No more low-hanging fruit
Digital signs are everywhere. As it turns out, that's a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it has been a long time (relatively speaking) since I've had trouble helping someone understand what we do. On the other hand, much of the "easy" expansion into just about every significant vertical market is done, which means that finding additional growth requires going deeper, developing new killer applications, and getting in touch with people who either haven't thought about digital signage for their business, or who don't understand the potential benefits of it yet. The former demands meaningful analyses of all the different markets and the development of end-to-end applications with clear ROI potential that can be easily explained to current market members. The latter requires the equivalent of mass-market B2B advertising -- something that isn't a slam dunk even for blue chip companies like IBM and Oracle. Either way, as an industry we're probably approaching an inflection point where the effort required to reach the audience of current non-users is significantly greater than what was required to reach them in the past.
The answer to a question that nobody asked
Image credit: Colin Kinner on Flickr
So in a very real sense, we could turn out to be victims of our own success, with the early mediocre installations taking mindshare and poisoning future deals with their average-ness. We saw this very thing happen with interactive kiosks in the early 2000s, and it was years before you could bring up a kiosk project to a CEO without him calling security to have you dragged out (or worse).
Crossing over into the mainstream
Is there a solution? Unfortunately, I don't think there's a single magic bullet that solves this problem. But for starters, when pitching a new client it's essential that you use only the best examples to showcase what the client might be able to do. I like to keep photos of top-shelf installations and short reels of the best content on hand and organized by the type of application. Are you thinking about a DOOH advertising network? Then check out these amazing, well-placed screens running this highly-focused advertising content. Doing an employee-facing safety or training network? Take a look at this tight, 2-minute loop of clips. Saying "well, you could do this or that is no longer sufficient. Strong arguments have to be made early and backed up with data, either hard (e.g. "this improved sales of our widget by 30%", or "on-floor accidents decreased 25%") or soft (the aforementioned pretty pictures of great installations and effective content).
As for "educating the base", I've seen a handful of magazine ads from big LCD screen vendors who are trying to push digital signage. But that's not going to cut it. More likely, educating the base will continue to be a grassroots effort, largely carried on by the thousands of pro AV and IT consultants who serve smaller clients. Without these feet on the street, I just can't think of any practical way to reach so many businesses and individuals in so many diverse markets (logistically and geographically). For the most part, these guys are opportunistic and will happily work on any digital signage project they happen to come across, but additional education and incentives would probably make them more effective industry missionaries. InfoComm (and to a lesser extent, CEDIA) have finally started making digital signage a more pronounced part of their focus, but more could certainly be done.
Maybe this is the new low hanging fruit...
Where will future growth come from? Creating brand-new networks or expanding on existing ones? And who will do the lion's share of buying? Big companies or mom-and-pops? Leave a comment and let us know!