital signage messages from the state, but not "tornado spotted five miles ahead"?

A few helpful questions for managers of digital signage networks to ask include:

  1. During what periods is our organization at its weakest?
  2. Do contingency plans exist for emergency communications at off times?
  3. Have personnel been assigned responsibilities for emergency communications during down times?
  4. Does the digital signage network allow for control from an off-site Web browser or other remote access to generate and distribute emergency messaging even when no one is present at the operations center?
  5. Are security methods sufficient to prevent unauthorized remote access to the digital signage network?

While the primary purpose of digital signage networks varies depending on the application, each should share a common role during emergencies: distributing warnings and information that can save lives and minimize the risk of injury. Whether it's Sunday night or some other down time, digital signage network managers should be prepared to do just that.

Posted by: David Little AT 03:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 03 June 2011

A new forecast from IHS iSuppli projects stunning growth in some digital signage sectors for touch screen functionality.

A friend of mine recently upgraded his cell phone to an HTC EVO running the Android operating system and proudly was showing me how he accessed his contacts, apps and the Internet by touching the handsome screen on the mobile computer. Not to be outdone, I couldn't resist pulling my Apple iPhone from my pocket and demonstrating its big, bright screen with the same type of touchscreen interface.

My encounter with my friend points out just how commonplace touchscreen technology is becoming among consumers. According to a Wikipedia entry 6.4 million iPhones are active in the United States. Worldwide the number is 41 million as of February 2010. Ditto for Android phones with 400,000 being activated daily, according to Google, and a total of 100 million in use worldwide.

Add to these numbers the millions of consumers who have purchased an Apple iPad as well as the momentum growing among consumers for Motorola Xoom tablets and other such devices and one thing seems so apparent that I risk winning the "Captain Obvious" award for stating it: People love touchscreen interaction with their devices.

The same is true, it turns out, with digital signage. Perhaps fueled by their appetite to navigate around their phones and tablets with their fingertips, consumers will soon reach out and touch digital signage in record numbers.

A new research from IHS iSuppli, finds shipments for touchscreen displays for signage and the professional market will grow by a factor of seven over the next three years, reaching 2.97 million by 2013. Last year, shipments reached 404,999. The forecasted increase between 2009 and 2013 represents a 96.3 percent compounded annual growth rate, IHS iSuppli said.

The research firm forecasts the growth of touchscreen digital signage in several sectors including: public spaces, hospitality, healthcare, government, corporate retail, transportation and education.

By market segment, IHS iSuppli forecasts growth of:

  • 41.8 percent in public spaces, hospitality and healthcare applications;
  • 31.2 percent in the government and corporate sectors;
  • 20.7 percent in retail use; and
  • the remainder of the growth in transportation and education.

According to Sanju Khatri, who authored the posting on the IHS iSuppli website detailing the forecast, not all of the dozen or so technologies used to enable touchscreen functionality are appropriate for non-consumer displays 32 inches and larger. The most likely candidates to help enable the forecasted growth are optical imaging, resistive, projected capacitive, bending wave, infrared and surface acoustic wave (SAW).

All of this projected growth points to the need digital signage users will have for the talent to develop content that taps into consumer interest in touch screen technology. Managers responsible for digital signage content used by their organizations should begin planning now for exploiting the power of touchscreens to advance their communications goals.

Certainly, interactive touchscreen technology is not appropriate for all digital signage applications. However, in those sectors identified by IHS iSuppli for growth in touchscreen functionality digital signage messaging has the opportunity to grow equally in relevancy as viewers interact with signs in search of the information they need.

Posted by: David Little AT 06:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
The synergy between digital signs and smartphones is attractive to shoppers and marketers alike, but will recent headlines and privacy concerns diminish the prospects of this relationship?

Over the past few months, various commentators have discussed the synergy that can be created when digital communications between digital signs and cellphones is enabled -via a Bluetooth connection or other wireless means.

The concept makes perfect sense. Enabled with this capability, digital out-of-home signs add new value for viewers and communicators alike. For instance, in a store communications between digital signs and cellphones can be used to enhance the experience of a shopper by adding handheld interactivity, delivering custom promotional messages or imparting some other form of value to the customer. One often cited example is transmitting a digital coupon to a shopper within proximity of sign, such as a coupon for a particular deli item from a digital sign near the deli counter.

Another interesting possibility is allowing shoppers to interact with a digital sign set up with kiosk-like interactivity directly from their smartphones. This approach extends the interactive reach of a kiosk from the touchscreen interface of a digital sign into the palm of the hand of the shopper holding the smartphone.

A recent press release from a vendor offering a solution that ties mobile and digital signs together in this fashion quotes a recent ad forecast from Magna Global. The research firm found mobile and digital out-of-home advertising currently are the second and third fastest-growing advertising mediums of all possible ad vehicles. According to the findings, mobile ads are expected to grow 19.4 percent from 2011 to 2016. The forecast for DOOH ad growth during the period is 15.2 percent. It would seem that leveraging the two by combining them to deliver handheld interactivity, coupons and other promotional messaging would be a marriage made in heaven.

Not only does this arrangement benefit shoppers as they are making their purchasing decisions, but it also gives marketers unprecedented access to information about shoppers. For example, the vendor offering this solution says its product in effect conducts real-time market research while delivering targeted messaging to consumer smartphones. By tracking which messages shoppers respond to on their smartphones, marketers have a way to track instantly the effectiveness of various digital signage ad campaigns.

I was enthusiastic about the prospects of this marriage, until the other day when major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Guardian, The Associated Press and many others, began reporting on Apple iPhones' tracking the location of owners. That report was quickly followed by other stories reporting on Google's data collection efforts with Android Phones.

I'm certainly not a Luddite, and I see the real benefits of tapping into the synergies created when mobile phones and digital signs talk. But I am also not unaware of the potential of this iPhone and Android issue to impact the success of this smartphone-digital signage marriage. Already some countries in Europe are calling for investigations to determine if tracking and collecting data by Apple and Google violates any privacy laws.

While I understand the data collected by interaction between smartphones and digital signs doesn't have to be tied to any information stored on the phone, but rather simply anonymous tallies of interactions with signs, I wonder if the public will distinguish between the two. Or, will it simply lump them together as invasions of privacy?

I wonder if as sometimes happens in real nuptials if outside circumstances will turn the wedded bliss of smartphones and digital signs into an unholy union? Will the flap over iPhone and Android Phones collecting personal data sour the public on the idea of interacting with digital signs via their cellphones? Only time will tell, but I fear this promising marriage could ultimately be burdened with unfounded public suspicion that leads to a less than fulfilling lifetime partnership.
Posted by: David Little AT 06:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, 07 May 2011
The latest figures from The Nielsen Company not only show remarkable growth in audience exposure in Q4 2010 versus the same quarter the previous year, but also that such networks deliver verifiable audiences.

