Digital signage (electronic displays which tell us information), or digital out-of-home displays as they are also known, often grab our attention – deliberately so. When we (the kids and I) are sitting in the car waiting for mum we play the game “I Spy” which often, especially during the evening, incorporates the glowing informational signs and displays on show – many of these now include digital aspects. The kids are growing up with digital signage being a part of their everyday life.
We are getting used to being bombarded with this ubiquitous information which, as time progresses, is likely to evolve to a more personalized nature. Paper has, for a while now, employed personalization techniques – how many times have you received a color brochure with your name and company in the headline? You think they went to all this trouble just for you? Think on – but it grabbed your attention right?
Advertising and marketing companies are continually looking for ways to grab and maintain our attention and our desire to impulse to buy and they are increasingly turning their attention to new delivery mechanisms including more personalized, custom, information. What is the ultimate purpose? To get a sale of course – or rather to assist us making a purchase.
Brands rely on it – who remembers the old Halifax adverts that employed the idea of skywriting a large X – they were a pretty common sight on television when I was young. Now, whenever I see two jet streams crossed in the sky I am reminded of this particular bank. It works both ways. As we spend more time from home, in this faster moving world, we need to rely on information sources, including out-of-home advertising, and digital signage plays an important part. Digital signage can be updated faster, changed more often and made more relevant to us as a result. When I worked on my masters project one area I covered was the possibility of beaming information from roadside billboards to a Blue tooth enabled mobile phone – for later viewing, or better yet using narrow casting technology.
Only a few days ago the news was carrying a story about the new line of “point and find” enabled movie posters where you simply point your camera phone at a movie poster and useful information is returned. With the move to digital information and two way communication information, known as Marketing Metrics, can be obtained from us in many ways including:
In-store information kiosks RFID tags on the products we buy Biometrics including facial recognition systems Bluetooth push messaging Mobile marketing In-store loyalty cards Credit card purchasing Information Our web surfing activities This information, once collected and collated, can be used to target and engage us on a number of different levels to ensure it has opportunity for maximum impact. This is particularly important for building brand awareness in our brand driven generation. Information gained from these systems can stretch to indirect analysis including frequency of use, the life of a sale, and the reach of a product. The next generation of technology are likely to see much more focus placed on the collection and analysis of marketing metrics.
Behind the scenes digital signage requires an advanced physical infrastructure from power, data cables, screens and routing equipment to software applications and middleware. Sitting on top of digital signage hardware is usually a content management and playback system to ensure the right information is displayed at the right time.
New wireless technologies are emerging which can reach our electronic devices faster, and with more information than we can imagine. The future is bright for digital signage. And with our digital signage solution you get an amazing price and an incredible product that’s available for you today.
A new phase for Digital Signage
In each of these recent examples, one can see that communications media have followed a similar evolution from focusing on infrastructure through content to context. It is an interesting exercise to apply this perspective to digital signage, the newest mass communications medium, and use it as a guide for better implementations and strategy.
Although the use of video screens for consumer-facing information purposes has recently become pervasive, the actual digital signage industry has a long history that goes back to stock exchanges, call center queues and other less public uses. The early driver for the industry was hardware-focused, even evidenced by the industry's name, digital signage. The big players were the display manufacturers, and the barriers to entry were physical limitations of size, graphical performance, readability, reliability and particularly cost. As flat panel displays became more readily available, market growth was boosted by minimizing these previous barriers.
Sales were made on the promise of what might become available from the content side, and installations grew dramatically, especially in consumer-facing locations. Many networks targeted advertisers with the promise of a fourth screen to access specific demographic groups. Forward-thinking companies started embracing the cost advantages of digital signage versus printed menu boards, etc. and consumers began to appreciate and expect it Because the supply of original content was minimal, many sites began filling their displays with content from other media such as print, web and television. In many cases, this information was inappropriate; a digital signage message must be more concise than a 30 second television spot.
