June 2012 Question of the Month

July 11, 2012

"What do you think the top reasons are that digital signage projects fail? Would it be due to a limited budget, lack of content, inexperienced project managers, etc.? Please explain. Also, how can those pitfalls be avoided?"

Answers:

Phil Cohen, Care Media Holdings Corp.

Having launched five networks, I understand the complexities involved, not only in coordination of people and components, but, more importantly, ha

Randy Dearborn, MGM Resorts International

Two biggest issue are one: no plan of attack, people think you just hang them on a wall and turn them on which is why people need to fully understa

Peter Vrettas, EDR Media, LLC

On the surface, there are a myriad of reasons why a digital signage network might fail, including insufficient content, turf and manpower issues, a

Ralph Schorbach, Fairplex

What do you think the top reasons are that digital signage projects fail?

Margot Myers, Platt Retail Institute

There are so many potential pitfalls in deploying digital signage projects that the fainthearted might not even be willing to make the attempt.  Bu

Loren Goldfarb, Everwell/MediVista Media

There are probably as many reasons for failure as there are types of digital signage networks.   Because our network is ad supported I'll focus on

Dan Alpern, Alpern Media

One top reason that digital signage projects fail is due to a lack of consistently updated content made for digital signage.

Adrian Weidmann, StoreStream Metrics

Designing and implementing a digital signage network has many moving components and in order for the network to maintain its viability over time re

Dave Matera, OOH Pitch, Inc.

From the point of view of an advertiser, we will address Advertising-supported Digital Place-Based Networks. 

Lawrence Chang, Calgary Telus Convention Centre

The top reasons for a digital signage project to fail is similar to most other projects – in order to complete a project successfully, you must be

Jonathan Brawn, Brawn Consulting

The main reason I see digital signage systems fail, is improper planning.

Allen Marks, Marks Consulting

The number one reason "any" project can fail is "lack of Management  commitment"!  Once the requirements are defined and agreed to, Management Must

Gary Halpin, Agency 225

All of the above (limited budget, lack of content, inexperienced project managers) can play a role in why a network can fail.  Add to the list the

Lyle Bunn, BUNN Co.

Success or failure of a digital signage project is defined by the value, or the return on investment that the initiative delivers.

David W. Saleme, Columbus Regional Airport Authority

A critical reason why a digital signage project might fail is a tendency to treat the installation of digital signage like any other construction p

Daniel Wilkins, N2

I think in most cases the reason why digital signage projects fail is due to lack of experience.  From the outside looking in, digital signage proj

Robert (Bob) Stowe, Wendy's International

End users become very excited over the prospects of digital signage usage in their retail environments, and want to be on the technological cutting

Chet Patel, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

I feel that these projects fail because they didn’t attend DSE 2012. 

Bryan Meszaros, OpenEye

It's easy to point the finger at a variety of issues, from limited budget to lack of ownership and on to the network infrastructure.

Patricia Mitrano, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center

A project that tries to address diverse audiences with broad content. As consumers, are used to targeted marketing and quick directed messages.

Philip M. Cohen

President/CEO
Care Media Holdings Corp.

Having launched five networks, I understand the complexities involved, not only in coordination of people and components, but, more importantly, having a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the network and how ROI/success will be measured.  An experienced marketing team will work with a creative team to plan content FIRST.  Failures usually occur when people get wrapped up in the excitement of the hardware and software technologies and content is left as an afterthought.  Successful networks captivate and engage the audience in order to send a message.  Only the content has the ability to do all three.  Critical planning and a content strategy must be the main focus.  The strategy will guide your team to the right software and hardware solutions for your network.  Formula for success -- Set goals; think content; select software and hardware.

Randy Dearborn

VP Multimedia at Guest Technology
MGM Resorts International

Two biggest issue are one: no plan of attack, people think you just hang them on a wall and turn them on which is why people need to fully understand reason number two: understand there are three separate elements - hardware, software and content. Know what your area expertise is and leave the other components to the experts in those fields.