The Nielsen Company, the organization most people know for measuring TV viewership, has some good news for the digital signage industry -and it's not trivial.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, a metric the company dubs the "average minute audience" of those 18 years old or older at a dozen measured "location-based networks" climbed almost 250 percent compared to the same metric measured at eight such networks in Q4 2009. Translating that into something a little more understandable, Nielsen says the metric means that for the quarter there were more than 500 million gross minute exposures per month.

The findings, part of "The Nielsen Company's Fourth Screen Network Audience Report," are significant, not simply because of the remarkable growth exhibited year over year, but also because the numbers exist at all.

Whether you call them "location-based networks," "digital place-based networks" or "digital signage networks," one thing essential for legitimacy has been missing for far too long -that is until The Nielsen Company applied its audience measurement expertise to the medium. That ingredient is verifiable audience metrics that media professionals at ad agencies and inside corporate marketing departments can use to make informed decisions about where to spend their ad dollars.

In a blog entry on the Nielsen website describing the findings, Mike DiFranza, president of Captivate and chairman of the Digital Place-based Advertising Association (DPAA) is quoted as saying "quality audience metrics are the foundation of every media investment." Together with consumer research the Nielsen audience metrics are "key elements" for digital place-based networks "to be planned alongside traditional media," he added.

It's hard to imagine any statement being more on-target when it comes to the significance of verifiable audience metrics for the continuing and future success of this emerging medium. I suspect many people reading this column may intellectually grasp the concept, but have little or no firsthand experience with media buyers.

As someone who has worked with ad agencies on and off throughout my career, let me attest to the pride ad professionals take in being able to read audited (that is, independently verified) circulation statements of print publications and examine ratings books of electronic media to identify vehicles that deliver their clients' identified target markets. Critical to this process is the media outlet actually delivering the audience it says it delivers. That's where ratings, circulation statements and now "fourth screen audience reports" become essential.

In its blog posting Nielsen does a nice job of highlighting some of the report's critical findings, so there's no need to rehash that data here. I recommend spending a moment reading the Nielsen blog posting to learn the specifics.

One final thought -for those considering rollout of new digital signage networks, examining the list of businesses and venues Nielsen measured for the performance of similar deployments might be valuable. Doing so should provide some insight on what might be possible. Nielsen gathered its audience metrics from digital place-based networks in a variety of venues, including: retail, airports, health clubs, gas stations, bars and restaurants, hotels, health clubs and stadiums. Specific companies measured, included: Best Buy, CNN Airport Network, Zoom Fitness, Outcast/Pump Top, TouchTunes Interactive Networks, indoorDIRECT, The Hotel Networks, TargetCast, RMG Fitness, Outcast: Health Club Media Network, AMI and Access-360 AMNTV.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:42 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 07 April 2011

Interactive digital signage offers brick-and-mortar retailers the chance to rekindle their relationship with the growing number of online shoppers.

I must admit it. I am a typical guy. I don't really like to go shopping, and I look for every chance I get to consolidate shopping expeditions and eliminate trips to the store.

So a few years ago, when I really took the opportunity presented by Amazon.com and other sites to shop online -particularly at Christmas time- I was overcome with cheer, that is holiday cheer, because doing so let me minimize the drudgery of the season and focus more on faith, family and friends.

Still, even though the convenience and ease of online shopping has made my annual holiday shopping far less time-consuming and exhausting, I'm left with a nagging feeling that I am missing something -something important that I can only experience if I actually make the time to shop at brick-and-mortar stores.

Upon reflection, that something is really four very important "somethings" that make us who we are as humans, namely the satisfaction of touching, tasting, hearing and smelling. Sure shopping online can deliver all sorts of images-from cheerful holiday online catalog type shots to a full, 3-D fly-around of merchandise I'm evaluating-to satisfy my visual sense, but what about the simple experience of holding an item in my hand and evaluating it in a quite personal way with all the other senses an online image can't satisfy?

What if I could have the best of both worlds? What if I could have the convenience and ease of locating merchandise online and also have the in-person shopping experience that lets me squeeze the produce, taste the cookie, smell the evergreen and listen to the din of shoppers hurry about on their own expeditions?

Apparently, I'm not the only one asking those questions. A couple of new reports from Aberdeen Group, sponsored by HP, suggest in-store technology, like digital signage, point-of-sale systems and kiosks, can bring the convenience of online shopping into the retail space, to complement the in-store shopping experience.

However, 76 percent of 100 senior retail executives from apparel, grocery and department stores surveyed by Aberdeen Group report not possessing the technology or business processes to make use of Web, catalog or special orders from their stores.

According to the reports -"The Customer Connected Store: 2011 Store Operations Automation Best Practices" and "Retail Network Optimization: A Strategic 21st Century Enabler"-fully one-third of the retailers surveyed said they are likely to invest in kiosks that help give shoppers the experience of online shopping and the ability to check inventory while in the store.

The reports also identify why retailers should be willing to recreate an element of the online shopping experience for customers. The researchers found that retailers who give customers the ability to do things like place Web or catalog orders in the store are "1.4 times more likely to see higher than 80 percent customer satisfaction in stores" than retailers that don't do so, a press release announcing the surveys said.

The bottom line: interactive digital signage technology offers retailers a wide variety of advantages, not the least of which is touch-screen access to the Web to support things like in-depth product information, inventory checks and catalog purchases.

If retailers follow through and actually invest in interactive digital signage and kiosks, I know I'd be likely to return to brick-and-mortar retailers for more of my every day and holiday shopping, and I bet millions of others like me would, too.

Posted by: David Little AT 06:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The easiest way to boost the impact of an ad campaign may be to add out-of-home advertising to the mix, according to a new study.

Want to boost sales? How about double or even triple them? A new analysis of 600 case studies of marketing campaigns, including 43 in the United States, by British media research firm BrandScience has a suggestion: add out-of-home advertising to the media mix.

The reason, it turns out, is pretty straightforward. People spend many of their waking hours away from home, and if influencing them when they are making their final purchasing decisions is an important goal, it only makes sense to move the point-of-presence of an ad or marketing message closer to point-of-presence of their wallets.

Sounds good in theory, but what about real dollars and cents? Turns out the research firm shed some light on the economic impact of out-of-home advertising as well. For each dollar spent on out-of-home advertising, an average of $2.80 is received in product sales, according to the research.

Keep in mind the BrandScience research was sponsored by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Still, the findings make sense - particularly to someone like me who has written copiously on the power of reaching people at the point of sale with digital signage messaging as they are making their final purchasing decisions.

Not only can out-of-home advertising reach shoppers at or very near the point of sale, but this form of advertising also can reinforce ad messages delivered via TV and other media, effectively extending the duration the ad campaign is remembered by the public. The research found that when a high proportion of out-of-home media is used as part of media mix, the effectiveness of an ad campaign increases.

According to the study, sales tripled when spending on out-of-home ads moved from a low amount to a medium amount. Additionally, the study found sales more than doubled when a high amount was spent on out-of-home ads.

