The presence of dynamic digital media hit its highest point among static sign and digital graphics providers during the 2014 International Sign Association (ISA) Expo held in Orlando April 23-26, 2014. The ISA is a 2,300-member trade association of sign providers that employs or directly impacts over 250,000 American workers and represent over $49 billion in annual revenues. The ISA Expo is the largest gathering of sign providers with over 17,000 delegates and about 500 exhibitors.
Since first offering education related to digital signage six years ago, the event this year offered more than 42 separate educational sessions in the ISA EXPO “Dynamic Signage Education Day,” on a show floor stage and in sessions offered in a co-located showcase offered by Almo. The Dynamic Digital Park on the show floor was 38% larger than in 2013, and included the range of hardware, software and services required by static sign companies to offer digital signage.
Research findings released by ISA in advance of the Expo noted that the number one issue impacting sign companies offering digital signage is "technology selection,” reflecting that 63% of sign companies are confused about technology selection. “How to” education related to technology configuration, content creation and selling the medium profitably were aimed at de-mystifying digital signage while exhibitors such as Capital Networks, Insteo, Kramer and many others were ready with products and answers to fuel sign company success.
Mark O’Connor of Roland said it well during an in-booth session, reflecting that “Sign shops should not have to go back to school or get a degree to make digital signage available.”
impulseGUIDE used ISA Expo 2014 to unveil its digital signage offering for static sign providers, which includes several patent pending innovations related to content management approaches. As a Buffalo, NY sign provider serving the food services, retail, hospitality and consumer services sectors, the impulseGuide system is “content-focused” which offers recurring, high margin revenues to sign providers wishing to offer dynamic signage while leveraging and advancing their capabilities in this additional area of their services portfolio.
Frank C. Pusateri said “The impulseGUIDE solution has been designed for sign providers looking for profitability through system sales, ongoing content creation, customer retention/upsell and improved prospecting for other lines of print and graphics. Digital signage makes a value addition to the sign shop portfolio” while cautioning sign shops to offer a solution that can be easily scaled in terms of network size and the addition of content that improves customer outcomes through better audience targeting, dayparting, templates and infotainment.
“Gamification” is growing as an everyday promotional approach and the digital signage system must be able to use this methodology.”
As the ISA Expo was in process, FASTSIGNS® International released an expanded section of their website focused on digital signage www.fastsigns.com/digital-signs). Drue Townsend, Senior Vice President of Marketing said, “This content is very educational for prospective digital sign buyers, and it shows our capabilities regarding planning programs, developing and managing content and integrating digital signage into an overall mix of other marketing materials, décor and general marketing programs. As the franchisor,we provide internal training and marketing support to prepare our 545 locations in 8 countries to be able to offer a wide range of solutions to meet the needs of businesses and organizations of all sizes”.
Distributors can play a valuable role in the sourcing of dynamic signage by sign providers since they are one point of supply for flat panels, hardware, software and other services, many of which appear to be quite similar in function and value.
Synnex, a distributor of static sign, digital graphics and dynamic signage products has suggested that sign shops should be looking at providing a complete solution that includes the display, content management software, media player, mount and in particular initial and ongoing content. Each of Synnex, Almo, N. Glantz, ND Graphics, Ingram Micro or other sign and digital graphics distributors have in-house staff that can assist sign providers with configuring solutions that can meet end user requirements, or they can connect sign companies with representatives of companies whose products and services they distribute.
Static sign and digital graphics providers are well suited to providing end users with dynamic digital signage, as has been reflected in numerous articles by Sign and Digital Graphics magazine in the past six years. These companies intrinsically understand short form messaging and the location-based sign requirements of end-users. Many of these firms have been providing outdoor electronic message boards and integrating dynamic signage into their proposals for campuses, healthcare and consumer service establishments for many years. They are aware that end-users are increasing their use of dynamic signage, in part due to its use by their competitors.
The recurring advice offered in many ISA Expo presentations can be summarized with these 3 points:
- START, by learning what digital signage can deliver for end users. Use digital signage as an extension of your current portfolio of offerings to serve existing customers and prospect for new ones, since many of these may already be investigating or shopping for this medium. Offer a system that is suited to ongoing and growing needs. Note that every dynamic signage installation requires content.
- Focus on providing “content creation” services since, once the technology system is in place, it is “content” that delivers the communications value. The need for content is ongoing “Think of the system as the razor and the content as the blades” said Pusateri.
- “Partner with or sub-contract to an experienced audio/visual or information technology integrator if you are not comfortable with the technology element” advised Mike White of Multi-media Solutions, which has delivered digital signage for more than 10 years to a wide range of end users.
Sign providers that are considering their offer of digital signage systems and/or services commonly ask some questions. The following offer insights by Lyle Bunn, reflecting and adding to an ISA Expo session titled “How to Sell Dynamic Digital Signage.”
