Stepping into the world of digital signage can make even the most tech-savvy person feel like a kid in a toy store. The hot new items of the year are all anyone can talk about, but it is the fundamental pieces that support an installation, which must have the staying power to last for years to come.
Unique to considering a digital communications installation are not only the myriad hardware and software components, but also consideration of immediate and future applications, which require a strategy for content creation and management. This is why planning for all the building blocks of a digital signage network so essential.
Questions that you should ask when considering such an installation include:
- What are the objectives of this network?
- Will it exist internally or externally?
- What kind of staffing, electrical, maintenance, or other support will it need?
- What internal guides must be in place to assure that the network can scale?
That first question about setting objectives is very often overlooked. Too many times the process starts out as a desire for digital signage because it’s the latest and greatest thing. The objectives of the installation should be tied to the organization’s business objectives and clearly articulate what must be accomplished. Not only is this important to determine the system’s performance value (ROI/ROO), but these objectives will also determine what will be communicated on the system. During this process it is also important to define what success looks like. If those objectives are met, how is success defined?
Reality check – installing a digital communications system is relatively easy compared to the ongoing challenge of providing and refreshing its content. Whether the primary function relates to sales, or providing information or entertainment, someone is going to have to create that content now and in the future.
That is why, during the initial planning phase, it is imperative to develop a content strategy that reflects the objectives of the installation. What will the content look like? Who is the target audience (e.g., customers, employees, other stakeholders)? How often will the content need to be changed and refreshed? What internal process needs to be set up to require approvals in a timely fashion? Will an audio component be required? Does the content require dayparting or seasonal adaptation?
The objective of simply having digital signage can quickly grow to include many different functions. Not only do you need to define your objectives for digital signage, but also determine what other people in your organization will expect from the installation. It is important to identify those key stakeholders and outline their objectives as well because each will have a cost consequence and may require phased enhancements over time.
While outlining these objectives, try to consider future needs of the network. What would it take for conversion to touchscreen applications? Pay particular attention to what the network needs to accomplish now, but also what it might need to accomplish in the future and be mindful that the software platform choice will ensure that it is scalable. How do you see the network growing and how easily will the signage solution scale?
Once you have outlined your objectives the following questions will guide most of the decisions you make about your digital signage network. Trust me, you will be making a lot of decisions that will affect the life of the network for years to come.
- What hardware will be used for screens, media players, mounts and cables?
- Will the software be purchase or will it be software as a service (SAAS)?
- Will work be done in-house or outsourced?
- Who will manage the network from an IT perspective?
- Will a help desk be necessary?
- Who will create, program and schedule the content?
- Will new employees need to be hired for these positions?
- Is the sign in the optimal viewing location?
- Is your audience captive or passive?
- Are you trying to grab people’s attention?
- Does it need to communicate with a register system? (Watch for potential data security issues.)
- Who’s actually looking at the sign? (Should the budget include a camera with audience metrics software?)
- How often does the content need to change? Monthly? Daily? Hourly?
These are just some of the questions to consider. Well-defined objectives will help guide the process to the best answers.
Once all of these objectives have been outlined they will guide most of the decisions about your digital signage network. These decisions will affect the life of the network—and your life—for years to come.
To someone just starting out in digital signage, this can seem a little overwhelming, and it certainly can be. There is a lot to consider, but there are some ways to make this process run more smoothly.
If planning for large multi-location network deployments, it may be money well spent to hire a consultant to walk you through the process. Qualified consultants have the expertise you need because they’ve spent time helping to clean up existing network problems and know how to guide you through this process based on that experience. For larger or multi-location installations, piloting or testing the deployment in a few manageable locations is a must to ensure that any issues can be easily resolved before a massive rollout.
Hopefully, you will only go through this start-up process once, but you will learn a lot, and become an expert in your own right. Nevertheless, a consultant who has been through this process many times knows what questions to ask potential vendors and what questions to ask you. They can be invaluable in saving you time and money in potential missteps.
Another great resource is the Digital Signage Certified Experts Group (DSEG.org). This is a fantastic course that, in eight hours, will give you a great background in all the aspects of digital signage. This goes hand-in-hand with the Digital Signage Federation, (DSF) at www.digitalsignagefederation.org. This industry trade organization is a great resource and provides libraries of valid white papers and recorded webinars across many industry verticals. The wealth of information is really wonderful. The DSF is also a great way to network with your peers who are going through the same process, or have already been through it.
There are also many trade shows that you can attend to learn about digital signage, but the one that really stands out is the Digital Signage Expo. It provides a great learning experience that gives you the chance to see hardware and software systems in action and up close, and offers an immersive educational curriculum of courses on a variety of different topics in specific verticals. It is an experience that I highly recommend attending if you are new to the digital signage landscape – or if you want to stay up to date on what is happening in the digital signage industry.
If considering a digital signage network for your business, I offer the same advice that I give to my kids: Do your homework. It will only help you in the long run. I love digital signage and what it can do for your business. The proliferation of technologies is exciting and we are now just scratching the surface of where it can take us in the future.
Author Janna Rider, will be co-presenting Seminar 25 entitled, Crating a Digital Signage Network: Design, Management & Operations,” at Digital Signage Expo 2015 on Thursday, March 12 from 4:00-5:00pm at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about DSE or to register for this or any other educational seminar or workshop and learn about digital signage go to www.dse2015.com
About Janna Rider, Director of Digital Merchandising for American Dairy Queen Corporation.
Since 2010 Janna Rider has been managing American Dairy Queen Corporation’s foray into the digital menu board arena. During the past four years, she has directed the request for information (RFI), request for proposal (RFP) and implementation of the digital signage network. The DQ® digital signage network consists of approximately 525 screens in 400 locations. Janna along with her team manage both single-feature panels and full digital menu boards across multiple concepts in five countries.
Her team also manages content production for 500 exterior digital reader boards in the US and Canada. The program houses 24,000 images and coordinates about 4,000 images quarterly to support the DQ® marketing calendar in all the installed files sizes and formats. Not only is Janna the director of digital merchandising for American Dairy Queen Corporation, she is also responsible for brand and visual merchandising. She has held various visual and brand merchandising and prototype store development roles in her 16 years with the DQ system. Rider holds a BFA in graphic design from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. She has been involved in private and retail space design and implementation for 20 years. Her past experience includes exhibit fabrication and design, in addition to designing production and prototype molds for hard products and retail signage for companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, and Rain Forest Café.