The research also offered some advice about how to allocate ad budgets to maximize return on investment. The best ROI is achieved when overall ad spending is low and the proportion of out-of-home media used in the mix is high.

Rather than get caught up in the minutia of the research, it may be wiser to consider the bigger picture. That is even as evidence mounts that out-of-home advertising is an important part of an ad mix, critical pieces of the puzzle professional ad buyers need to evaluate digital signage advertising networks and a variety of audience metrics measuring technologies are falling into place.

As I've previously written, technology is helping to quantify digital signage audiences and even qualify them in terms that make sense to ad agencies that are accustomed to reading reliable circulation statements and examining Nielsen ratings to make logical decisions about ad placements for their clients.

Taken together with the latest research from BrandScience, these tools help to make clearer for the professional ad community just how important it is to add out-of-home media, like digital signage, to the media mix.

With research, such as the study from BrandScience, that quantifies the exact dollar return for every dollar spent on out-of-home, this medium is impossible to ignore for agencies seeking the best advertising solutions for their clients.

Posted by: David Little AT 03:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Wednesday, 09 March 2011
While it's important to prepare for contingencies before an emergency situation arises, it's just as important to use a digital signage network that is flexible enough to target messaging and provide for remote access and control.

The specifics of emergency situations can vary dramatically, but a handful of common elements make it possible for appropriately configured digital signage networks to communicate information that potentially can save lives regardless of the precise nature of the contingency.

Whether it's severe weather, fire, or the intrusion of an authorized individual on premise, emergency situations share a few basic elements from a communications point of view that can be planned for and executed quickly when required.

To prepare, answer a few simple questions: Is the emergency confined to a local area served by the network or is it larger in scope? How can a true warning be distinguished from a drill? What action is required on the part of those threatened? By answering these questions before an emergency arrives and consulting with stakeholders in the safety of the enterprise, it is possible to prepare a series of appropriate emergency messages for most contingencies.

But beyond preparing content, there are two important demands that must be satisfied by a digital signage network to make it a valuable asset in responding to an emergency. First, the network must offer the flexibility needed to respond and adapt to an emergency. Consider a college campus with dozens of buildings and hundreds of signs. Responding to a fire in the Student Union with appropriate warning messages and evacuation maps is critically important for students, faculty and employees at the union, but not for those elsewhere on campus. In fact, alerting those in other buildings on campus to the fire at the Student Union could actually hinder firefighters and other first responders if curious students elsewhere were alerted to the situation and walked to the union to get a firsthand look.

Second, the digital signage network must be flexible enough to allow for off-site control in the event of an emergency. Authorized personnel using a secure password should be able to take control of the digital signage network from a secure, remote location via the Internet in the event that the network operations center is threatened by or involved in the emergency contingency.

Besides flexibility and control, other important elements of a digital signage network in an emergency include the ability to rapidly access appropriate pre-built content for various contingencies; the ability to customize or create on the fly emergency content from the network operations center to respond to unexpected contingencies; and easy access to the National Weather Service, cable or satellite television and other sources of emergency information that can be relayed across the digital signage network if appropriate.

To be certain, the adrenaline flows in emergency situations. But preparing prior to an event and having access to a properly enabled digital signage network for quick dissemination of appropriate warning messages should add an element of reassurance that calms the nerves and helps the network manager to respond in a level headed fashion to any contingency.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 18 February 2011
Without the ability to monitor each sign in a digital signage network from a central location to confirm playback, achieving confidence in the performance of the network will be next to impossible.

One day when I was in college many years ago, I took my handy cassette recorder to class because I knew my professor was going to be covering some particularly important material that I would want to review in detail before my next exam.

That's not to say I wasn't well versed in the Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals and the finer points of outlining. It's just that for this particular class I wanted to get every detail. (I'm clearly showing my age. My college-aged kids turn to Blackboard and other online tools for notes and PowerPoint presentations of their professors' lectures.)

Imagine how disappointed I was when I returned home in the evening, rewound my cassette and for whatever reason there was no audio of the lecture. What I needed - although I didn't know it at the time - was the ability to do what audio engineers call "confidence monitoring." In other words, I needed the ability to listen via an audio jack and an earpiece to the actual audio as it was being recorded to tape.

Fast forward to today and to the topic at hand, namely digital signage networks. A critical element of effectively managing a digital signage network is the ability to monitor playback of scheduled content on each monitor in the network - sort of a visual confidence monitoring. For the digital signage network manager, having the ability to look across the entire network, which might stretch across a campus, throughout an arena, or even across the entire nation, to confirm playback makes the seemingly impossible quite doable and improves productivity of the entire enterprise.

Rather than relying on someone else who happens to be working within viewing distance of each monitor in the network to notice a problem and then report it to the digital signage network manager, a manager in the network operations center has the ability to view what's playing back on any given monitor in the network from the network operations center (NOC).

Often, the digital signage network software that makes this happen will display thumbnail images of multiple monitors, any of which can be enlarged with a simple mouse click. Frequently, the software also makes it easy for managers to group thumbnails in a logical manner. For instance, thumbnails of all of the monitors in a particular building, on a specific floor or in a certain type of application, can be assigned to the same group so that it's easy and convenient for a manager to confirm that all is well with any given grouping of monitors.

Confidence monitoring paired with software capabilities to log playback is particularly important for digital signage ad networks. For these networks, having the ability to prove to customers that advertising ran as scheduled on the network is essential. Similarly, monitoring playback and documenting those instances when an ad failed to run as scheduled gives the ad network the ability to schedule make-goods and in the process build and win the trust of customers.
 
More decades have passed than I care to admit from my first encounter with the consequences of not having adequate confidence monitoring, but the lesson is as relevant today in the realm of digital signage as it was back then with my broken cassette tape. Without the ability to monitor the performance of technology as it apparently goes about fulfilling its function, it is ultimately impossible to have confidence in that technology.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 04 February 2011
Having access to remote control over display functions like "on" and "off" can save time, effort and expense.

Sometimes what should be obvious isn't so till someone points it out. For instance, just the other day I was listening to a favorite radio program that I stream on the Internet when the topic of surprise endings of films came up.

The sidekick of the show's host identified the movie "Planet of the Apes" as one with a surprise ending. But the real surprise of that radio segment came when it became clear that while the sidekick recognized the movie had a surprise ending, he had no clue that the surprise was Charlton Heston discovered he was actually on Earth throughout the film.

When the host of the show understood his sidekick's failure to see the obvious, the real fun began. He had loads of laughs over the fact that his sidekick -from the time he first saw the movie, released some 40 years before- had not recognized the obvious till that very moment on air.

But haven't we all at one time or another found ourselves in exactly the same position as the sidekick -not recognizing the obvious, which stares us in the face, till someone else points it out to us?

Such is the case with digital signage network management and remote control over simple display functions, such as "on" "off" and "volume." Many displays come with RS232 ports that allow these functions -and others, such as changing the channel, which probably isn't important in this context- to be controlled remotely. This interface and the need for control over these functions should be obvious but might go overlooked without an understanding of why controlling them is so important.

