Blog: Frank Kenna 

Frank Kenna (bio)
President and CEO
The Marlin Company

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Is buying a digital signage system for your company on the to-do list for 2015? If so, here are three important items to consider.

1. Correct fit – You wouldn't buy a pair of jeans without trying them on, right? The same applies to digital signage. How do you try on a digital signage system? Get beyond the sales-and-marketing stage and ask for the names of companies that are using the system you're looking at, then talk to the actual administrative users. If you can't easily get a bunch of names, that's a huge red flag; keep looking.

2. Ease of use – Give some serious thought to who's going to use the digital signage system. Are they tech savvy? Do they know how to create content? Are they good with Photoshop, PowerPoint and scheduling software? If you answer "yes" to all these questions, then ease of use might not be quite as important to you. But if your company is like most others, the people who will use the digital signage include executive assistants, front desk personnel, HR managers, operation managers and c-suite execs; in other words, a mixed bag. Because their core skills are all over the map, you need to have a digital signage system that's very flexible and easy to use. And those users will likely change as people change jobs, so you want a system that takes the least training possible.

3. Objectives – This is by far your No. 1 consideration; that is, to make sure the system you buy will fulfill your (or your company's) objectives. That may sound obvious, but many buyers get entrenched in the technologies and features and lose sight of the all-important objectives. For example, if improving safety is a primary objective, then the system you buy should have ways to promote safe work practices, with safety-related templates and stock content.

While there are many other factors to consider, these three will get you 80 percent of the way there.

(Cover image courtesy of Andrew E. Larsen.)

Posted by: Admin AT 09:51 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 17 November 2014

I write a lot about digital signage content because that's what digital signage is all about — getting the right content in front of your employees. Here are three high-level questions to help you figure out how good your content is (or isn't).

1. How relevant is the content to your objectives? Many digital signage administrators starting out use lots of "eye candy," that free or low-cost content floating around on the Internet. Sure it looks nice, but does it actually help you communicate your objectives? No. What it does do is help drive readership (see point #3), but that should only be one ingredient for effective digital signage. Your issues and objectives should directly drive most of your content.

2. How easily can you create and display the content? Once you've identified what your important objectives are, who's going to develop the content? Someone needs to own it to make sure there's fresh, relevant material on a regular basis. These admins need software that's easy to use and lets them post content quickly. Or they can access turnkey but issue-related content.

3. Will people actually read it? If they don't, what's the point? For example, posting an Excel spreadsheet with dozens of rows and columns won't cut it. You need to pick an important piece of data and focus on that, perhaps by creating a chart illustrating the point. Make it applicable to their jobs: If they're on the factory floor, show them production metrics, not sales or profit numbers. And at least 25 percent of your content should be non-business stuff, such as news, sports, weather and trivia.

Answering these three questions will get you well on the way to an effective digital signage system that really works. Whether you're searching for digital signage or already have a system installed, a little thought about content creation goes a long way.

Posted by: Admin AT 02:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 01 October 2014

More and more of our customers are uploading video into their digital signage systems, because they're discovering it's a great way to communicate with employees. They're also discovering that some videos work better than others, and are wondering what the difference is.

To help figure this out, here are some tips for making great videos culled from my personal experience and a good article on the subject quoting editors from The Times (of London) and The Wall Street Journal.

1. Shorter is better. Just because you have a 15-minute video of your CEO talking doesn't mean you have to use all of it, or even most of it. For typical workplace digital signage, you've got your viewers' attention for about a minute or less, so you want to heavily edit that video down to the key points.

2. Tell a story. You want to include emotion, humor, action or insight. For example, compare a typical PowerPoint about a charitable company event to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos we've all seen. They have suspense, humor and action, all in less than a minute. Those are big reasons why they went viral so quickly.

3. Let your employees be the videographers. After all, most of them are wearing a video camera (a.k.a. a smartphone). Let them know you want their videos, and then use them. You'll be pleasantly surprised by their ideas and creativity. Of course their videos won't be professional or polished, which leads to my next point…

4. Don't worry if it's rough around the edges. In fact, you'll probably get better readership with videos that are a little shaky since they're perceived to be more real and authentic. Again, think of how many of those Ice Bucket Videos were taken with wobbly smartphones.

 And in my next blog I'll cover some of the technical things (editing, titles, sharing) you can do to make your videos even better!

