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What makes for great digital signage content?

Digital signage is rapidly becoming a mainstay of marketing strategies and budgets for many organizations. With technology becoming more sophisticated and less expensive, it is inching closer to achieving equal importance to traditional advertising and marketing vehicles such as TV spots, newspaper placements and direct mailings. Consequently, companies, great and small, have a great opportunity to get a leg up on their competition by making their content more compelling. The obvious question then is, “How do companies make this happen?”

There are several elements that go into producing striking digital signage, but the most important is making it relevant to your audience.

“We start with the content at the beginning of our discussions with any client – ‘what do you want the screen to do, what do you want to say to your customers?’ It really comes down to who are you trying to talk to and what’s the message you’re trying to get across,” explains Tom Perchinsky, CEO of Adek Corp, a digital signage systems integrator and content developer in Annapolis, Md.

For example, a chain store such as Wal-Mart can put digital signage boards in the tools and hardware section of their store and run advertisements from makers of power drills or post information about specials on nails or hammers.

“That kind of scenario illustrates the power of bringing the message closer to the level of the sale – hit them in the store, and they’re in a position to act on that message,” said David Wilkens, president & CEO of VertigoXmedia, Montreal.

You can even cut out a portion of a national digital signage campaign for regional marketing managers to insert content relevant to their local customer base. For instance, a car commercial can have a listing of local dealerships running across the bottom of the screen.

Relevant content can also be informational and not strictly a sales tool. Government agencies are using digital signage for patrons to access forms and instructions in lieu of waiting on long lines.

“A big part of servicing people is helping them reduce their perceived wait time. It’s frequently not a pleasant process – waiting, that is,” said Jonathan Holmes, marketing manager for digital signage at Sony Electronics, Park Ridge, N.J.

The next element of quality content is the artistic value of the presentation. Is the display eye-catching? Does it stand out in its surroundings? The increasing sophistication of digital signage technology is boosting this element appreciably, so much so that it is standard to have broadcast quality in your signs.

“Broadcast quality is really the expectation,” said Joel St. Denis, InfoCaster product manager for Inscriber, Waterloo, Ont.

With the proliferation of LCD and plasma screens and high-definition TVs, picture quality is crisper than ever. Moreover, the ability to deliver full-motion video allows for a greater level of creativity.

“You have to entertain. The days of static banners and tabletops are fading,” said Perchinsky. “Customers are tough. You will lose if they see a high-end display at a competing retailer that sits right next to your basic boring one. Within budget, you’ve got to go high-end [with your display technology].”

Ottawa International Airport recently unveiled a 9x12 Panasonic LED display in its arrivals terminal featuring 18 hours of fresh daily news content provided by a dedicated editorial group from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“It’s the first thing you see,” said Bill Atkinson, CBC’s executive director of business development, who headed up the Ottawa Airport signage project. “If you go to the airport and are waiting for your bags, you just see people standing there staring at that screen – it’s really captivating.”

Still, it’s important to have substance with dramatic style. “Content really is the driver,” Atkinson emphasized. Ease-of-layout is also a key factor in determining the aesthetic quality of the display. Interactive touch-screens should be intuitive, while each element should be placed so that it flows with the rest of the display – i.e. a clock should be displayed in the lower corner where it is out of the way but accessible at any time.

Another critical aspect of content is timing. Unlike newspaper ads, billboards, and even TV spots, digital signage can (and should) be refreshed and altered quickly. St. Denis stresses that advertisers need to “maintain constant high-speed connection to the file server. That way, corporations can schedule what they want to play and make changes as necessary.”

News feeds, sports and weather updates are common in airports and other transportation venues. With travelers often away from their computers and TVs during long days of traveling, they’re eager for information that is up-to-date.

“Our news segment is typically seven minutes – the business report takes a couple of minutes, sports a few minutes, entertainment a few and so on. This information is being updated continually so that it’s always current information you’re seeing,” said Atkinson of the Ottawa airport news cycle.

“Simply looping video on plasma screens and LCDs, a common practice at many airports, is not dynamic digital signage,” adds Perchinsky.

Taken together, the acceleration of digital signage quality will come as content providers excel in this area. Eventually, rich, dynamic, and highly tailored content on digital signage will be the norm once the technology is mastered.

“That recent Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, shows advertising that targets each individual consumer as they pass by the signage. That’s the extreme, but I can see it going that way,” said St. Denis.

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