Peter Vrettas

CEO
EDR Media, LLC

On the surface, there are a myriad of reasons why a digital signage network might fail, including insufficient content, turf and manpower issues, and inappropriate hardware or software.  But these factors are relatively easy to identify and potentially simple to fix. The deeper reason for failure is strategic:  the inability to identify a primary goal for the network, and consistently manage to meet that goal.  So the first key to success is identifying that singular primary goal, whether it’s sales lift, revenue generation, or a better customer experience. Set realistic expectations. Your signage network is probably not going to raise your sales by double digits or generate advertising millions in its first six months. And make sure you select the metrics that match your goal.  The second key to success is aligning your content. Depending on your primary goal, the messaging mix of promotions, vendor spots and brand imagery will change accordingly. Third, know your audience-- both physically and psychologically. What do they want? What do they expect? How fast can they read? How far can they see? All these human factors can and will change as they move from place to place throughout your environment.  Finally, practice scalability. It generally makes sense to start small, test, and modify to ensure success. 

Ralph Schorbach

IT Manager
Fairplex

What do you think the top reasons are that digital signage projects fail?

Digital signage projects fail for many reasons, the two major ones are expectations and lack of understanding/communications.

  • Expectations: The who, what, when and who will manage it, the “keeper”.  In today’s busy schedule, complete ownership of the project is a must.
  • Communications:  When is the last time someone drew out plans for a Digital Signage release having every screen drawn out, text mapped and schedule recreated??  Enough said. What mostly happens, upfront designs are weak (conceptual ideas) without everyone’s input or design and changes are never ending.

Would it be due to a limited budget, lack of content, inexperienced project managers, etc.? Please explain. Also, how can those pitfalls be avoided?

To answer this question, a broader stroke explanation to cover these topics will need to be addressed.

Budget is usually approved up front with maintenance costs, but what will typically hit, is the cost for additional design and programming that isn’t part of the scope or when expectations aren’t not met.  Many expect the system to “sing and dance” without completely conveying the expectations up front or trying to “get-in” at a lower cost with vendors.  The standard, “that isn’t what I wanted, but didn’t tell anyone” excuse and “I don’t have time”,  just won’t work on a project that is so visual as Digital Signage.  As much pain as it is upfront it will be 10x that afterwards and implemented. Really spend the time to get a small (very small team) to discuss the complete functionality and needs design.  Then to go the tech team for hardware and software selection.  Bring the vendor in with design layouts and proof of ideas and how it will all come together.  Most vendors will help design to sell the package, remember once you sign, everything is additional cost.

That leads to content or lack of…this can be a major issue.  Is the Digital Signage expected to continually attract attention, or menu board or simple way finding/directional? Way finding may not need as much WOW, but you get a REAL captive audience for 10 seconds to allow for time for the WOW and pitch them.  Really focus on WHO is going to be the real keeper of the system and manage it long term.  They will have the vested interest in getting start right and keeping it that way.  They may not be very creative, so keep some contacts in Marketing or the Creative team handy to help with input and content design.  Remember you always have to give them a picture to work with.  A blank canvas can be hard to work with.

Inexperienced managers is relative to the phase of the project; a creative type would be great for content and day to day updates, but may not be suitable for Digital Signage software and hardware selection.  The truth could be reverse for a “techie”.  The team leader should have enough understanding to have resources from a collective pool of staff to cover all aspects, some before implementation, other during and day-to-day maintenance and updates.  Really the manager should be one that can manage…anything. They will keep the project rolling and get the resources required.