Posted by: Admin AT 09:13 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Two of the most frequent questions we get from our customers are:

1. How many minutes should a piece of content run before going to the next one?

2. How many days should I leave it in rotation?

Here are the ways to figure both out.  To answer the first question start with the ‘read time.’ Assume the viewer will be right in front of the display when the piece starts running, then calculate how long it will take to read.  Read it out loud a couple of times to estimate this.  Then you have to add some time because viewers will not usually be just standing there; they’re walking by or not paying attention, starting to read the piece after it’s been up for a while. So for short pieces with a read time of less than 30 seconds, add a minute.  For longer pieces add more time, say an extra 2 minutes for a one-minute piece.  By the way, you shouldn’t post pieces with a read time of more than one minute. From our research (we produce thousands of pieces of workplace content every year), the ideal read time is no longer than 12 to 15 seconds.

An alternative approach is to use ‘billboard’ timing, which means to leave the piece up for a relatively long time, say 10 minutes.  Doing this ensures that everyone walking by during that interval will see it and be able to read the whole thing.  I like this one best for the hallway locations since most viewers are walking by and won’t read more than one piece anyway.  And it prevents the chance that a viewer will start reading when there’s only 5 seconds left and won’t be able to finish, which gets frustrating.  For areas where the viewers are seated, like a cafeteria, the read-time method is better.

To answer the second question, you want to leave the piece up for enough time for your average viewer to see it at least 4 times.  It has long been established that a person needs to see an ad or piece of content 4-5 times for maximum learning (see previous blog for the science).  Example:  You’ve got your display mounted near the main restrooms. The average person will visit about 4 times per day.  The quantity of content in rotation dictates how likely a person is to see it on any given visit.  While there are precise ways to calculate this on a spreadsheet, you can get close by estimating.  For example, let’s say you’re using billboard timing and running 4 pieces of content.  That means that, with 4 restroom trips a day, any given person will see each piece once that day.  Therefore you want to leave each piece in rotation at least 4 days to get the maximum retention.

If you don’t want to bother with all the calculations above, my down-and-dirty recommendation is to time each piece for 10 minutes, and leave it in rotation for a week.  If you have 5 or more pieces in rotation, leave them up for 2 weeks.  And of course be sure to schedule time-specific pieces, e.g., ‘Happy 4th of July,’ to expire on a timely basis.  Nothing makes digital signage look older than content that’s obviously expired.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:05 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 25 February 2014

I hope so, because according to the website, the Olympics’ closing ceremonies “received an 8.7/13 household rating with 15.1 million viewers. That is the lowest household rating for a Winter Olympic Games Closing Ceremony ever – dipping just below previous record holder of Torino 2006.”

The author didn’t mention the reason why the ratings were lousy, but I think I know why. With the average home having over 100 cable channels to choose from, DVR-recorded shows, access to Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO and similar services, smartphones, tablets and state of the art video games, I’m actually surprised the ratings weren’t worse.  

Your workplace digital signage has similar competition. Maybe not so much from cable TV and games, but think about what’s available on your employees tablets and smartphones. Anything and everything, and I’ll bet it’s more engaging than what’s on your screens. When you see them walking around, are they looking at your digital signage – or looking down at their phones?   

So what do you do about it? Start thinking about getting your workplace communications on the screens they’re looking at; their tablets and smartphones. While digital signage is still a viable communications medium, you need to be thinking about a strategy to get your content on their screens.  

In future blogs I’ll explore ways to do this and cover some of the issues involved.  

Posted by: Admin AT 10:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a tenuous connection but there really is something to it. Here's the story.

A couple of years ago on a fall Saturday, I was cleaning my garage and drinking a cup of coffee. I placed it on the windowsill ... and promptly forgot all about it.

That Monday, when backing out of the garage I looked over my shoulder, saw the cup and thought to myself, "I've got to remember to take that in tonight." Coming home that evening I didn't see the cup and completely forgot all about it.

On Tuesday morning the same thing happened, and once again I forgot all about it by that night.

This scenario repeated itself for the next few days until I stopped seeing the cup altogether. It wasn't until the following spring when I happened to be in the garage tuning up my lawnmower that I saw my cup again. Why did this happen?

It's the law of repetition. For example, in advertising once you've seen an ad three or four times, you just don't see it anymore (see my previous blog about "The Rule of Three") — and this is where it ties into digital signage.

You see, the same thing happens with content that you place into your digital signage. Once people view a piece three or four times, they don't see it anymore. And if you have a digital signage system full of old, tired content, then they'll start to ignore your digital signage system altogether. That's why it's so important to change your content on a regular basis. The previous blog I referenced has some guidelines for doing that.

There's nothing better than a great cup of coffee in the morning. Think of your digital signage content like that — keep it tasty and fresh.