Imagine having dozens or even hundreds of displays scattered throughout a university campus, shopping mall or sports arena. Having the ability to turn individual monitors, sets of monitors, or all monitors on or off at a given time is a good way to manage display life, minimize energy consumption and even play an important role in targeting vital information when emergency situations arise.

Rather than having to walk the venue and manually turn monitors off in the evening and on in the morning, digital signage network administrators can rely on serial remote control of basic on/off functionality to save time and improve operational efficiency.

When an emergency arises -particularly during off hours when only skeleton crews may be occupying a given building- having the ability to remotely turn on displays previously shut off for the evening so warnings about emergency weather conditions or other contingencies can be displayed can become a matter of life and death.

Remote control over volume can be important as well. Sometimes professors or teachers in an educational setting, passersby at public venues, like malls, and even employees in corporate settings may manually adjust the volume of the display outside the digital signage network administrator's desired level.

As with on/off functionality, controlling volume from a central location through serial commands to the display reduces the time needed to make adjustments and saves a lot of legwork.

Is the importance of controlling on/off and volume functionality obvious? Probably. But for those who may have been having a "Planet of the Apes" moment when it comes to having remote control from a network operations center over these basic functions, I hope this column produced an important "ah ha."
Posted by: David Little AT 04:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, 24 January 2011
The use of simple network management protocol (SNMP) messaging can make it much easier to manage a digital signage network.

If you don't want to be the Erich Brenn of your digital signage network, you might want to consider how SNMP (simple network management protocol) messaging can help you lead a happy, productive professional life.

For those who don't recall my last column, Erich Brenn was "The Ed Sullivan Show" performer who impressed me as a young boy for his ability to keep numerous bowls and plates spinning. His feat required a high-degree of attention and some pretty quick feet.

I envision administrators of digital signage networks without the proper tools to be in a similar space as Brenn -constantly running from one display monitor to the next to confirm playback, inspect presentation quality and identify potential problems on the horizon. Unfortunately, for the network administrators, the distance they must cover isn't the length of a dining room table, but rather can be as great as across a mall, a campus or even around the world.

One tool at the disposal of digital signage network administrators is SNMP messaging. The idea behind SNMP is devices on the network -for instance a local digital signage player, whether it's integral to the monitor or a standalone device connected to the display- are equipped with the ability to monitor their condition and alert a central server of problems or potential problems. Local condition monitoring of these devices is done via an agent that reports information via SNMP messaging.

So, for instance, one simple task of an SNMP agent in a digital signage network is reporting. In this example, an agent can be setup to report in to the central server at specific intervals, letting the system and the administrator know that the device is still connected to the network and on. However, if there's a problem and the agent fails to report in at the expected time, the server immediately knows there is a status problem with the device that must be addressed. Communications in the form or an email or text message can be sent to the administrator so the issue can be corrected. SNMP can allow a variety of conditions to be monitored, reported and acted upon. Others might include temperature, moisture and even component-level warnings where available.

While SNMP messaging is a smart way to monitor, report problems and ultimately take corrective actions, it's also stupid. Or, more accurately, SNMP doesn't have the smarts to do anything more or less than the administrator asks.

Thus, if an administrator tells an SNMP agent to report in to the central server every minute with a status report, that's exactly what it will do. If the action that's tied to a failure to report is to send out an email to the administrator every time the device fails to report that administrator may one morning be greeted with literally hundreds of emails reporting the failure of that player on the network. While an annoyance, simple steps like extending the reporting interval can reduce those emails from hundreds to a handful.

SNMP is a valuable tool that digital signage network administrators can use to sidestep emulating Erich Brenn. Another is serial control, which I'll explore in my next column.
Posted by: David Little AT 11:16 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 23 December 2010
As digital signage network size and complexity grows, remote monitoring and control become essential.

One of my earliest memories as a small child was sitting down with my folks to watch the "Ed Sullivan Show." Many may remember the variety show for the historic appearance of the Beatles and the beginning of the British invasion. Others still may remember the program for the host's famous catch phrase - something like, "We have a really big show" with the word "show" sounding exactly like the drawn out pronunciation of the word "shoe."

What I remember the most was a stage act in which the performer began spinning bowls on wooden poles protruding from a platform. As the act progressed, he also began spinning up dinner plates, positioned between the poles balancing the spinning bowls, on their edges. To keep all of this in motion, the performer would run back and forth between poles, adding more spinning momentum to the bowls as he added more plates and bowls to the action. To the amazement of this little boy watching in awe with his parents, not a single bowl or plate crashed to the ground; rather the performer concluded his act by collecting each spinning object and neatly arranging them on the platform.

This childhood memory paints a mental picture for me of what it must be like to manage an extensive network of digital signs without proper monitoring, alert notification and control functionality. I can see in my mind's eye some poor soul having to run between monitors to make sure they are on, playing back the right content and functioning properly. But instead of traversing the width of platform no bigger than dining room table, this digital signage manager would have to run back and forth between signs scattered around an arena, across a campus or even around town.

Fortunately for digital signage network administrators, tools exist to eliminate the need to visit individual displays in person and instead provide the ability to remotely monitor and control all displays from a central command center.

Various approaches can be taken, but some of the more useful elements in any such system include support for: SNMP (simple network management protocol messaging); snapshot confidence monitoring of all displays on the network; serial control of monitor functions, including on, off and volume control; and some degree of network and device diagnostics.

Without these basic tools, managing, controlling and monitoring the performance of a digital signage network would be a feat akin to keeping all of those spinning plates and bowls in motion.

In future columns, I'll layout more details about each of the important elements of digital signage network monitoring and control, but for now, I just wanted to set the table with lots and lots of spinning plates and bowls.

One final note: If you are interested in seeing the spinning plate and bowl act, go to YouTube and search for "Erich Brenn 'Plate Spinning' on The Ed Sullivan Show."

Cheers & Happy Holidays
Posted by: David Little AT 02:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 09 December 2010
As mobile media makes inroads into the public consciousness, digital sign communicators can use relevancy and timeliness to cut through the clutter.

One open secret about the success of dynamic signage as an out-of-home medium is that often the audience for the signs does not have a whole lot of choice when it comes to selecting what media to consume.

That's not to say dynamic sign viewers are a "captive audience," but they often have been easy to grab because they typically didn't have other video-based media competing for their attention. Congregating in lobbies, cafeterias, medical and dental waiting rooms, car dealer service areas and other common areas, many members of digital signage audiences welcomed the chance to let their attention focus on the sign rather than reading a newspaper of magazine they may have already seen.

But that's all changing. Wireless 3G and 4G networks turn mobile phones into media players, and YouTube, Hulu, and other video Web portals make Internet TV easy to access. Add to that the fact that new mobile digital TV broadcasting capable of delivering local TV broadcasts to personal/portable devices is right around the corner.

Suddenly, just having a digital sign located where people congregate isn't good enough. Suddenly, there is competition for the attention of viewers. Suddenly, it's more important than ever to create fresh content that is relevant to the intended audience of the digital sign and to make sure it is timely.

