The Digital Signage Insider

Nike's Pat Hellberg says: Let's fix our digital signage content

Published on: 0000-00-00

I've been on something of a content kick lately, researching everything from production techniques to performance characteristics for all sorts of in-store media (both static and digital). Last week's article touched on this, looking at what TV and print can teach us about making effective digital signage ads. But while my focus has been on the design and execution of a solid content strategy, Nike's Pat Hellberg wrote me a few days ago with a related problem on his mind: what exactly is content in the first place? Apparently, while walking the floor at the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) last month, he got the impression that as an industry, we're still too focused on the technology of getting content to the screen -- and not focused enough on what that content should be. But rather than try and put words in his mouth, I'll let Pat do the talking:
I was looking forward to attending the Digital Signage Expo in Chicago last month. It would be a great opportunity to take the temperature of the industry, ogle the latest technical gadgets, and gossip about the prospect of Google's involvement (let's admit it, we're all intrigued/wary of it).

While the delegates walked the show floor, Terry Scannell worked it. A digital signage consultant, Terry was preparing an article for aka.tv, an industry website. Part of his process was interviewing attendees about what they saw, what they heard and what they thought. The show had expanded, but the size remained quite manageable, and two days proved to be more than adequate to check out the new toys, chat with vendors and colleagues, and draw conclusions about the Expo and the business overall.

On day two, Terry asked me for impressions. I had the same take as the rest of the crowd regarding Google: disappointed that they didn't touch the subject of digital signage but fascinated by the uniquely-Google spin on innovation. About the latest, greatest gear on the show floor and the industry overall, again, I think I spoke for the majority in saying that we saw assorted cool stuff and felt a degree of energy and buzz. Extraordinary breakthroughs? No. Encouraging progress? Yes.

Then we started talking about content.

And that's when I opened my big mouth.

At these shows it always seems like the hardware looks great, but the content on the displays is mediocre at best. The phrase, "content is king" has been used and abused to the point where it doesn't mean anything anymore. With my second cup of coffee kicking in, I vented my frustrations about the state of content in the digital signage world and said "stock tickers and weather reports aren't content" which Terry jumped on like a bloodhound on a t-bone. He included that quote in his report.

First, the apologies: to Accuweather and any and all companies who provide weather and stock ticker information.

No offense intended.
It is content.
News you can use.
We all want to know if it's going to rain or if we're making money.
So it is content.
But in some cases, it comes off like a crutch.

Every out-of-home digital network shares one thing in common: we have screens. Lots of screens. Screens that are on 10 to 12 to 14 hours a day.

Fill them, we must.

But let's have a show of hands: Who among us is consistently filling those screens with specific, targeted, strategic messaging that promotes our brands, our products or our services?

Don't know about you but my hand is not up.

That "right message at the right time in the right place" ideal is unrelenting. At Nike, we struggle with it every day. Do we ever default to content that's not quite ideal but is "better than a blank screen"? Who hasn't?

That's where we have to get better as an industry. We have to get beyond "defaulting" on the content side. It is truly surprising to hear from suppliers who claim to sell everything needed for a digital signage network to retailers who have given no thought to a sustainable content strategy. Why are retailers rushing into deploying networks? "Because everyone else is" seems to be the standard answer.

Here's an idea: let's plant a bunch of nice, expensive trees but not bother feeding or watering them. Know what will happen? They'll look good for a while. Then they'll die.

I think we can all agree that the digital signage business has cleared an early life cycle hurdle. It isn't going away, it's on its feet. But it's still wobbling back and forth, and it needs to take the next step forward to maintain momentum and credibility.

It needs a boost, and that boost won't come from a new and improved media player, touch screen or network management tool. It will come in the form of new and improved content. Everyone keeps talking about the medium's great "potential," but a lot of people really don't appreciate what we're capable of yet. Having the power, through digital signage, to inform, entertain and engage the consumer within arms reach of the product? Are you kidding? The potential is staggering.

But the industry has to close the loop. Content and technology must be treated as equals, receiving the same focus, attention and support. We have to give our customers a reason to watch. We have to give our networks a reason to be. If we come close to that, digital signage will begin to reach its potential. The payoff will be huge. And maybe then I won't have to apologize for opening my big mouth anymore.
I don't know about you, but I don't think Pat has anything to apologize for. As much as the need for good content is hyped, I still encounter digital signage networks -- even in experience-oriented venues -- running stale, unimaginative and generally unremarkable content. I think the biggest culprit for this is not properly understanding the magnitude of the commitment that needs to be made, and the lack of availability of ongoing content creation funds in the budget. Fortunately, these issues can be addressed with some planning, and that's something we're going to focus on in upcoming articles. By the way, if you'd like to learn why this topic matters to Pat Hellberg's team at Nike, check out our article on measuring the value of in-store media.

For now, I'll leave the big question to you: what are the biggest content related challenges facing the industry today? How would you solve them? Send your comments to feedback at wirespring dot com, or simply reply to the regular blog email if you're a subscriber.


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