The Digital Signage Insider

More digital signage perspectives: praise and criticism for the industry

Published on: 0000-00-00

Our friends in the UK are once again voicing their opinions about the state of digital signs in the retail world. In the past two weeks I've come across two articles that articulate the same views - positive and negative - about the current benefits and challenges of narrowcasting into retail environments.

Well, to be more specific, the articles (this one from BIOS Magazine and this one from The Retail Bulletin) mostly focus on the shortcomings found in many current generation networks. Distilling down Ed Silvester's article, the industry is reportedly plagued with four main issues: ineffective advertisements, irrelevant content, poorly situated screens and malfunctioning equipment. For the most part, I'd have to agree with this assessment - and I'm willing to bet that a good number of digital signage network owners and operators feel the same way. But I think we'd also agree that great strides have been made over the past few years to combat these problems, and subsequently, to bring retail digital advertising networks to the forefront of in-store marketing. Looking at the author's points in more detail:

Ineffective ads: Always keep the nature of the medium in mind

As Silvester notes, many signage network operators simply take existing television advertisements and run them on their in-store screens. While consumer product manufacturers and their ad agencies certainly expend a lot of time, money and energy creating ads that build brand equity and stick in the heads of many TV watchers, these TV ads don't always translate well into digital sign ads. TV ads typically rely on both visual and auditory messaging to get a point across. Digital signage networks don't always have the luxury of audio (and when they do, they must compete with other ambient noise), so messages have to be visually striking, sometimes even supplemented by text captions. Plus, most TV spots are 30 seconds long. You'd be lucky to get half of that dwell time from an in-store shopper, and in reality, even a quarter of that (7-8 seconds) is optimistic. And last but certainly not least, digital signs are placed at the point of purchase to encourage an immediate sale using a direct call to action. TV ads are typically designed to keep the brand name in the consumer's mind, building brand recognition and recall for a later shopping trip.

Irrelevant content: Make sure your audience has a reason to watch

Irrelevant content is one of those things that really bothers me, because there's no excuse for it. If your network is comprised solely of 15 or 30-second spots running in a loop, that's fine, as long as it suits your business needs. If you create longer segments (e.g. 30-60 minutes) sponsored by or featuring a specific advertiser, that's fine too. However, recycling old boring content onto digital signs won't make it any more interesting than it was before. Likewise, creating new content that doesn't entice the viewer into watching will harm the performance of your network.

While I haven't seen any research on the subject yet, I'd also like to know if partitioning the screen off into multiple zones and showing things like local news and weather information actually impacts viewership of the networks -- and whether viewers who are attracted by non-advertising content are likely to remember the ads that accompany this info. And what about text tickers? Do they really improve sign performance in a production environment, or do they just make for a good demo?

Poorly situated screens: Digital displays should fit naturally within the retail environment

I think that a lot of the energy that went into deploying some of the early digital signage networks simply went towards making the systems function. Nowadays, with packaged hardware and software solutions taking much of the complexity out of that part of the job, more attention needs to be focused on the placement of the screens. As we have seen with traditional POP displays, these solutions work best when situated near the products that they advertise. Of course, any one digital display can show ads for multiple products, so determining ideal placement isn't always a cut-and-dry decision. But the availability of high resolution screens in sizes from 8" to 100" means that screens can be situated where they make good merchandising sense, with less regard for the physical space restrictions that hampered older networks. Wired and wireless video distribution technologies make it easy to have multiple screen sizes within each venue, tailored to the specific needs of each department. Screen height is another important consideration -- we've all seen digital signs placed so high in the store that customers simply walk right under them without noticing the content. As a general rule, the higher you place a screen, the larger the screen and your text need to be in order to maintain strong readability and impact. Dynamic sign operators should work with store planners and merchandising experts to pick installation locations that work with the layout of the store. Somebody probably put a lot of thought into where all of those aisles and free-standing displays are situated... do yourself a favor and talk to them :)

Malfunctioning equipment: Understand points of failure and limit their impact

Both the hardware and software aspects of digital signage have come a long way over the past several years. As commodity computer components have gotten ever faster, there are more options for keeping systems cool and stable. High availability features like fluid bearing drives and ECC RAM that were previously only available to enterprise customers have now found their way into digital signage servers and players. Software solutions have grown from content authoring tools and network monitoring services into complex suites of applications for maximizing the performance of a digital signage network. And as Nigel Rix notes in his article, we can expect even greater things as retailers integrate their digital signage software with their inventory, EPOS and resource management packages. But for all of the great technological advances in our industry, there's still no way to prevent somebody from accidentally or intentionally pulling out a power or network plug, rendering your high-tech displays useless. I don't know if there will ever be a satisfying solution to this problem, but diligent proactive monitoring and ongoing employee education (as to the importance of the network) can help minimize downtime arising from purely technical issues.

All told, we've seen major changes in the quality and sophistication of today's digital signage networks versus those from just a few years ago, but there is still room for improvement. While we're always happy to read the latest article on the next big thing in digital retailing, we need a good, thoughtful critique every once in a while to keep us moving down the path of progress.

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