Many early digital signage networks were stuck in the same phase 2 limitations of the Internet. Just because you have content on a screen does not mean that anyone has to look at it. In order to make the content more inviting, many sites began augmenting their content by tapping into customized feeds from data providers for news and weather information. This was a good start towards providing greater value to the viewer but was still a very broad stroke and did not engage specific viewers with targeted messages.
Some network operators tried to develop multiple channels to segment content to viewers based on time of day (a practice known as "day parting") and location but this is still very course segmentation. The problem with phase 2 strategies is that they presume that people will watch what you push out regardless of relevance to them. Like the unidentified phone calls of Telephony's phase 2, if too much information is irrelevant viewers will soon tire of the displays and their effectiveness is ultimately compromised. That situation has now occurred with digital signage, creating a public backlash about the intrusiveness of ads or other information that is irrelevant to them which ultimately will dampen the rate of acceptance. Content creation and its management became such key phase 2 issues that many display providers are either partnering with software providers or dabbling in software development to provide 'solutions' rather than screens. They realize that the residual value is in the application of the hardware. This is the current state of the industry. But the industry like the telephone and internet, now finds itself entering a consumer centric phase 3.
Since no new communications medium exists in a vacuum, user experiences from existing media can impact expectations of new ones. As a result, viewers now expect context and control over messages - they get it from their DVRs, cell phones and internet access - and they will want it when they encounter digital messages in public. With digital signage, this puts a premium on attaching context to the messages so that they are more relevant to the viewer. Just like Caller ID with telephony and Google on the internet, context is the next big issue for the industry to resolve. And context is not one-dimensional - it can be environmental, geographic, ethnic or generational - and ultimately it becomes personal. This creates a mass communication paradox - signage owners want to reach a broad base of viewers, but the viewers want individualized messages.
So far, the phase 2 approach has been to address the issue by building playlists that are scheduled in advance and have some capability for localization. These are predominantly time-driven, not data driven, and are not capable of real-time adjustments. But there are new solutions just entering the market that provide context in content based on binding parameters to multiple data sources. These solutions make the information more relevant to the viewer and therefore more effective. For example, a sports arena can adjust menu choices automatically based on the combination of weather conditions, curfew considerations, event attendee demographics and internal inventory levels in order to optimize both the time a person spends making a decision and the resultant sales. This data might include input from the viewer through interactive displays, cameras or product identification devices such as RFID tags or bar codes.
A successful phase 3 implementation realizes that the content (format, emphasis and graphics) is enhanced by the context (data) to optimize the installation's usefulness. Without becoming too Orwellian, it is possible to use face recognition and other contextual data to dynamically change messages to suit a particular audience. The resultant dynamic playlist is created for a momentary audience and provides more relevance and therefore more valuable information. Most facial recognition installations today, use the information they gather to measure audience demographics for general content scheduling, they don't integrate the data into the playlist on the fly. Many network operators define their networks in course terms such as doctor's offices or department store checkout lines. A gas pump does not know the age, income or sex of the person who is filling up their car. The challenge and value of adopting a phase 3 approach to digital signage networks is the ability to aggregate demographic groups but it requires a shift from a content focus to a viewer experience.
This is not to paint what-if scenarios; rather it is to learn from previous technologies and make some considered predictions about digital signage. As the evidence suggests, the industry is already migrating away from a hardware-focus and even basic content to a need for intelligent content - contextual content that leverages the efficiency inherent in the technology. Companies considering the investment in a signage network need to think past the here-and-now of the installation and envision what improvements and efficiencies can come from putting intelligence into the equation.
By thinking of digital signage as a communications tool, it becomes easier to realize that there are many ways to extract value from an installation that transcends the display component. Placing intelligence at the point of display or POS allows users to capture relevant product data, customer interactions and other events that impact the marketplace environment. The feedback loop created from a contextually-empowered intelligent system provides a quicker ROI from direct and indirect sources. As previously seen, the transition from content to context is a natural phase in industrial evolution, so any company looking to upgrade their current signage situation now should acknowledge that fact and not restrict their current decisions to content-only display systems. Content might be king, but if you overlook the importance of a context-driven solution, then you most likely will paint yourself into a corner.