The Next Evolution in "Digital" Signage: Print

February 20, 2013

NFC is enabling printers to digitally enable their print output. NFC is allowing viewers of print output to access a myriad of hyper-engaging digital, multi-media experiences by just tapping on printed media.

There has been a technological revolution occurring over the last few years in which traditional print signs and posters are being replaced with digital signage. Digital signage has long been defined as the presentation of venue-relevant content on wall- or ceiling-mounted screens for the purpose of informing, entertaining or influencing viewers.

Printers of traditional signs and posters have been feeling the competitive heat from digital signage for some time. Printers of marketing material such as brochures, pamphlets, etc., are now starting to feel the competitive heat as well.

Digital signage systems are not only managing the creation and delivery of digital content to wall/ceiling displays; they are also being used to support the creation and/or distribution of content to tablets and smartphones.

This means that agencies and brands are now being equipped with creative tools that will allow them to build and distribute content to a full range of electronic displays for the purpose of creating integrated, cross-channel consumer engagement experiences.

Traditional printers have been struggling to understand how they will survive in this new age of digital signage. A small but growing number are responding to this challenge by adopting new technologies that will help them participate in the world of digital and mobile media.

Many printers are adopting an emerging technology called Near Field Communications, or NFC for short. NFC is enabling printers to digitally enable their print output. NFC is allowing viewers of print output to access a myriad of hyper-engaging digital, multi-media experiences by just tapping on printed media. What is NFC and how does this work?

NFC is an offshoot of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Both RFID and NFC are wireless microchips that transmit information over very limited distances. RFID chips transmit information over a few meters while NFC chips broadcast information over a few centimeters.

While both RFID and NFC share a common beginning, each has evolved to serve different needs. RFID is being used in commercial applications such as toll tags, inventory tracking, meter reading, luggage tracking, inventory warehousing, etc. NFC is being used in end-user applications such as building access cards, credit cards, personal identification cards, health cards, transportation ticketing, marketing promotions, etc.

Commercial-grade readers such as inventory scanners and turnpike gantries typically read RFID tags. Fixed readers, such as building access pads, transportation turnstiles and credit card payment terminals are typically used to read NFC tags. Things, however, are changing.

A new generation of smartphones is now being built to include NFC readers. This is creating uses for NFC not previously practical or possible. NFC tags can now be attached to physical objects, such as printed materials, for the purpose of delivering information to NFC-enabled smartphones. With just a tap of an NFC-enable smartphone on an NFC tag, the smartphone user can experience an engaging, personalized and interactive visual experience.

When coupled with a comprehensive content management system residing in a back-end system, NFC tags attached to print media are delivering customer engagement experiences that are customizable based upon factors such as time, date, temperature, location, etc.

Imagine a world in which:

  • A printed poster can provide the viewer's smartphone with real-time local inventory and pricing information for the product or service being depicted.
  • A brochure can deliver a video to the viewer's smartphone that explains the item being featured based upon the viewer's sex and/or age.
  • A promotional product, such as coffee cup, presents the user's smartphone with a menu of a sponsored restaurant that changes based upon time of day.
  • A direct mail piece can promote to the reader's smartphone only those items that are on sale and in stock at the closest store.

So when you think today of digital signage, keep in mind that it no longer means just electronic screens. It increasing means print signage that has gone "digital."

Steve Gurley is president of Pyrim Technologies Inc. Gurley is broadly recognized as an industry expert and thought-leader in mobile and visual communications technologies. He is a widely published author of numerous papers, articles and blogs on mobility and is a sought-after speaker on the subject. He is currently developing his second start-up, which is focused on mobile content management solutions that are enabled by point-of-engagement technologies such as Near Field Communications (NFC).

Prior to his current focus, Gurley was responsible for all aspects of global marketing, business development, mobile solutions, new market development and content services at Symon Communications, an industry-leading digital signage and visual communications company.

Prior to Symon, he spent eight years as the president of Pyrim Technologies Inc., a mobile business development company that he founded in 2000 and still oversees today. Previous to founding Pyrim, Gurley was with Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a $22 billion IT services firm that is now a part of HP, where he held executive positions in business development, new market development and sales with a focus on growing EDS' business within the wireless and mobile industries throughout the US and Europe.

Gurley is a graduate of Abilene Christian University. You can follow his views on mobile trends as well as his observations on mobility and mobile content management on Twitter at

Gurley will also be the moderator and program coordinator of "NEW! Mobile Technology and its Implications for Digital Signage" from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Feb. 26 at Digital Signage Expo 2013.

DSE will also be hosting "Near Field Communication: Changing the Digital Signage Value Propostion" with NFC Bootcamp from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 26 as part of its Pre-Show Education.

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