Posted by: Admin AT 09:32 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The rule of 3

This is a question we are often asked by our customers.  On one hand, if you change the content too often or have too much in rotation at one time, little learning takes place.  Conversely, if items are left up too long – a very common problem – people will stop paying attention.  And once they do that, retraining them to pay attention can be a long slog.  

So while there are many considerations such as type of message, cycle speed and length of message, how new the concept is, how complex it is and how many frames of content are being displayed simultaneously, there is one primary rule of thumb.  That is the rule of three. This rule is one I often refer to because of its simplicity and basic logic.  And while it was devised decades ago, before DS was invented, the idea applies to 21st century messaging as well as it did back then.

What this rules says is that you want to adjust your digital signage (DS) content so that the average person walking by it will see any particular message at least three times.  

This basic theory was developed by Dr. Herbert Krugman at GE in the 1970s when he was studying the effects of attention and learning of GE's advertising.* He broke the three-exposure rule down to these three basic elements:

The first time a message is seen the viewer thinks, "What is it?" The first response is to try and understand the nature of the content stimulus.

The second time makes the viewer think, "What of it?" and "Ah ha, I've seen this before."  This completes the basic reaction to the message with understanding taking place.

The third exposure becomes the true reminder when the message sinks in.  By then the "sale" has taken place and your message has been understood and "bought" by the viewer.  

Equally as important to the third exposure is that it's also the beginning of disengagement and withdrawal of attention. In other words, it's time to take that piece of content out and replace it with something new.  Once a person has seen a message more than 4-5 times, any further learning comes to a halt, and the piece is just taking up space.

This simple rule of three can be applied to any DS system.  Whatever system you use, just make sure to adjust the content controls so it will stay up long enough to be viewed an average of three times - and not much more.  This will significantly increase the communication, learning and engagement between you and your viewers.  

* Herbert E. Krugman, "Why Three Exposures May be Enough," Journal of Advertising Research, (December, 1972), 11-14.

Posted by: Admin AT 06:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 23 October 2012

In my last two blogs I wrote about what the terms ‘social’ and ‘mobile’ mean within digital signage (DS) industry.  Today I’ll complete the social-mobile-local trilogy by focusing on the local aspects of workplace communication.
To get an idea of what local is and why it’s important, let’s take a step back and look at the reason managers want DS in the first place.  The primary reason that DS is installed is to influence minds and behavior, whether that means selling more soda pop or getting employees to work more safely.  In either case, the idea is to put messages in front of viewers that will get them to pay attention and buy into whatever they’re seeing.

What ‘local’ means today

For advertisers, ‘local’ means increasing the use of proximity-type marketing using techniques such as Bluetooth, geo-fencing and Near Field Communication to get customers engaged with a store, restaurant or product.  While those ideas will eventually matter in the workplace, for now the technology both on the employer and employee side is not there.  However, the concept of local is still very important.

For workplace communicators, local means posting content that matters to the viewer.  A typical problem for enterprise DS installations is that all the content is generated by an HQ location and distributed to all of the company locations.  Without a local manager or administrator being able to post content, these systems often amount to ‘Corporate-TV,’ which local employees soon learn to ignore because they feel there’s nothing in it for them.  So these companies can ironically end up with a multi-million-dollar digital signage system that looks fabulous but has no effectiveness.

This is where local comes in.  To make these systems effective, they must have some relevance and interest to the viewer (employee).  It’s very important that DS admins strategize on what that would mean for their company, and then come up with a regular implementation schedule to do audience targeted content.

Making the message personal

Local content can fall into two broad categories: information pertinent to the location in general or to the company and employees in particular.  Examples of the former are news feeds from the local newspaper or TV station, or an RSS feed from the local sports team.  For the latter, examples could include personnel items such as employee of the month, birthdays, etc.  Or they could be about local company information such as work schedules, production or safety metrics, blood drives and company events.

Managers often look at these local items as secondary or even ‘fluff.’  But ignoring local content will significantly lower readership of the DS, thereby crippling the ability of those same managers to get employees to read the corporate info—which was their reason for installing digital signage in the first place.
Posted by: Admin AT 01:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
In my last post, I addressed the first three items from my list of five things to look for when sourcing digital signage (DS). 
1. What are you trying to communicate?
2. What is the source?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Can you get permission to use it?
5. How does one get it into a format compatible with his DS system?

Today I’m going to address No.4.

Here’s the scenario: you’re looking for content for your DS system, and you find some great stuff after searching the Internet. You found it on a site that you trust. Just one problem; you don’t have permission to use it. Your options are to get the needed permission, or just go ahead and use it anyway.

