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  |  
Tuesday, 13 January 2015

First, let's start off with my 2014 predictions and see how I did.

I said:

  •     New embedded computers and 4k displays would be insignificant. Check.
  •     Many more companies would realize they need digital workplace communications. OK, that was a no-brainer, but check.
  •     More c-suite execs would start the search for workplace digital signage, as opposed to operational folks instituting it and trying to get the concept to bubble up. We certainly saw that — check.
  •     There would be a continued evolution of digital signage to mobile, e.g., iPads and smartphones. I was a little ahead on that one I think, but still believe it, so I'll make that a push to my 2015 predictions.

That was pretty much it for specific predictions, so giving myself partial credit for that last one, I get an 85-percent correct rating.  I love being able to grade my own tests…

Now on to the 2015 predictions:

1. Connection of company data to their digital signage will become very important. Yes, this could just be KPIs, financial data and the like, but I think it'll go deeper than that. Simple stuff like work schedules, price lists and cafeteria menus exist in company databases today, but most digital signage systems require the user to go find it, convert it, then send to the digital signage. There's got to be an easier way, and companies will start looking for that way in 2015.

2. Communications will have to be instant, or at least much faster. The schedule-driven metaphor that most digital signage systems use takes too long to get the message in circulation and too long to take it down. In an age of more than 5,000 tweets per second, waiting to get a piece of content on the digital signage and then having it drone on for days is getting old.

3. Hyper-local messaging will start to happen. I don't think anyone other than industry geeks like me will call it that, but managers will want their messaging to get to their employees wherever they are, whether they have email, smartphones, desktops computers – or not. This is a real challenge, but those managers are experiencing advertising everywhere. If national brands can do it with their sodas and sneakers, managers will want to know why they can't do it with their safety and teamwork messaging.

4. Managers will look for ways to get more and faster feedback from their employees. With all the smartphone and tablet apps floating around, and online discussion forums and interactive TV becoming commonplace, it makes sense that managers will want to get information from their people in real time. This means that employees will need a way to get the requests and respond to them digitally, and whatever system is being used will need to summarize the findings as they arrive.

5. This last item is what we won't see: The list includes 4K TVs, beacons, NFC, and 3D and curved displays. If you don't know what some of those items are, you're proving my point.  Most other people don't either, meaning the technology is still too early for the workplace.

While technology gallops along, the typical corporate communicator is behind the technology curve, and really, always has been. And that's as it should be. The bleeding edge of technology is fine for the early adopters and gadget geeks, but shouldn't be designed into workplace products until they are well understood and technologically rock solid. The iPad is a good example of this. Last year was when we first saw our customers asking for tablet-based communications products; the iPad was announced almost exactly five years ago, in January 2010.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:09 pm   |  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, 10 June 2014

What's the difference?

If you’re a manager looking to improve communications within your company, you may think that pretty much any digital signage (DS) will get the job done. And it probably will work.  

Sort of.

That’s because DS can be used – very effectively – for workplace communications, but it can also be used for many other things. For example, these days DS is widely used in restaurants for menu boards, in airports for flight schedules, and in retail stores to display sales and special promotions. You might think that one well-designed DS system would be effective at all of these applications, but you’d be wrong.

Think about it: don’t you want the product you buy to be designed for your particlular application? Take vehicles as an example. Let’s say you run a health care company and you need to transport patients from one facility to another on a regular basis. Would you buy a panel, or maybe a pickup truck? They would work… but of course you wouldn’t do that. You’d buy an ambulance. In other words, you’d get a product that was specifically designed for the task at hand.

Or take something as prosaic as tape. We all have a roll of Scotch tape hanging around, and it works great for wrapping birthday presents, sealing envelopes and the like. But if you were painting you kitchen you wouldn’t use it to keep paint off the molding. Or if you cut your finger, you wouldn’t use it for holding on a bandage. While it would technically work in either case, masking and adhesive tape work much, much better.  

A workplace communication DS requirement is no different; you should find a system that is specifically designed for your task. Yes, you could get a system designed for retail advertising to work eventually, but why do that when there are products specifically designed for exactly what you’re trying to do?

It’s all about the software and content, not the hardware. It’s a common mistake to go out shopping for the hardware first and think about the actual functioning part later. If you’re in the market for workplace DS, do yourself a favor and find a product that was designed from the ground up to help you achieve your communication objectives.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:54 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I’ve often blogged about why you shouldn’t do it yourself when implementing a digital signage system, for example in this blog about how much more expensive DIY is, or this piece for CIO Review Magazine advising not to “try this at home.”

And here’s another, perhaps simpler, way to think about it.  Ask yourself these questions:

Does your company do its own payroll, instead of outsourcing to companies like ADP or Paychex?

Does your company audit its own books?

Do employees in your company fill up the vending machines each night?

Does your company landscape its own grounds, empty the trash and vacuum the carpets each night?

Chances are, the answer to most or all of these questions is no.  Why?  Because it’s much more effective to hire a company that does only that particular function, is efficient at it and knows what they’re doing.  Doing this allows your company to avoid the learning curve, expense and mistakes that come along with trying to do any of them in-house.

So why would you try to implement a digital signage system on your own?  What I typically hear is that a company thinks it’ll be cheaper to DIY, or they have IT people who can do it in their “spare time,” or they know their needs and network better than any outside vendor could.  These types of objections also apply to the examples I listed above but obviously have been overcome over time.