Margot Myers

Director, Global Marketing & Communications
Platt Retail Institute

There are so many potential pitfalls in deploying digital signage projects that the fainthearted might not even be willing to make the attempt.  But for those with the courage to proceed, these are some of the key considerations:

1. Purpose:  A project needs clear objectives and consensus among key stakeholders of just what it is supposed to accomplish. It also needs one person with overall responsibility for the project, with a supportive team representing the various departments (IT, HR, Operations, Sales, etc.) that are impacted by the project.
2. Budget:  Every project has unforeseen expenses and there needs to be enough flexibility in the budget to handle those costs. 
3. Content:  Digital signage needs constant care and feeding. This requires both sufficient budget to produce fresh content and careful attention to playlist creation.
4. Maintenance:  Once screens are hung and media players are connected, they can’t be ignored. Depending on the environment (dusty, outdoors, temperature swings, etc.), scheduled preventative maintenance at regular intervals helps to avoid the dreaded black screen.
5. Measurement:  In most companies, there will be senior managers with limited imagination who will only respond to tangible benefits of a digital signage project.  Did it raise more revenue?  Did it get us new customers?  Did it change customer behavior?  To satisfy those who don’t share your passion and vision for the project, both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies provide the answers to these questions.

Finally, at least in large organizations, projects need a champion at a sufficiently high management level to ensure that the project manager is able to address the key considerations listed above.

Loren Goldfarb

COO
Everwell/MediVista Media

There are probably as many reasons for failure as there are types of digital signage networks.   Because our network is ad supported I'll focus on digital out-of-home networks.   The "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach pervades our industry and is a primary reason for failure.   An entreprenuer sees an opportunity in a location where consumers congregate and believes advertisers will see it too.   The new network begins with just enough capital to roll out a few dozen or hundred screens; the continued operation of those screens and growth of the network depend on early adopter advertisers who see the "potential" in this new network.     After a year or so, the business has little to no luck securing clients, the cash runs out and the screens go dark.   The failures don't always follow this path, but many have gone down the same or similar road.   The two biggest issues are a lack of understanding of the dynamics of ad sales in DOOH and poor capital planning.    A friend and industry veteran likes to say that you shouldn't drill that first hole in the wall to hang your first screen unless you have a very good plan for monetizing your network.   To that I would add: make sure you have enough cash to survive when sales don't materialize on your schedule.

Dan Alpern

Marketing Director
Alpern Media

One top reason that digital signage projects fail is due to a lack of consistently updated content made for digital signage. Too often I see projects with great fanfare and attention at launch, but poor follow up. The first time a patron sees a sign that is outdated, they stop paying attention; but if you keep fresh and relevant content updated, they will continue to value the signage and the message it delivers. Even if the information stays the same, it's important to update the presentation; for the season, the time of year, and holidays. It's also important to use creative made for digital signage; it's not a computer, web page, or television, don't just repurpose creative. Take advantage of the specific opportunity to communicate with your patron at that location and time!

Adrian Weidmann

Founder and Cross Channel Architect
StoreStream Metrics

Designing and implementing a digital signage network has many moving components and in order for the network to maintain its viability over time requires numerous stakeholders to have a vested interest in its use and success. A digital signage network initiative is disruptive to the status quo. From workflows, maintenance to financial viability a digital signage initiative creates additional and different responsibilities for numerous stakeholders. If ALL of the people, departments and stakeholders are not identified and brought together to design the communication goals, define the value proposition and are willing to invest time, energy and resources BEFORE any equipment is considered or purchased the likelihood for a successful implementation is marginal at best! It is well worth the investment to hire a consultant with ‘hands-on’ experience in designing, implementing, and managing digital signage networks at the beginning of an initiative. All too often digital signage initiatives are controlled by IT departments and although the technology will undoubtedly work, the communication strategy and business viability is lost and the initiative will become yet another technocratic ‘pilot’ exercise that will fall by the wayside. Don’t make the same mistake over and over again! Invest in professional guidance that can bring historical context and help you avoid the mistakes made by those before you!

Dave Matera

President
OOH Pitch, Inc.

From the point of view of an advertiser, we will address Advertising-supported Digital Place-Based Networks. 