A recent article in a Connecticut college newspaper discussed the attempt of the leader of a student government group to build support among school administrators for installing digital signage on campus. The student government leader saw digital signs as a way of building school spirit and creating a more unified campus community. As part of the effort, students were surveyed to find out what they thought about the idea.

Of 400 students polled, 56 percent said they thought digital signage would likely raise awareness among students about the goings on around campus - a respectable finding for proponents of digital signage.

Another finding, however, speaks to the importance of keeping digital signage content timely, relevant and informative. Respondents to the survey told researchers that the effectiveness of any digital sign installed on campus would be tied closely to updating information regularly on the signs.

The college students responding to the survey expressed an opinion that's likely to grow increasingly prevalent among digital signage audiences as wireless video media become available to a growing segment of the population. For dynamic signage content to be consumed, it needs to be fresh and a valuable source of information. Otherwise, the audience that once could only choose between a back issue of some mildly interesting magazine and a dynamic video sign may increasingly turn to a third alternative, namely personal mobile media devices.

For some digital sign communicators, the concept of competition for attention may be a foreign one. But the evolving media landscape in this nation that's putting video content within easy reach of anyone on the go is changing all that. It's time to redouble efforts to keep digital signage content relevant, fresh and interesting.
Posted by: David Little AT 06:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 12 November 2010
A new study from the Platt Retail Institute reaffirms how effective digital communication is in distributing emergency warnings and alerts on school campuses. In late September, a gunman opened fire inside the library at the University of Texas in Austin.

For many of us old enough to recall, news of the event immediately triggered memories of Charles Whitman, the sniper who fired upon the campus from the University of Texas Tower in August 1966. While the specifics of the two events are quite different, one major but easy-to-overlook difference is particularly noteworthy: campus communications. Forty-four years ago, radio and television carried the burden of warning the public about the presence of the sniper. Unfortunately, not many people at universities tune into radio or TV during class.

Today, new digital means of communications abound, and spreading the word that a gunman has opened fire on campus can be immediate, focused and highly effective. Text messaging, e-mail and cell phones make it simpler for campus authorities to reach individual students and faculty within minutes of an event occurring.

Digital signage also is an important component in this digital communications mix. After all, many students are advised to turn off their cell phones during class, so the availability of emergency messaging on digital signs strategically located around a campus provides another layer of protection in the process of communicating urgent emergency messages to students, faculty and staff.

A new study from Platt Retail Institute, "Communication Effectiveness in Higher Education" reveals the significant role of digital signage in communicating on campus. A press release announcing the study quotes Steven Keith Platt, PRI Director and Research Fellow as saying: "Our research study found that 97 percent of students prefer to receive information via digital channels, rather than from non-digital sources. Overall, text messages were found to be the most effective distribution channel, followed closely by digital signage."

It's important to note that emergency messages delivered digitally, like in text messages and on digital signs, do not have to relate simply to shootings. A variety of emergency situations require quick, accurate communication. Universities and other institutions regularly plan for contingencies such as fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and many others. Developing an effective communications strategy that taps the power of digital communications should be part of that contingency planning.

When it comes to digital signage and emergency communications, a variety of specific pages with the appropriate emergency-related information should be prepared prior to any event as part of a well-planned, campus-wide digital signage network. In the event of any given contingency happening, pages can quickly be updated with event-specific information and distributed to all or some of the signs on the network.

Having been involved with the planning and roll out of some of these systems, I want to offer a few ideas for those who haven't given digital signage and emergency communications much thought. First, the digital signage network administrator should coordinate with on-campus and off-campus first responders as digital signage pages are prepared for various contingencies. Often, plans already exist and can be drawn upon to create effective communications. Second, provide for Internet access to digital signage control in case the emergency circumstance prevents access to the campus command and control center and the computers ordinarily used to drive digital signage messaging. Third, be sure to password protect access to the digital signage network.

While the very thought of a gunman on campus, a tornado striking a building or some other contingency is tremendously disturbing, it is necessary to plan for them before they happen. Effective communications can save lives, and supplementing text messages and e-mails with emergency digital signage messaging might mean the difference between preserving innocent life and a lifetime filled with regret.
Posted by: David Little AT 01:37 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 03 November 2010
A new study from Clear Channel Communications and MarketShare Partners demonstrates the benefits marketers can expect from adding out-of-home advertising to their media mix.

Marketers looking for evidence that out-of-home advertising can improve sales and amplify the effectiveness of their other advertising need look no further than a new study from Clear Channel Communications and MarketShare Partners.

The study, "How Out-of-Home Advertising Works," examines the return on investment of using out-of-home advertising as an ingredient in a larger marketing mix. Specifically, the report finds that OOH advertising provides a significant, incremental sales lift that equals, or is often greater than, other drivers.

"After careful analysis of thousands of marketing optimization models, and considering decades of research and applied marketing science, independent research from MarketShare Partners conclusively shows that OOH is an effective marketing vehicle and should be included as a component of the optimal marketing mix across a broad range of industries," said Debbie Reichig, senior vice president of Business Development and Marketing at Clear Channel Outdoor.

So what can marketers expect from OOH advertising? Quite a lot, actually. A press release announcing the report outlines some key benefits, including:

  • Adding OOH in the media mix, for industries and products where it provides observable sales lift, makes other media more effective.
  •  OOH can provide a significantly higher sales lift in conjunction with TV when the creative messaging is coordinated across platforms.
  • OOH can provide a significantly higher sales lift in conjunction with radio when there is a call to action.
As I've discussed before, out-of-home advertising using a medium such as digital signage networks is making great strides these days. Recent developments in technologies and techniques to count audience elevate the stature of OOH advertising in the minds of marketers and ad agencies alike.

The latest study from Clear Channel Communications and MarketShare Partners advances the medium further still. It not only demonstrates how OOH ads can provide a sales lift when used together with radio and TV advertising, but it makes specific recommendations on the optimum allocation of marketing resources to out of home.

The study finds the best allocation of marketing dollars to OOH advertising falls somewhere between 5 percent and 25 percent of the total advertising budget for most products and brands.

While some may discount this study as self-serving - after all Clear Channel Communications recently announced its recommitment to OOH ad networks and is one of the largest purveyors of outdoor advertising in the world - to do so would be shortsighted in my opinion. Sure this company has an interest in OOH advertising, but both Clear Channel and MarketShare Partners have an equally strong interest in protecting their reputation in the industry. To do anything other than to look honestly and completely at OOH advertising in the report would be harmful to both enterprises.

I applaud the companies and the release of "How Out-of-Home Advertising Works." The study offers the advertising and marketing communities key insights at this important stage in the development of OOH advertising on digital signage networks. Not only does the study demonstrate how OOH advertising can help marketers achieve their goals, it quantifies what portion of their ad budgets should be allocated to this medium to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising efforts.
Posted by: David Little AT 04:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Clear Channel Outdoors' announcement last week of its new National Sales Group is a clear sign that digital signage networks are maturing as a serious medium.

