Who responded to the survey?
When the survey closed at the end of May, we had collected 145 results. This is a large enough number to draw conclusions from, but still smaller than I had hoped for. About half of the responses came from inside the US. The other half came from abroad, lead by Canada, the UK and the Czech Republic. Lots of people selectively answered the questions, choosing to leave out some of the open-ended ones (which was expected). But as you'll see, the long form questions provided some very interesting insights that we might have missed if we had limited the survey to simple Yes/No or A/B/C/D questions. Respondents were a good mix of people, with the bulk still being either digital signage vendors or network owners/operators. However, content providers and agencies made strong showings as well:
|Digital signage services company (hardware, software, services, consulting)||38.7%|
|Digital signage network operator||19.4%|
|Content production company||9.7%|
|Venue owner (retailer, hospital, bank, etc.)||2.4%|
What's the biggest challenge facing digital signage right now?
To me, the most surprising and illustrative responses came from the very first question: "What do you think is the biggest challenge behind buying/selling digital signage today?" When I've asked this question in the past, the answer has invariably been "it costs too much." But today's digital signage experts think differently:
|Too hard to explain the value||34%|
|Requires too much cooperation between different disciplines/departments/people||27.7%|
|Still too expensive||18.4%|
|Too hard to keep the signs "fresh" with new content||8.5%|
|Too technically complicated||4.3%|
The most popular write-in option was the difficulty of determining ROI. In my opinion, this is the same as "too hard to explain the value". Maybe I should have said "too hard to quantify the value" instead. Regardless, the key takeaway here is that while the cost of implementing digital signage has plummeted in recent years, as an industry we still have a hard time answering the question "but what does it do?" That's a big problem, since more and more screens are being deployed every day (fueled by hype and decreasing prices). That means that more and more screens will be missing their targets (in terms of ROI or other metrics) and probably getting hung up on the same problems that we've been facing for a decade or more now.
I was also pleased (though not surprised) to see the answer "Requires too much cooperation between different disciplines/departments/people" make such a strong showing. This indicates that digital signage has moved out of its old domain of merely being someone's pet project (without proper organizational support) or getting classified as an IT-specific initiative (without involving other departments). It also gives credence to the idea that more mid-size and larger companies are working on digital signage projects. While we've seen plenty of anecdotal evidence of this, it's the kind of "feeling" that's very hard to get real data about.
Who's doing it right and who's doing it wrong?
When it comes to doing it right, retailers lead the way -- nearly a third of respondents indicated that the retail vertical is doing a good job using digital signage. They were followed by travel/transportation hubs (22%), hospitality (17%) and banking/finance (13%). When asked why, most respondents indicated that these types of venues simply lend themselves well to digital signs, and also noted that most of the time, the content running on such screens was reasonably useful or valuable. On the other hand, about a quarter of respondents said that these places simply "had the most screens," so there's probably some psychological chicken-and-egg going on with the responses. In other words, viewers see the most screens in certain types of sites, so perhaps they assume the screens in those venues must be doing well and are delivering value to other viewers.
I'd love to say that those venues selected as doing the worst with digital signage were entirely different than the list above, but the truth is somewhat muddied. In fact, 25% of respondents indicated that the retail sector was doing the worst! Government/public service and education come in a distant second and third, with 15% and 13% disapproval ratings, respectively. I think we're probably seeing that adverse selection problem again: there are simply so many retail screens out there that a good number of them (though not necessarily a big percentage) are bad, which leaves a significant imprint on the viewing public. Likewise, many people may spend more time in retail environments than in government buildings or schools, thus giving them more exposure to retail screens, and thus more opportunity to mentally critique them. The reasons for these bad screens run the gamut. 31% say the messages they show don't add any value to the environment. 18% say the content gets repetitive and/or annoying. Another 18% say the messages aren't on-target with the screens' audiences. And 17% say there are frequently issues with screen placement.
What's the best digital signage installation you've seen?
I was happy to see so many people fill in a response to the question "What's the best digital signage installation that you've seen?" Nearly 100 people answered, and aside from a few self-serving responses, there was a clear trend: people like digital signage in travel/transit venues. Several people cited the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the London tube, and numerous airports as locations where they had seen great digital signage. I think it's easy to understand why this might be: these venues have a real need for automatically updating their signage, and visitors to these locations are already trained to look for it. When I'm at an airport, I need to see gate and time information. Likewise at a train or bus station, I want to know when and where my transportation is going to arrive. Viewers are already looking at these screens, and the screens are providing them with real, relevant and valuable information. Toss in a little news and weather and it's even more useful. Mix in some targeted advertising and suddenly you have screens that are genuinely valuable and placed in areas where people are already seeking them out, which is a great deal for all the parties involved -- including the viewers. That's a hard combination to beat.
How can we act on this newfound information?
That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? Let's start with a few key takeaways. First, no matter which market segment you're in, enough people seem to think that there's plenty of room for you to improve. You may only have to win over your particular set of viewers when managing your own network. But when you're out selling new networks and clients, you'll also need to show how much better you are compared to their general perception of a digital signage network. This industry has now existed long enough for people -- important people holding the purse strings, no less -- to form preconceived notions about digital signs. Often, that's a bad thing. Your work needs to be good enough to change that. Second, the above question about the 'best' digital signage installations really highlights the need for utility. Making screens relevant doesn't necessarily mean making the content brighter or prettier (though it can help). Rather, it means providing viewers with the information they already know they want, not just the info you hope they had never thought about before. If you can figure out what your viewers genuinely already want to see on the screen, and put it there in combination with the rest of your content program, you'll go a long way towards winning them over.
What do you think of the survey results? Are the 'best' digital signs really in the travel/transit sector? Have you seen an amazing project that you'd like to tell us about? Leave a comment below and let us know!