The top reasons for failure are:

  1. Sustainability: The project developers must have patience and must have the financial resources to be able to have that patience as the network develops.
  2. Inexperienced or unseasoned sales teams:  Reps who don’t understand the medium or its value proposition will not make headway with brands or agencies.  Digital signage is not TV, nor is it pure Out-of-Home.  It is a hybrid medium and should be treated as such.
  3. Poor Revenue Models:  Project developers often underestimate the cap x, commissions, fees, social media costs and have unrealistic projections of growth.  New networks that anticipate 100% of ad inventory to be sold will be in for a rude awakening.  It would be better if sales goals are extremely conservative.
  4. Network Strategy:  New project managers often believe they can build advertising-only networks, whereas these networks tend to function best as programming-driven networks with advertising as revenue.  The programming content must be engaging to consumers, thus causing the advertising to be more impactful to the viewer.
  5. Media Budgets:  Digital Out-of-Home/Digital Place-Based Media is not a line item in media budgets yet, so media expenditures cannot necessarily be anticipated or guaranteed.  The entire industry has to move forward in order for this situation to change.  Until then, networks need to understand that  they are not entitled to advertising revenues and that media buys will be hard fought victories.

Ways to avoid the above pitfalls include:

  1. Think about the project from all angles:  Just because you can build the network, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should build it.  Take a look at successful networks and try to determine the factors that lead to its success.  Make sure that it has a good, defined audience – a niche audience is fine – and that enough people will see it to make it attractive to advertisers.
  2. Make sure you have plenty of financial backing:  Build the network the way it should be built and make sure you have the time to allow for advertisers to begin to buy it and grow the revenue streams.
  3. Know your product:  Be able to sell it appropriately.  Have a good understanding of who the network reaches.  Not all networks are appropriate for everyone.  Target the low-hanging fruit as far as advertisers are concerned.

*Lucas Peltonen of Pitch, Inc., contributed to this response

Lawrence Chang

IT Manager
Calgary Telus Convention Centre

The top reasons for a digital signage project to fail is similar to most other projects – in order to complete a project successfully, you must be on time, on budget, and meet all requirements while ensuring all stakeholders are happy at the end of the project.

With that in mind, the first task is to ensure the scope is correctly planned, and that the budget suits the scope of work.  Overpromising and under delivering is common when the scope is not defined, or that the project runs out of room in the budget.   Scope creep can happen when the scope is not defined correctly.  To ensure all stakeholders are happy, content is king.   While anyone can buy hardware and software, it doesn’t make any difference unless you have the proper content.  

To avoid these pitfalls, even an inexperienced project manager can handle a digital signage project.   The scope and requirements need to be defined with great detail at the beginning of the project.   The budget needs to include all of the project costs, including people, equipment, suppliers, and material.   Each task in the plan has an associated cost, and track any deviations along the way.   Keep a project plan, recording actual vs. planned progress, identify deviations and fix them.   Finally, understand the content you want to display before you begin, and design accordingly.
 

Jonathan Brawn

Principal
Brawn Consulting

The main reason I see digital signage systems fail, is improper planning. The person intending to build the system does do proper due diligence in making sure they understand what the objective and purpose of the signage system is going to be, and that they have established clear metrics on how it’s success (or failure) will be judged. Then the proper needs analysis is not performed. This leaves a system that has owners which will not be truly satisfied, or a system built from the wrong components.

Allen Marks

Principal
Marks Consulting

The number one reason "any" project can fail is "lack of Management  commitment"!  Once the requirements are defined and agreed to, Management Must Be Committed!  Then, As long as the project has the talent and expertise (and a decent PM), the project will be successful!

To focus in on a Digital Signage  project, there are two top reasons the project will fail. 

The first is Not having the Customer requirements properly defined. Even the best technology solution will fail if it missed the user requirements, and does not serve a useful purpose!

The second is not having a strategy and plan for content management. This includes a Content ?manager who embraces the User Requirements, and actively manages the content.  The content must not get stale.  Then's nothing worse than old or irrelevant content!

The keys to success are "nailing" the Target Audience and capturing the requirements.  Present to Management how the DS solution addresses the requirements, and furthermore how it creates value; and you will get Management buy it.