Where is the profit in projects?
Profit always comes from serving needs. Where digital signage is concerned profitable revenues are primarily derived from technologies (i.e. supply of hardware, software, installation and operational services) and content. Since content requirements are ongoing, content services such as playlist strategy and administration, and the composition of individual message spots offers the largest and ongoing profits.
Are there areas of supply not currently well served or that are emerging?
Many small and medium-size businesses do not know who to go to for digital signage, yet this investment can offer high value in terms of sales lift, business branding, improved ambiance at the location and the reduction of perceived waiting times by patrons. Food services, consumer services and staff/visitor communication are under-served by larger digital signage suppliers and trusted sign providers are well suited to offering digital signage as a part of their portfolio. Dynamic signage for staff or visitor communications, which can include video walls in lobby or storefront are increasingly popular because they communicate while adding to the vitality and positive energy of a location, even to the point of enabling artistic expression of a brand.
How much preparing is needed to get to revenues?
Two elements are necessary. Every supplier needs to know what it is supplying and for digital signage, they need to recommend technologies that are suited to the requirement. There is plenty of information available for the” how to” elements. Examples include websites such as www.LyleBunn.com/RESOURCES and the FASTSIGNS and impulseGuide sites noted in this article.
The technology element is easily satisfied in sourcing from a distributor such as Synnex, N. Glantz, Almo, Ingram Micro, ND Graphics or others, which have assessed available technology elements and can offer a specific all-inclusive proposal that can best suit the end-user requirements.
When would partnering make sense and get me there faster?
Partnering or subcontracting makes sense when additional required skills are required. The sign shop may wish to partner, for example, with an audiovisual or technology integrator to provide hardware, software and installation or with media composers such as Web design freelancers or companies related to content elements. The key is that the sign shop be positioned as the primary an ongoing provider.
Where would revenues be exposed to unworthy effort i.e. What is not worth doing?
Sign companies should be cautious in investing undo amounts of time in training a customer or prospect about the benefits and processes related to digital signage. During the process they should reasonably expect that the end-user will answer key questions such as what benefits do you want to realize, how might it physically be placed within the environment and who, if anyone might be involved in contributing the benefits achievement. Sign companies should also be cautious about responding to Requests for Proposal unless they have unique insights and a service record to the requesting end-user. RFP evaluations can become very subjective in the complexity of comparing one solution to another on an “apples to apples” basis.
How can the risk of loosing profits best be managed?
The greater your productivity in sales and supply efforts, the greater your management of risk will be. The two go hand-in-hand. Supply processes and expectations should be defined as clearly as possible, as is the case with other communication services.
Is the effort and investment related to digital signage really worth the rewards?
In the situation where sign companies can add digital signage as an offering in an existing, trusted supply relationship, the addition of digital signage makes very good sense not just as a sales and revenue instrument, but as a way of protecting an existing account from those who may offer digital signage and leverage this into the offer of other sign and communication services.
What is the opportunity cost of waiting just a little longer for things to mature?
Digital signage has been maturing for 20 years and has really accelerated in its stability over the past 10 years. Technologies have become highly reliable and cost-effective, while at the same time end-users are seeing the use of digital signage by their competitors and many other businesses. More end-users are installing digital signage every day as a way to maximize the benefits of their communication investment. Asked yourself this… How would you feel if in going into a customer location you saw that they had installed digital signage that they had sourced from one of your competitors? Would you begrudge not having enjoyed the revenues and profit that comes with the technology supply in the ongoing licensing of digital signage software? As noted previously, a good supply opportunity still exists in providing new and fresh content, and the way in which content gets results.
How do I proceed from a technology standpoint? There are two approaches, both of which are valid and even complimentary. One approach is to use an inexpensive media player and software combination to deliver basic digital signage for an early customer with a relatively simple requirement. This will allow you, as the sign shop provider to familiarize yourself with the medium and better understand the level of supply that makes most sense for your firm. Recognize that in many cases, a more functional and cost-effective system may be required to assure the best value to the end user and supply profitability. The sign provider can start simple and “move up” to more functionality, or, as has been found by many sign shops, can start with a more enabling infrastructure and then focus on maximizing the benefits from its use. While “starting” is the key it is of greater importance at times to start with the “finish” in mind. Choose a solution that meets longer term needs because dynamic signage is typically in place for a four to seven year period once installed.
Static signs are not going away, so plan to integrate digital signage into existing communications approaches to maximize the investment and benefits in customer, patron, visitor, traveler, staff and student communications.
Lyle Bunn is an analyst, advisor and educator in North America’s digital signage industry. He was named one of the 50 innovators and influencers by Sign and Digital graphics magazine, and one of the 11 Most Influential People by DigitalSignageToday.com in 2013. He has published over 280 articles and whitepapers, assisted over 300 end user organizations and helped to train over 10,000 professionals to benefit from digital signage. [email protected]