There has been a lot written and discussed lately about the DSA’s efforts to participate in non-digital signage-specific tradeshows. The goals of this type of activity have been to: 1) expand the awareness of digital signage to audiences who may not be familiar with its technology/benefits, and 2) to identify the potential channel and/or partner relationships necessary to take digital signage into these new markets. After spending three days in Las Vegas at the Specialty Graphics and Imaging Association, SGIA, Expo, I left with a number of observations that I’ll share in this post.
My initial observation was “WOW.” The first time I walked onto the convention floor I was struck by the magnitude and scale of the specialty printing business. I saw ink-jet printers bigger than a good-sized mobile home spitting out incredibly rich graphics on paper that must have been 20 feet wide and 50 feet long. I saw machines that would print graphics on plastic, foam-board, poster board, etc., and then automatically cut the graphics out with an integrated computer-driven laser. Want a life-sized picture of Elvis cut to form? No problem - these guys have the machines to do it.
My next observation was that the DSA Digital Signage Zone looked really nice. I thought our position on the show floor was excellent, and the mix of exhibitors was well-balanced. Funny story: While our team was setting up the Symon pod (there were twelve DS vendors; each with their own pod), we discovered that our pod graphic was unusable. Our initial reaction was: “Wonderful! What are we going to do with less than 24 hours to showtime?” It turned out that if you were to ever have a screw-up with a printed graphic, the SGIA Expo is a great place to have the problem. An exhibitor across from the DS Zone agreed to reprint our graphic for us in short order. Problem solved.
Within the DS Zone was a theater area for delivering educational sessions to show attendees. I was the first presenter on the first day and did a session entitled: “An Introduction to Digital Signage.” The session started with a bang. The PC that I was using for delivering the presentation locked up. Luckily I brought my own PC, so after a short delay and a little tap dancing we were back in business.
I opened my session by asking a few questions of the audience, which numbered about 30 – 40 people. My first question was: “How many people are familiar with digital signage and systems used in support thereof?” One hand went up. My next question was: “How many of you have customers that are asking for this type of technology?” A majority of the hands went up.
The good news was that we had an interested audience. The bad news: digital signage was about as foreign to this group as it could be. During an evening social event following the first day’s presentations, many of my fellow presenters shared a common observation that IT-oriented solutions were way out of this groups’ comfort zone.
In the end though it was actually a very unique experience. When we as an industry spend so much time around people who understand DS (or at least have a clue), it is somewhat of a surreal experience to spend time with such a large audience that understands virtually nothing about it. It makes one think through the message more thoroughly.
My overall observation was that the vast majority of those attendees interested in DS were small mom-and-pop operations looking to service single-sign opportunities (e.g. small venues). This was an absolute fertile field for entry-level-oriented SaaS solution providers looking for onesie/twosie screen installations. A word of advice for the companies interested in pursuing this market: Be ready to do a lot of educating.
My final observation was that some SGIA vendors actually viewed DS as a treat. In fact, a representative from a manufacturer of large-format printers (billboard-sized output) told one of our employees that, “We hate you guys! You’re stealing our business.” That reaction made me think about my favorite book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”
In it, the author describes how long-established industries often fail because they are unwilling and/or unable to adapt to changing technologies and trends. In many ways, that made me think of some within our industry. Like the guy with the printer company, some within our industry have been absolutely opposed to considering how emerging technologies and social trends could impact us. We as an industry need to always be vigilant and ready to respond to changing market factors.
In conclusion, I found SGIA to be an interesting experience. I left the show believing that we had learned some valuable lessons that could be applied to future non-digital signage-specific tradeshows. I believe the lessons are as follows:
- If at all possible, make sure you have a good understanding of the profile of the audience/attendees before you participate. Understand whether they’re likely to be customers or potential channel partners. If customers, try to understand their profile and the potential size of the deals. If a channel partner, try to get a feel for their sales model and a profile of their customers.
- Reach out to the audience with a coordinated message. Although we presenters each had a good message, they were not exactly coordinated. For those attendees who stayed for all sessions, they heard many different views on some of the same topics. This was likely confusing to a group of digital signage neophytes.
- Catch the audience’s attention in a big way. In my view, the DS Zone had one problem. It was competing against a legacy message and environment that the attendees understood well. Digital signage was an anomaly – both in terms of its message and model. In the future, I believe it would be to our benefit to catch attendee attention with a large media wall playing a video describing our industry and the potential value to the attendees’ industry. Draw them in with one common message, and then introduce them to additional features, benefits and concepts.