With digital signage networks playing an increasingly important role in public places, content acquisition should be the top priority for digital signage operators.
Digital signage networks are cropping up in all sorts of new locations: corporate lobbies, airports, banks, sporting arenas, and a wide variety of other public spaces. While these signage networks are frequently used to display vital information, they're much more than just the digital version of a bulletin board or billboard.
Because virtually everyone is accustomed to watching TV, today's audiences expect the look-and-feel and even the content of digital signage to be as sophisticated as television. Viewer loyalty is earned with dynamic content that is informative, compelling, and frequently updated. It should come as no surprise, then, that content should be one of the top considerations for a digital signage operator.
When developing a signage network, it's easy for the operator to focus on the tangible nuts and bolts: the number and types of screens that will be used, the signage platform that will sit at the heart of it, and so on.
But because digital signage platforms support varying types of content, operators should place their priority on deciding what type of content they'll air.
Each digital signage technology has its strengths and weaknesses in developing and deploying content, so an evaluation of the network's content needs - before making a commitment to one system or another - can be pivotal to the network's success.
Because digital signage is a new concept to many, the task of developing content for a network may seem daunting. It helps to start with an exploration of what exactly "content" is. Ultimately, content defines a brand. Content encapsulates everything from the key elements of a graphics template to video clips, audio tracks, and live data feeds.
A digital signage network is fundamentally a marketing tool that supports a brand, but that doesn't mean its content should be limited solely to advertising. An ad-only network runs the risk of customer tune-out, just like with traditional TV where viewers often leave the room or change channels during commercial breaks. Non-ad content gives viewers value and a reason to watch the network.
When considering content development, it may help to consider whether the network should include:
• tickers, with data pulled automatically from news feeds or the wire;
• independent data feeds that highlight company news, promotions or activities in the community;
• a heavy load of video (which requires additional bandwidth);
• syndicated programming (which requires rights management).
Content can come from a variety of sources, so it's best to start with an appraisal of any existing marketing communications and advertising.
Communicating closely with other company departments, partners, or vendors about any available materials and their guidelines for use can save time and broaden the type of content deployed. It may even be possible to reformat existing assets like video clips, images, website content, and print advertising.
Broadcast graphics, revisited
Knowing that digital signage viewers are expecting an experience much like television, it makes sense to apply some valuable lessons already learned in the world of broadcast graphics design. Both television and digital signage use the power of visual elements to communicate, and both focus content on a targeted audience.
The differences between the two are obvious: while television can potentially retain an audience for hours, the location of digital signage in public places typically ensures that viewers will watch signage for mere minutes.
The length of this "dwell time" affects the type of content that should be aired; signage networks with longer dwell times (as would be the case with a customer at a hair salon, for example) require content that more closely mimics TV.
The first lesson that broadcast television can provide is that great content wins viewership, especially content that is exclusive or unique. The key here is to select a digital signage solution that allows the operator to update content quickly - or, better yet, automatically, with the inclusion of live data feeds (such as weather, news or stocks).
Digital signage platforms that are based on graphics templates are ideal, since they remove many of the hurdles of content development. Live data feeds keep content fresh with little effort. Easy-to-use tools such as these are vital in ensuring that operators keep content updated; without new content, viewership wanes.
Building a brand identity
The second principle of content learned through the evolution of television is the significance of a consistent, strong brand identity. This identity creates an identifiable, unique network, ensuring that the network has a different look and feel - and thus value - from that of a competitor. This identity is achieved with recognizable graphics, music, and programming.
It's important to evaluate the goals of the network as they relate to the company on the whole, and to set specific objectives. Perhaps of greatest importance in establishing a brand identity is an acute understanding of the network's place in the industry and its audience. It's crucial to find out as much as possible about who the viewers will be and what their interests are.
Knowing the audience allows the network operator to provide greater value and extend dwell times. Content that would work well for a doctor's waiting room, for example, will have a very different pace and attitude from what airs on a digital signage system at a gym or airport.
Establishing a strong brand identity requires the signage operator to fully produce and program the network. This necessitates a sense of flow and commonality between the graphics elements and programming.
While this involves the use of correct fonts, colors, and logos, it also speaks to the tone of the messaging. An inconsistent mix of content from a variety of genres, styles, and tempos will annoy viewers and reduce the network's attractiveness to advertisers, who want targeted audiences.
Creating a consistent look is simplified with a template-based network. Some digital signage platforms, such as X2O Media's Xpresenter software suite, are based on "smart templates" that provide a highly professional look with built-in production logic that enables streamlined loading and updating of content. Access to professional design and creative services also can play a significant role in maintaining a unique brand identity.
Creative ways to incorporate ads
Broadcast television has one final lesson for digital signage: creative ad placement. Broadcasters are very skilled at selling advertising in unique ways that reinforce their content. Digital signage operators can borrow from this strategy to produce new revenue streams beyond traditional ads.
For example, the operator could consider selling logo or product placements, programming sponsorships, cross-promotions with another network or vendor, or even complementary advertisements that target viewers while enhancing the network brand.
A network in a sporting goods store, for instance, can run school sports scores sponsored by a local merchant. The same network can run third-party ads for sports beverages, clothing retailers, nutritional supplements, and more.
It can promote community activities such as a charity run or local athlete tribute. All of these "advertistements" bring in additional revenue while also solidifying the retailer's place in the community.
When the network expands its advertising to incorporate the surrounding community, a digital signage platform that allows for remote management can be crucial. Web-based tools allow virtually anyone who is given proper security to update and maintain content.
Selecting a technology solution that enables remote management will make collaboration between a company's divisions, colleagues, or immediate community easier than ever.
This is why it's wise to select a digital signage platform that has more functionality than is anticipated in the short term.
By reviewing the various types of content a network is likely to deploy and the technology solutions robust enough to support them, the operator can ensure that the technology will expand along with the network's requirements - without the need for costly new equipment.
Vern Freedlander is vice president of Production for X2O Media.