Clear Channel Outdoors, one of the world's largest outdoor advertising firms with nearly one million displays in more than 50 countries, announced Sept. 15 it has setup a new business unit focused on helping advertisers and ad agencies plan, buy and implement "multiplatform and multimarket out-of-home campaigns."

According to a press release announcing the creation of the Clear Channel Outdoor National Sales Group, or NSG, one important reason for the move is the availability of new audience-measurement technologies that will assist advertisers and agencies in quantifying the size of the audience they can reach.

As I've pointed out in other columns over the past few years, for digital signage ad networks to take off, advertisers must achieve a new level of comfort with digital signage as a serious advertising medium, and that acceptance hinges on delivering quantifiable measurement of audience size and viewing duration.

For those with only a passing familiarity with the ad industry drawn from television, newspapers, magazines, the Internet and the radio, advertising might seem a bit quirky, somewhat glitzy and even whimsical. But nothing could be further from the truth. Those same ad agencies that develop campaigns featuring everything from a female plumber named Josephine (I'm showing my age with that one.) to little a little green reptile selling car insurance are quite down-to-earth, no-nonsense types when it comes to identifying target audiences and reaching them with rifle-like precision.

The formation of the new business unit at Clear Channel is significant because it indicates the pieces are falling into place for advertisers and agencies to quantify digital signage audiences.

"Outdoor advertising is now primed to gain a larger share of overall advertising spending with the advent of new measurement tools like Eyes On that puts out-of-home on par with other media categories, combined with new digital innovations that allow for more creative and flexible campaigns," the press release quotes Ron Cooper, Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel Outdoor Americas as saying.

Even more to the point, he is quoted as saying "for the first time, marketers can target key demographics on a national scale with one easy purchase and not have to assemble buys across numerous local markets."

My intent is not to promote Clear Channel Outdoors. Rather, it is to point out that the formation of NSG is another sign that digital signage is coming of age as a viable ad medium, rather than being an experimental advertising alternative given less-than-serious consideration. Clear Channel's move expresses confidence that the company can deliver to agencies and advertisers the same level of audience measurement and demographics they are accustomed to when using traditional media.

That's particularly important as the nation walks the tightrope toward economic recovery. The appeal of reaching customers at the point of purchase is strong for marketers, but without a means to measure the audience, advertisers and agencies were left in the uncomfortable position of committing limited advertising dollars on little more than hope. Audience measurement in the digital signage network space is replacing hope with facts - something that's almost certain to elevate the medium in the eyes of advertisers and agencies alike.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Some forward-thinking media professionals are beginning to look for ways to reach millions of public transit riders with digital signage messaging.

There's a chill in the evening air; the days are getting shorter, and some of the leaves on the trees are hinting at an impending explosion of color. Fall must be upon us, and that can mean only one thing: The baseball season will soon culminate in a succession of playoff games, two pennant series and ultimately the World Series.

This year leading up to the Fall Classic, commuters entering the Times Square/Grand Central Shuttle or boarding MTA New York City Transit-branded subway cars designed to capture the feel of a baseball stadium will be immersed in TBS coverage of all four of the Major League Baseball Division Series and the American League Championship Series, or ALCS games.

A TBS press release announcing the campaign, which is crafted by CBS Outdoor, says,  "Riders will also experience video screens within the subway car, featuring up-to-date information on match-ups."

While one of the objectives of the campaign is to build interest among riders in the playoffs and ALCS games and encourage them to tune in at home, another is to take advantage of digital signage technology to reach a captive audience with advertising messaging. In the words of MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York is "creating new, dynamic advertising opportunities utilizing the latest technology."

"Inviting advertisers to 'wrap' entire trains and the use of digital displays will generate a buzz among customers and advertisers alike," Walder said in the press release.

The TBS campaign follows an effort launched more than two years ago in the Raleigh-Durham, NC, area by Capitol Broadcasting Company and its flagship media property WRAL-TV to transmit mobile DTV signals to specially equipped busses set up to receive the signals and display news, weather, sports and other local-interest content and advertising on flat panel screens on-the-go.

It appears mobile digital signage is beginning to pique the interest of media professionals and is picking up momentum. That's quite understandable. Not only are passengers generally "trapped" in close proximity to the digital sign until the train, subway or bus comes to a halt, but also the size of the audience involved is hard to ignore.

According to one account of New York City subway and bus traffic, 7.7 million people use the vehicles daily throughout the city's five boroughs. Nationwide, the number of trips taken on public transportation is mind-blowing. According to the American Public Transportation Association, more than 2.5 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in the second quarter of 2010.

With such a massive audience and technological developments that are making it easier to refresh digital signage content on-the-go as needed, expect to see more demonstrations of mobile digital signage. While it's likely to be a long time before every city bus, subway car and commuter train is equipped with digital signage technology, TBS' promotion of postseason baseball and WRAL-TV's mobile DTV transmission to digital signs on city busses demonstrate that forward-thinking media professionals view digital signage on-the-go as an up-and-coming medium worthy of serious interest.
Posted by: David Little AT 06:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, 13 September 2010
When it comes to digital signage, take an environmentally friendly approach to communications makes good business sense.

Going green with digital signage isn't simply a matter of reducing the environmental impact of your messaging.

Replacing traditional signs -whether motivated out of a concern for the environment or simply to communicate more effectively- makes good business sense. To the uninitiated, that statement may be a bit surprising. But for those with experience communicating with both digital and printed signs it should quickly become apparent why the reasons to do the green thing and select digital signage as a communications medium is also a sound business decision.

In a past blogs, I enumerated the benefits to the environment of choosing to communicate via digital signage rather than with traditional printed signs. In this column, I wish to explore some of the real business benefits organizations can realize by going green with digital signage.

Cost savings: Could it actually be cheaper to replace environmentally unfriendly printed signs with the greener alternative of digital signs? Absolutely! Depending upon the type and quantity of printed signs being replaced, it is possible for a digital signage system to pay for itself in less than two years. For example, a casino that relies on lots of backlit transparent signs can reach break even in even less time by replacing them with digital signs. In this instance, the sheer quantity of signs needed to tell patrons about frequently changing entertainment acts and special offers along with the expense of the backlit signage medium make selecting digital signs a financially wise decision.

When it comes to the environment, digital signs can be updated frequently with powerful text, images and even video, and they also eliminate the need to manufacture the transparent plastic film and specialized inks required to print backlit signs and solve the question of proper disposal before it's even raised. Obviously, the specific type and expense of printed signs in use will impact when the financial break-even point is reached by choosing the digital alternative as well as the exact environmental consequences.

Message per meter: Closely related to the cost benefit of digital signage vs. printed signs is something I'm dubbing "message per meter." Digital signage networks have an innate ability to playback multiple pages -one after another- in an endless sequence just as a TV channel plays back a ceaseless lineup of entertainment, commercials, news and other content.