Start out small, but include a time phased implementation plan that achieves a full "enterprise" deployment (Your definition of the Enterprise).  Hire a Content Manager during the requirement phase to ensure his/her buy in. Continuously rate and review he content for it's relevance, and display the BEST content, to the correct audience, at the right time!

Gary Halpin

President
Agency 225

All of the above (limited budget, lack of content, inexperienced project managers) can play a role in why a network can fail.  Add to the list the placement of the monitors, which we believe is the 2nd most important aspect (behind a solid content strategy).  But what I have seen as the #1 reason is a lack of a well-developed network objective and solid content strategy.  Everyone wants to get their network launched right away, and it's difficult to get them to slow down and really dive into questions that can help it be much more successful right out of the gate, such as one of the simplest, yet most difficult to get an answer, "What is the goal and objective of this network?"  Is it to increase sales, train, branding?  It could be all of the above, but one really needs to take the podium and the most focus.  There are many questions that we ask to define the objective and this feeds into a detailed content strategy that helps our clients meet their objectives.  However, this isn't the end of it, there should always be testing and tweaking, and when a company's marketing strategy changes, so may the network.  Everyone involved has to be flexible and willing to change gears.

Lyle Bunn

Strategy Architect
BUNN Co.

Success or failure of a digital signage project is defined by the value, or the return on investment that the initiative delivers. Failure to adequately define the intended value, followed by defining the content that would be required to achieve intended outcomes, spells project failure at its start and project waste at every point afterwards. By clearly defining the intended outcomes in terms of viewer influence, merchandising, branding, and ambiance at a media presentation location there is the ability to compose suitable playloops, dayparting and media spots. Also, a framework for performance metrics and analytics can be more easily established. Metrics can then serve as the basis for maximizing success as The Objectives and The Content are refined.

When communications goals are clear and the content required to achieve these is defined, it is possible to specify the technology infrastructure that is required to present the content that will achieve the results. Projects fail when the capabilities or operating costs for network or playlist operations are prohibitive. Leading with well-defined objectives, followed by suitable "content" presented on adequate technology infrastructure will minimize risk, investment and time required on the path to project success. When intervention on a poor-performing initiative is required, it should follow the same path to success… Objectives - Content – Technology, with analytics used to guide improvement.  The old saying applies – "Fail to Plan – Plan to Fail"

David W. Saleme

Concessions Manager
Columbus Regional Airport Authority

A critical reason why a digital signage project might fail is a tendency to treat the installation of digital signage like any other construction project, or facility upgrade.  As a facility owner, the value of digital signage is fully realized when it is viewed as a marketing, advertising, communication, and engagement tool that must be fully developed during entire life cycle of the asset.  This awareness begins in the initial planning stage, which should define installation of a digital sign network a just one phase of the project.  Many times those responsible in the budgeting and management of the asset view the project as complete when the punch list on the installation is finished.  A digital sign is not a static sign that can be installed and forgotten.  A successful digital signage project requires an ongoing, active effort to develop and manage content to realize the full benefit of the asset.

Daniel Wilkins

President
N2

I think in most cases the reason why digital signage projects fail is due to lack of experience.  From the outside looking in, digital signage projects can seem straight forward and not as complex as they actually are.  The success of a project depends on much more than just the technology implementation.  There must be a strong and clear understanding of the viewer in addition to the environment the screens are placed in.  If one element is neglected, the entire project fails.  For instance, I have seen many projects that took the environment of the screen into consideration and executed the project well in that regard, but completely lacked an understanding of what content was appropriate for the viewer based on their frame of mind in that venue environment, leading to a complete failure of the project.  The pitfalls can be avoided by bringing in experts who are experienced in all aspects of the project, from content development to technology.

Robert (Bob) Stowe

Director, Marketing Services
Wendy's International

End users become very excited over the prospects of digital signage usage in their retail environments, and want to be on the technological cutting-edge versus their competition.  Within large corporations, that generally means one discipline – marketing for instance – sees the opportunity and initiates a ‘test’.  The euphoria is based on the belief that digital monitors replacing static signage will lead to increased sales.  Too often, the “monitor” becomes the symbol of digital signage within the corporation, and the judgment tool defining success.