I think that you’ll eventually come to the realization that using a professional provider of digital signage also makes sense.  If you’re looking to set up digital signage for your company, you owe it to yourself to consider using one.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  
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  |  
Thursday, 06 February 2014

Let me tell you about what you won’t read in this blog: numbered or bulleted lists breathlessly exclaiming about the newest embedded computer or 4k screen.  Sure, I guess both of those will be factors this year, but insignificant ones.  They’re evolutionary at best.  

The biggest trend I see is companies finally realizing that they need to have some sort of digital communications strategy and that in many cases it includes workplace digital signage.(DS).  Why?  Because “billboards” – whether corkboards or LCD screens – are  still a great way to get information in front of employees walking around the premises.  Probably always will be.  

In 2013 we saw a lot of larger companies finally getting some direction from the C-suite that a digital workplace communication strategy was needed.  This trend will accelerate throughout 2014 and into 2015.  Really, how can it not?  As the cost of hardware continues to decrease, the value proposition for digital signage is getting better and better.

Another trend in 2014 is the what I’ll call the ‘normalization’ of DS.  By this I mean two things; the decline of gimmicks and the increase of true value.  3-D & 4k screens, gesture control, video projection onto unusual surfaces are all pretty cool the first time you see them, but is there any added value in using them?  Not really.  In fact, the content generation costs involved with any of them are prohibitive.  What companies really want is to get their important messages spread throughout the organization.  Period.  It’s all about ease of use, content and reach.  

The last trend I’ll mention is the continued evolution of DS to mobile.  This one is really tricky for several reasons.  First is that DS systems are paid for by a company, but many/most mobile devices are paid for by the user.  That limits the amount of software that a company can reasonable expect a user to download.  It also causes the issue of supporting numerous versions of iOS, Android and Windows Phone.  And data security on non-corporate devices is problematic.

Second is the completely different user interface between DS and mobile.  Finding a DS system that also works well on mobile is a real challenge.  In fact, I haven’t seen a good one so far.  So will 2014 be the year that we see this happen?  Maybe, but one thing I know is that everyone is trying to figure it out.  

With all this technology available to our industry, change is the one certain prediction for 2014.  And I’ll reiterate is this: if you’re looking for a workplace DS system for your organization, don’t try to figure it out yourself.  Find a reputable company that knows what it’s doing and leave the heavy lifting to them.  

Posted by: Admin AT 09:06 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, 03 January 2012
"Feeding the beast" refers to the insatiable content appetite of a digital signage (DS) system that's on 24/7. At first, many new users assume they'll have plenty of content to post in their DS system, but soon find out the constant need for more can be a ball and chain keeping them from doing more important work.  

If you're thinking about starting up your own digital signage system, the amount of content you'll need is an important consideration.  
Here’s a simple formula we developed which will help you get a good idea how much content you'll need:
Content Formula: (C/A) x B = D
A.  # of pieces rotating = 6
B.  # of days in month = 22
C.  # of days exposure = 5
D.  # of pieces per month = 18.3
In this example there are six pieces of content rotating at any given time, content changes only on business days (i.e., Mon – Fri), and each piece stays in rotation for five days. Based on this, 18 pieces of fresh digital signage content are needed per month. 
This also assumes that your DS will display only one piece of content at a time. However, if your screen has two frames, double the final number (D); if three frames, triple it, etc. That’s a lot of content, especially if you want to make it specific to your organization as opposed to generic web news or entertainment feeds.  
For our customers, we produce about 44 pieces of fresh, animated content per month, based on two content panels, and then they can decide how much of their own to add. We base this on the above formula, the amount of times a person needs to see an image before it sinks in, and the amount of time, per showing, that the image will be displayed.   
The main objective with this, and any DS system, is to always make it engaging for the viewer ... whether you have time to administer it or not. Because when viewers start realizing that you have lame or repetitive content on your system, the readership will rapidly drop off. And once that happens, it's difficult to get them back.  
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 04 April 2011
Creating digital signage content in the workplace that actually does the job.

Ok, I think we’ve all got it by now; digital signage in the workplace is almost worthless without a steady diet of content. It might be internal, i.e., company-generated material, or external feeds such as news, weather and sports to draw readership. But whatever it’s going to be, it needs to reach a certain quality threshold if it’s to be effective, engaging and legal.

So what is content? A great explanation by columnist Timothy Rutten recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Rutten mapped out an interesting relationship between information, journalism and content. “Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. [What many websites] actually provide is ‘content,’ which is what journalism becomes when it’s adulterated into a mere commodity,” said Rutten.

Unfortunately, many owners of digital signage systems actually mean journalism when they say content. That is, they’re looking for information that will help them do their job better, whether that means managing people or selling products. Just sourcing content doesn’t cut it, since that term covers such huge territory.

When people say they’re looking for content, they first need to define what it means to them. For example, let’s examine what a company safety manager might need to do. He’s charged with providing a safe workplace for his employees, and needs to get information in front of them that’s relevant to the potential dangers they face daily. That’s his definition. So to find content that’ll work, he needs to list what those dangers are, and then source information that will be relevant, which will turn out to be his content.

He might start with the National Safety Council, as they are a well-known and trusted source. But they only have limited materials which aren’t in the correct format for his DS system. So either he has to convert it to the right format, or look elsewhere. That could mean moving down the ladder to the less well-known sources and less reliable information. The problem now begins to get murky. Who or what are these other sources? What are their motivations for providing this content? How are they getting paid for it?

These are important questions that I will explore in my next post.

Frank Kenna III
The Marlin Company
Posted by: Frank Kenna AT 11:22 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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