That ability means a theoretically unending sequence of desired messages can be played back on a digital signage network. It's almost silly to conjure up how printed signs would do something similar -wallpaper the entire planet? Clearly, when it comes to the number of messages communicated per meter (or whatever unit of measurement you desire) of space, digital signage wins hands down thanks to the element of time.

From the perspective of being green, winning the "messages per meter" crown makes digital signage a far more environmentally friendly alternative. From a business perspective, the ability to playback the sequence means more goods and services can be promoted per unit of wall space, which should positively affect sales.

Improved workforce productivity: Whether it's printed or digital signage, there is a pretty well established workflow to creating a given message. The former requires transport of people and actual end product at several points in the process. From the moment paper stock arrives at a printer till the time someone in an organization -or an outside contractor- actually hangs the finished printed sign, the transport never ceases, and nor does the carbon footprint associated with that process.

On the other hand, the digital signage workflow is far more efficient. There literally is zero transport of physical media and people required between the point of origination of a digital signage page and where it's displayed. Cutting out all of "the middlemen" needed from concept to delivery in a print workflow makes digital signs an attractive alternative from a productivity point of view, and reducing the transport of people and materials makes digital signs the greener choice.

Add to the efficiency equation the ability of some digital signage software applications to extract specific information from existing databases and facilities management software packages to automatically create digital signage pages, and the positive impact digital signage can have on the productivity of an organization becomes even clearer.

With benefits like these, it's clear going green with digital signage not only helps our environment but also is a sound business strategy.
Posted by: David Little AT 11:51 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
The Screen Forum this summer published a list of 12 steps it recommends those rolling out digital signage networks take to heart to minimize the environmental impact of their project.

It might not be easy being green if you happen to be the CEO of British Petroleum in light of the Gulf oil disaster, but if you're responsible for a digital signage network, being environmentally responsible has never been simpler, thanks to the Screen Forum.

That's because the Screen Forum, an independent working group focused on sharing best practices in the digital signage industry, released earlier this summer a list of a dozen steps aimed at ensuring digital signage networks deliver a maximum impact with a minimum effect on the environment.

The steps, available on the group's website, are a well-reasoned list of proscriptions for minimizing the impact of digital signage networks on the environment. While the list is publicly available on the Web and self-explanatory, I found one aspect of the Screen Forum's steps fascinating and worthy of a bit of comment.

Achieving balance underpins much of the list - the balance between environmental impact and performance; the balance between achieving communications goals and doing so in a way that does not diminish, or is sympathetic to, nearby landmarks; and the balance between fulfilling its main purpose and giving back to the community by promoting environmental awareness.

Balancing performance and environmental impact touches many phases of digital signage network rollout and operations. The concept laid out in the steps seems to focus on drawing a distinction between saturation and sufficiency. Many of the steps advocate doing no more than is necessary to accomplish the desired mission of communications. Limiting the number of computer components, the size of the network and number of displays therein, as well as the power requirements of the network, seeks to balance the task at hand with the environmental cost of accomplishing it.

Achieving equilibrium in terms of digital signage performance and placement vis-à-vis nearby landmarks gets at the most basic of environmental concerns - namely the impact on the locale in which the sign hangs. Reading this step reminded me of the contrast between states that have outlawed or legislated extremely strict restrictions on the use and placement of billboards along highways and driving down the Las Vegas Strip. The Screen Forum's admonition balances the legitimate desire to communicate important messages via digital signs with the need to appreciate the surroundings of the signs and minimize whenever and however possible the likelihood of the signs detracting from their local environment.

Acknowledging the opportunity to use the network, even if only on a periodic basis, to raise public awareness about environmental concerns is particularly fascinating, because it recognizes there's far more to a digital signage network than hardware and software. In fact, the reason for being for any digital signage network is to communicate messages - often finely defined, narrowcast communications. Balancing that mission with the unrelated goal of communicating to the public about environmental concerns recognizes that there's more to communicating successfully than a well-defined message. It's almost as if the Screen Forum transplanted the concept of public service TV messages to the arena of digital signage, except digital signage networks have no government-mandated public service obligation to fulfill.

Certainly, there's more to the Screen Forum's 12 steps than balance, but the concept plays an important role in the thinking behind the recommendations. Anyone considering rolling out a digital signage network would be well-served to check out the Screen Forum's list and given it some serious consideration.
Posted by: David Little AT 06:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 06 August 2010
While the effect of digital signage on the environment may be less than traditional signs, minimizing its impact requires being aware of factors like power consumption, and the use of hazardous materials.

Digital signage offers certain advantages from the standpoint of environmental protection over traditional printed signs, but that's not to say the digital medium isn't without its own set of environmental concerns.

Among the most serious are power consumption and the associated carbon footprint of producing the electricity needed to drive the displays and computers that feed them; the use of hazardous materials in the production of digital signage displays and computers; and the impact of display and computer disposal as well as that of the packing materials needed to ship the devices to their locations safely.

Display power consumption: On the display side of the equation, the growth of LED technology for backlights presents an alternative to fluorescents and has made it possible for display manufacturers to employ new power savings strategies, unavailable with fluorescent backlights, in an increasing number of panels. One such strategy is the use of Pulse Width Modulation, which can be used to vary LED power consumption and brightness. A simple way to evaluate energy efficiency is to get familiar with the government's ENERGY STAR program as relates to monitors. It's also wise in many applications to turn off individual digital signs or all the signs on a network after hours to save energy.

Digital signage player power consumption: The other power draw in a digital signage system is the player -typically a computer running dedicated software. Here, a few alternatives are possible to minimize power consumption, depending upon the application. Embedding the computer in the actual digital signage display can produce power savings -simply by eliminating an entire computer monitor and other redundant pieces of hardware, such as a second video card. Even if using an embedded computer is not possible, certain things can be done to minimize power consumption of a standalone system, such as replacing spinning disks with solid-state disks. SSDs also require less cooling, which can translate into power savings.

Hazardous substances: A couple of years ago, an article in New Scientist magazine based on research by a University of California-Irvine professor set off alarm bells in the press about NF3, a gas used in the production of LCD panels, solar panels and integrated circuits. According to the article, the gas has thousands of times the affect on the atmosphere as a comparable amount of carbon dioxide. But as a Columbia Journalism Review article said in August 2008, the media hyped the findings and distorted the impact of NF3 on the environment -mostly because of the small quantity of the gas being released into the atmosphere. The article quoted Michael Prather, the professor responsible study, as say: "It's not a big deal by itself," Prather said in an interview. "We're looking at less than half a percent [the impact] of CO2. Is it the most important thing? No. But it should be in the market basket. And it should be monitored."

Regardless, hazardous substances used in digital signage players (computers) and fluorescent backlights are legitimate concerns with the former using components with lead and cadmium content and the latter containing mercury. On the positive side, however, the European Union has established its RoHS (Restrictions of Hazardous Substances) directive restricting the use of six hazardous materials, including lead and cadmium. Further, California has enacted its own restrictions on the use of certain hazardous materials in electronics manufacturing. Such efforts have and will continue to make digital signage greener.