Many people use the second option and get away with it. After all, what are the odds that the creators of that content are going to walk into your facility and see it? It’s like downloading bootleg music; many people do it and most get away with it. However, if your DS content is Internet accessible, be aware that some content producers are out there policing their copyrights. There was a landmark case a few years back where a woman posted a YouTube video of her son riding a plastic tricycle in the kitchen. In the background a song by Prince was playing on the radio. Although the woman had only posted the video for the amusement of her close relatives, the music publisher’s computers identified the song and notified YouTube that she was using it illegally.

Regardless, maybe you have an ethical problem with not getting permission (I do). Or you have your digital signage in many locations where the “wrong” people might see it. Or you have a legal department that insists everything be done correctly. If that’s the case, there ARE ways of getting the permissions needed.

While they may require a little extra time or money, it can be well worth it for peace of mind (not to mention avoiding legal problems). Here are three techniques:

"Contact Us"
If you found the information on a branded news site, then it’ll be fairly easy to find a point of contact on the "Contact Us" page. Look for someone from the editorial or legal departments. Once you make contact, it’s fairly easy to get a quick yes or no. The answer will often depend on what your purpose is. For example, if you’re asking to use it in a safety promotion at your workplace, you might get a "yes." Conversely, if you’re going to use it in a sweepstakes promotion at your 15 locations, you’ll probably get a "no." That’s because organizations are much less willing to let you use their content for anything having to do with you making money.

Contact "Him or Her"
If you found the content on someone’s personal site, you can try to contact that person. This is usually harder since many are one-man operations. And even if the person does call you back, he or she will probably not know how to grant you legal permission, or may have an inflated sense of how much it’s worth. All in all, probably not worth your time.

Go Shopping
Then there are the websites that sell content. These are the easiest to deal with, as they’re set up for online commerce and immediate purchase with a credit card. And here’s a tip: if you’re buying photos, or audio or video clips, buy the lowest resolution that you need. These sites tend to sell resolutions for both print and web, and the versions for web can be as much as half the cost of the high resolutions needed for print. (And those huge resolutions would just clog up your site anyway!) Then of course, you can buy made-for-DS content that’ll work right out of the box from companies like us.

So there are some strategies for sourcing content. Next time I’ll tackle No.5 on my list, getting content into the right format for you digital signage system.

Frank Kenna
The Marlin Company
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
In my last post, I started to discuss the question of where digital signage (DS) content can be found. At first glance it really does seem as though there is an unlimited supply of information on the Net, but when you really start to examine it, things get murky quickly.

Let’s start with a real-world example. If you’re looking for reliable news, you can count on the New York Times, Associated Press or The Wall Street Journal. Once you get away from those top tier publishers, it gets more questionable. For example, are you 100 percent certain about something you read in the supermarket tabloids? Maybe you think some are a little more reliable, some less. Some occasionally do break a “for-real” story, but then what about the ‘Obama-is-an-Alien’ stories? Doesn’t that taint all the other news? If you needed hard, reliable news you would probably steer clear of that neighborhood.

Sourcing workplace communications presents the same dilemma. There are the rock-solid sources, such as the American Red Cross or OSHA, but their content is most likely not in the right format for use on DS. And you don’t have permission to use it. Do you even need permission? Would they give it to you if asked? These are the types of considerations that make digital signage content sourcing get tedious very quickly. I know firsthand because we produce several hundred pieces of fresh, original content every month.

So what’s a manager looking for DS content to do? Start with a list of five basic considerations.

1. What is he trying to communicate?
2. What is the source?
3. Is the information accurate?
4. Can he get permission to use it?
5. How does he get it into a format compatible with his DS system?

Looking at the first consideration, he needs to start with the problem to be addressed. For example, maybe his company is having customer service issues, so he needs to try to modify his employees’ behavior when in contact with customers. He Google’s “excellent customer service” and gets the predictable 120,000,000 results. I just did the search, and here are the top five sources:

Recognize any of them? I don’t. Are you willing to use information from their websites? I’m not, and most likely our fictional manager isn’t either. Those websites may be great, but he just doesn’t know. He wouldn’t risk putting up unvetted content in front of his employees, and he again runs into the issue that he’d be lucky if any of them had DS-ready content.

Of course if he’s willing to spend the time and do the research, he will eventually find a reliable source, such as 7 tips for excellent customer service found on Microsoft’s site via the Google search above. He assumes the information is good, otherwise Microsoft wouldn’t have posted it, and I’d tend to agree.

So far I’ve addressed the first three points from the above list. Next time, I’ll tackle #4, getting permission to use content (or not!).
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 08:06 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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