With the Internet of Things (IoT) — the network of devices with an internet connection in addition to traditional PCs and smartphones — in full swing, one of the fastest-growing technologies is something you see every day yet may never have truly considered: digital signage. A subset of electronic signage, digital signage can be defined as any screen that digitally displays any type of content or information.
If that seems broad, it is. Digital signage is an all-encompassing term that can mean anything that brings together certain components with the end goal of displaying content for the end user to either interact with or consume. Compared to, say, neon lights, the same set of digital signage equipment might be used for any number of purposes.
To help demystify the concept, this comprehensive guide will explore some of the applications of digital signage as well as how you can set up your own digital signage network.
The reason you see digital signage everywhere is that it’s become increasingly practical as technology continues to advance. You can use it to display any manner of static information, recorded video, streaming content, or anything else you might imagine. There are countless benefits to digital signage, but the following are among the most important due to their broad applicability and relevance for most companies.
As the saying goes, “Time is money.” Designing content for traditional displays is only the first step. After that, the content still needs to be printed, the old displays need to be removed, and the new ones need to be put in their place.
With electronic displays, however, putting them up is so simple that it hardly counts as a step at all. If your digital signage solution is set up properly, you’ll only need to press a button to update all applicable displays at once. What’s more, this scales tremendously with the size of an organization.
For example, a national chain with many standard-sized displays that serve a certain purpose can update them all from a central location. Such a move not only helps individual stores by allowing them to direct employees to other tasks, but it also helps the corporation keep messaging uniform across many locations.
In terms of content, digital signage displays have (at least) one massive advantage over traditional displays: motion. Our eyes are attracted to motion, and digital signage takes full advantage of this feature.
Think about it: If you walk into a store and see a large poster on the wall, you may glance at it for a moment, but you’ll probably go on about your business. If that same poster is a digital sign, however, you’re likely to pause a bit longer to see what it says, especially if there’s an accompanying soundtrack — another thing traditional signs just can’t do.
And while it’s important that digital signs work to draw the eyeballs, the whole idea takes on a new light when you realize that an attractive display can entice passers-by into a store that they may never have otherwise entered.
Shoppers seem to prefer to help themselves via digital displays as much as possible, especially those who happen to be more technologically savvy. Interactive displays placed strategically throughout stores can help provide easy access to answers to frequently asked questions, wayfinding, and even item availability.
Even better, digital signs near checkout areas that show engaging content can help put customers at ease during longer wait times. One study showed that long checkout lines were the most frustrating part of shopping for 69% of customers. In the same study, 84% of those surveyed reported that video content on digital displays helped pass the time more quickly.
You can also take advantage of digital real estate in high-traffic areas to earn extra money for your business by selling advertising space to friendly, third-party companies.
These might be brands that you offer in a store or businesses with complementary products and services. Keep in mind, however, that's it's important to respect your customers by resisting the temptation to inundate them with advertisements, and by only showing those that you think will be relevant to them. A few ads won’t hurt, but too many can degrade the experience.
Now that we’ve explored some of the main benefits of digital signage, let’s discuss how to set up a suite of solutions. At their core, comprehensive digital signage solutions include four key elements: hardware, software, content, and a network.
Without exception, digital signage requires some sort of display — a screen, a projector, or even a hologram — that will depend on the desired usage. Some types of signage are simply not appropriate for some situations. Handheld displays would be just as impractical in a football stadium as a Jumbotron would be in a coffee shop.
Whatever the case, the display should be finely attuned to the environment to provide for the best possible user experience. One important consideration along these lines is that you’ll want to make sure to use commercial-grade devices, which are built for continuous operation, allow for a higher level of brightness, and are less prone to dead pixels and frozen images. Another is that you'll want to consider how your device will be housed, whether it be on a stand, mounted on the wall, or in some sort of proprietary display case.
In addition, you’ll need a media player — the device that stores or streams content onto the display. Some devices, such as smart TVs and tablets, can function as both a display and a media player. If you find that neither of these works for your purposes, the devices in question should have ports that work well together, such as HDMI or DisplayPort. If you’re going to use a high-definition external display, it’s also a good idea to make sure that the media player is capable of making the most of your display.
Finally, you’ll need some sort of network connectivity (more on this later) for updates and display changes. Many devices are equipped with wireless antennas or ethernet ports, but for those that aren’t, you’ll likely need an adapter.
With your hardware in place, you’ll need the software that allows you to run the show. Minimally, this will look like some kind of publishing platform, but it might also include or work alongside an application that facilitates content creation.
Some digital signage providers, such as ScreenScape, provide devices that serve as media players while connecting your devices to their media manager application.
All of this is nothing without engaging content. It's important to know your audience and be aware of the goals of your digital signage. It’s unlikely that a digital road sign, for example, would show the same content as a tableside touch-screen device in a restaurant.
Your content should take into account modern design best practices, accessibility, and placement. Consider taking a look at one of the many helpful guides to aid you in things like choosing the font size, layout, and color scheme.
While you could technically use digital signage without it, network connectivity is where everything comes together. Remote, cloud-based digital signage offers the benefits of digital signage without having to physically move things around whenever you want to make a change. Because signs of all kinds are often in places that are difficult to reach, such as high on walls or suspended from the ceiling in retail stores, or even way up on poles in the case of electronic road signs, changing your content remotely can also help prevent injury.
Further, having your digital signage connected to a network allows for monitoring and analytics that would otherwise be impossible. If something disables one of your displays, you can set up your software to send a notification that alerts you to the problem and allows you to quickly work to find a solution.
In the case of devices that are used on a more personal basis, you might fit them with a camera hooked up to eye-tracking software to help you identify what parts of the screen draw the most attention regularly. If you have several interactive displays, you might keep track of which ones tend to draw more attention and which ones are easily overlooked. The use of smart digital signage in this way can help you to optimize your content and positioning, provide a better experience, and make more sales.
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