In too many cases, the ‘test’ is initiated without realistic expectations, and – too often – without a strategy or a content plan.  When one discipline leads the initiative, other disciplines are frequently ignored or brought in on an ‘as-needed’ basis.  The IT Department should be an integral partner from the beginning, as should Engineering and Operations.  Senior Management must buy in from the beginning and understand that initial costs cannot be recouped in a finite time frame (3, 6 or even 9 months).  They must also understand that cost overruns are likely and will be unforeseen until the program is up and running.  Additional manpower or supplier-partners will be needed and those costs must be addressed.

Plunging into Digital Signage requires an “all-in” mentality, involving all the disciplines in a cross-functional manner.  The Strategy must be defined fully; the tactics (content) must be vetted, discussed and planned for a full annual marketing cycle so that all can anticipate when, where and how frequently content updates must occur.  The who, where, and how for content production must be analyzed prior to determining the final plan.   Installation, maintenance, repair and replacement must be built into the plan before the first software/hardware purchase takes place.  Only after all disciplines have collaborated on a solid plan should any discussions occur with suppliers. 

Unfortunately, what too often happens is a supplier ‘sells’ the concept to one discipline and the project is “off to the races” before any of the other Departments have had a chance to weigh in.  Without the cross-functional collaboration the project is damaged by cost overruns, frequent changes, lack of buy-in, disillusionment, and the search for an exit strategy. 

Digital Signage is a magnificent tool, but not one to be engaged lightly.  A company – large or small – must be totally committed to its use as part of a complete transformation of their communications and marketing plan.  That is when success will be realized.

Chet Patel

Director of Information Technology
Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

I feel that these projects fail because they didn’t attend DSE 2012. 

If anyone is planning on creating or managing digital signage, they should be knowledgeable on a few fundamentals. 

1. What will you use the signage for? ROI? Etc
2. What is your budget for Hardware, Software, connectivity, content, management of digital signage etc. 

Lack of knowledge on any of these items can lead to failure.

Bryan Meszaros

Principal & Director, Strategy & Development
OpenEye

It's easy to point the finger at a variety of issues, from limited budget to lack of ownership and on to the network infrastructure. Issues with each category can easily create a failure but the biggest problem is planning…or lack of. To often organizations rush into the development of a network without thinking about the requirements and planning ahead of time. It's a lack of common sense, you wouldn't buy a car with out doing research or at least figuring out your finances to see what makes sense. So why not apply the same logic when embarking upon a digital signage project?

The simplistic days of installing a screen and connecting a player are far behind us. With what's required today to execute a solution you have no alternative but to identify program requirements and plan accordingly. It's better to know in the beginning and recalibrate expectations than stop midway or launch something that has no potential. Take the time to identify your content needs, infrastructure requirements, ongoing management costs and most importantly identify ownership of the project.

Patricia Mitrano

Director of Visual Communications
Newark Beth Israel Medical Center

A project that tries to address diverse audiences with broad content. As consumers, are used to targeted marketing and quick directed messages. Even with a captive audience (ex. in a waiting area) there is no reason to look up from a mobile device to view a large screen unless the content is relevant.

Comments

Lack of project management tools is a key cause of failure. One or two sites can be easily managed with a spreadsheet, but when it comes to a larger project that may have 50 displays at 100 locations, with 5 different skill sets required of the subcontractors, and multiple equipment delivery streams, there is no way a project of that size can be handled with a spreadsheet.
Here in India, which has a long way to go in adopting Digital Signage technologies, one of the reasons for failure that we have seen has been around Expectations. Most users still believe that a Digital Signage solution should result in revenues (read advertisements or direct growth in sales). However, having said that we are increasingly seeing client enquiries which are in regard to more intangible benefits like increasing employee motivation, customer engagement etc.
That saves me. Thanks for being so sensbile!

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