Disposal and waste: One way to minimize the impact of disposing digital signage components is to extend their lives. Doing things like choosing longer-life backlighting options, such as LED technology, and limiting monitors use to the time of day when, for example, a store is open or an air terminal is actually in use, can lengthen life. Additionally, donating old displays to charity not only can benefit worthy organizations but also keep panels in use and out of landfills. In fact, many communities will not accept monitors and computers as waste.

Finally, the fragility of monitors and computers makes proper packing material essential for safe transport. Asking about the use of recycled packing material and recycling that material after delivery of panels and players are also important for those wishing to make their digital signage installation as environmentally friendly as possible.

As I noted in my previous column, we are all powerless to put an end to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But we are in control of our own actions, and to the best of our ability we can make our digital signage implementations a greener experience by being mindful of the environment as we plan our use of the technology.
Posted by: David Little AT 03:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
A head-to-head comparison of print versus digital signs tips the environmental impact scale in favor of the digital medium.

For more than two months when I've gone home from work and flipped on the evening news, hoping to see the volcano of oil erupting one mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico miraculously stilled, plugged somehow, staunching the incredible flow of oil and natural gas that is killing wildlife, devastating habitat and shutting down whole segments of Gulf-related businesses.

But rather than breathing a sigh of relief, night after night I'd sit mesmerized - a little queasy and apprehensive - watching the oil continuing to flow, creating what seems to be the greatest environmental calamity in my lifetime - at least in this part of the world.

Like everyone else at home marveling at this spectacle revealed by BP's underwater camera, I am powerless to do anything to "just plug the damn hole," as our president reportedly said at a recent White House meeting. Fortunately, BP's latest attempt to cap the wellhead appears to be working, and there may be some end to this phase of the environmental disaster in sight.

But regardless of what happens a mile below the sea, it's important to recognize that I'm not powerless in my personal and professional life when it comes to helping to protect the environment. That's why, along with my decision to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, recycle paper, glass and plastic and teach my children to respect the environment in their daily lives, I've decided to dedicate a couple of columns to digital signage as a "green" technology.

Often, when the environmental impact of digital signage is raised, some valid but rather well-worn, assertions are made. First, when compared to printed signs, digital signage appears far greener. Digital signage messaging, which can be updated or changed entirely with a few strokes of the keyboard and some mouse clicks, eliminates the need to print new signs as messaging needs change. The fewer signs that get printed, the fewer the trees that need to be cut, transported to mills, processed and made into paper, the logic goes. The need for the inks used to print the signs and the various chemical coatings applied to make them attractive is eliminated.

Another dimension commonly cited is waste disposal. Cutting out the need to replace printed signs eliminates the energy needed to dispose of or recycle the signs and - to the degree printed signs aren't recycled - the impact of adding tons more paper, ink, chemical coatings and paints to landfills.

A third often-cited benefit is that the convenience of updating digital signage messaging over a computer network eliminates travel to the location of each sign, which is necessary to replace printed old signs with new printed versions. Eliminating the transportation component reduces carbon emissions and thus the impact of signage on the environment.

While each of these assertions argues in favor of the environmental benefit of using digital signage over traditional printed signs, that's not to say digital signs don't impact the environment and that a variety of actions can and should be taken when possible to reduce the effect of this digital medium on our planet.

In the second part of this column, I'll look at some of the leading environmental considerations regarding the use of digital signs and steps that can be taken to minimize their impact.
Posted by: David Little AT 05:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Friday, 16 July 2010
The rapid adoption of touchscreens in multiple consumer devices demands attention in the digital signage realm.

If adding interactivity to your digital signage communications mix hasn't been top-of-mind, it's time to re-evaluate and give serious consideration to tackling touchscreen technology.

To be sure, not all digital signage uses call for interactivity, but many signs employed today for simple wayfinding, retail promotion and other applications can leverage touchscreen interactivity to better serve the informational needs of viewers, and in so doing, deliver a communications experience more in line with the goals of the enterprise.

Reconsidering the role of interactivity in digital signage messaging has taken on added urgency recently as consumers buy and fall in love with touchscreen gadgets like the Apple iPad and even touchscreen PCs.

Consider the latest statistics on touchscreens from market research organization iSuppli. Shipments of touchscreens for devices like Apple's iPad are expected to rise nearly 5,000 percent to 8.9 million this year, according to an iSuppli forecast. That's up from 176,000 in 2009. By 2013, the research company projects shipments to increase sevenfold to 63.9 million units.

The popularity of touchscreen interactivity isn't restricted to iPads and iPad competitors in the pipeline. According to iSuppli, the personal computer touchscreen market is expected to grow by 242 percent this year.

As consumers by the millions adopt PCs and tablet-type computers with touchscreens, their expectations about technology are likely to evolve. Whereas at one time no one would give second thought to a wayfinding digital sign, other than to absorbing the directions being conveyed, it's entirely likely wayfinding viewers of the near future will wonder why they can't touch the screen, call up a more detailed map and touch highlights along their route to learn more about them.

The number of consumers looking for greater interactivity with retail digital signs also is likely to climb as the number of touch-screen tablet device owners grows. With touch screen interactivity becoming a growing habit, why wouldn't shoppers expect to do something as iPad-like as dragging a digital sweater from one interactive shelf and a pair of slacks from another onto a virtual mannequin to see whether they match?

Taking this type of interactivity to the next level, why shouldn't traditional digital signage offer touchscreen interactivity via the very tablet computers, like the iPad, that are driving the explosive growth in the touchscreen market? After all, iPads come with either 3G and/or WiFi connectivity built in. Giving an iPad permission to take temporary control of a digital sign in a retail store would let customers benefit from the interface they know and love on their tablets and the 42- or 50-inch display that delivers larger, more impactful images that better emulate the real world.

Digital signage communicators who ignore the forecast of explosive growth in touchscreen enabled devices do so at their own peril. To be sure, not all digital signage applications are appropriate for interactivity, but the ubiquitous presence of consumer devices controlled via touchscreens demands a serious re-evaluation of digital signage communications strategies.

Now is the time to begin that re-examination, because it may be too late to make a strategic shift once 64 million touchscreen devices are in the hands of consumers worldwide. Launching a review today will let digital signage communicators proactively plan to take advantage of this tidal wave in touchscreen familiarity rather than flat-footedly responding to this likely sea change in consumer expectations.
Posted by: David Little AT 02:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
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“Participating in the Digital Screenmedia Association enables us to keep a pulse on the industry. It gives us access to a wealth of experts to share ideas and enables us to build more effective solutions for our clients.”

Brian Ardinger
Entrepreneur in Residence
NUtech Ventures, Inc.


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Digital Screenmedia Association | 13100 Eastpoint Park Blvd. Louisville, KY 40223 | Phone: 502-489-3915 | Fax: 502-241-2795

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