"What sources do you use to feed the "content beast" and what sources would you recommend for networks challenged with providing compelling content without breaking the bank?"
We develop multiple versions of content from original sources to help keep content interesting; many original images and video are used to deliver
Content is vital to maintaining a well-run digital signage network.
As of this September, our own signage system has only been in place for the past two months.
In my opinion, your network objectives will determine how often you should refresh your content.
Creating compelling content is crucial to the success of a digital solution.
In my opinion, the two most important things to consider are:
I believe the key to successful content management and refresh is ensuring that digital signage is considered an active medium for marketing on par
Compelling content sources don't have to be expensive — they just have to be relevant to your audience.
We create 98 percent of our content in-house with a team of broadcast-trained shooters and editors, but I realize that's not an option for everyone
We have two distinct "beasts" to feed. The customer-facing advertising and promotion content is aligned with our Enterprise Marketing objectives.
The long-term success of any digital signage network rests on the shoulders of content — content that is current, relevant and engaging.
If you have a long program, I would suggest adding in entertainment.
Great sources for timely health information are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S.
In the hospitality industry, content revolves around in-house products and services such as amenities and restaurants.
Content has to be a touchy subject for many of you digital signage implementers.
Best practices might state that an effective digital signage network launch should include a time and financial budget for content development over
I would argue that the initial content is VERY DIFFICULT to create (and frequently done poorly).
Content is absolutely the key to maintaining the value of a digital signage deployment, especially in a retail environment.
To begin with, the digital signage network needs to have the proper governance in place in order to collate, manage and maintain control over conte
Outside of the digital signage industry, there is much discussion about how brands and marketers are increasingly starting to look like publishers.
In my opinion, as networks increase their footprint and become more and more ubiquitous in our lives, it will become even more important for them t
From my perspective, content is the most important aspect of a network, whether it is an advertising-based platform or information/experience-based
From an information refreshment perspective, a good place to start is our good friend Google.
Excellent sources of content include press releases, schedules, policies, photo libraries, archives, speeches and presentations.
All too often, network operators make one of two mistakes regarding content:
There are three issues to be concerned about:
1 "Knowing" what your target audience wants and/or needs to see!
I am going to divide my response into two categories: general information and organization-specific information.
There are numerous sources of content, ranging from user-generated content to custom storyboarded and produced content.
Go to your local TV station or newspaper and offer them space in your loop in exchange for news feeds.
Keeping the viewers' eyes on the screens is the lifeblood for any network.
Content is the key to maintaining a successful network, and as such, can be expensive.
We are fortunate in that our network is seen by unique visitors every day and we are not as worried about content getting old.
The two questions this month highlight the importance of developing a sustainable content strategy.
I believe the key is finding a content partner as opposed to a content vendor(s).
The key is how you identify the brand and the strategy at the inception of the campaign.
Plan ahead for speed and simplicity! Content cannot be an afterthought!
We believe that the key to a good content strategy is relevance. And few content streams are more relevant than live broadcast TV.
For us, committing to an internal production team was the best decision we made towards meeting our ongoing content needs.
My team and I come to work every day to help networks solve this very problem. The challenge every network has is to get viewers ...
I'll start my recommendation with how I start almost every answer, with this disclaimer — every network is unique, and each will really have their
A lot of network operators suffer with the challenge on how to keep content fresh without breaking the bank.
It may not be difficult to develop content for a launch if you have a well-thought out strategy and the budget to fulfill it.
In addition to your own internal promotional messaging, you can feed the "beast" with outside resources such as ad agency assets, including logo an
We develop multiple versions of content from original sources to help keep content interesting; many original images and video are used to deliver similar messages. In addition, user generated content has become a big hit with our government informational network audiences! Patrons enjoy seeing work their friends and coworkers helped to develop, and this creates a value-added buzz factor around the digital signage. It takes constant awareness to capture great media at our events and "good film days," but it's a worthwhile and cost-effective effort to see local media compared to stock sources.
Content is vital to maintaining a well-run digital signage network. Strong content and a good strategy can make a digital signage installation stand out from the crowd. Stale or outdated content can have an equal and opposite effect, making it stand out for the wrong reasons or even miss getting noticed at all. The best plan for keeping content fresh is to ensure you have a team that is able to maintain the constant flow of new and updated content for your network, but sometimes that isn't possible. Depending on the size and set up of your network you could end up incurring massive costs to have original content developed. The same can hold true if you are trying to purchase all your content — subscription services and other content providers are great ways to keep feeding the content beast, but they can also be cost-prohibitive.
At Servus, we have utilized external content and creative providers, subscriptions services, Web services and feeds, among other content sources in order to maintain and evolve our network. Many of these methods on their own were too expensive, or had other issues that did not make them suitable. We finally came to the conclusion that it was necessary to take a look at how each source benefited the overall experience, and where it was best utilized. We have an in-house team that focuses on repurposing our other creative content — campaigns, communications and brand elements. This content works great in certain locations in the branch, but it isn't enough on its own. To align with our brand we wanted to create locations within the branch that focused on content for the member that aligned with our different brand pillars. Concepts like "feel at home" or "community investment" are part of our brand and are easily demonstrated through the use of localized content and community connection. Developing custom content relating to local information was too time intensive. Combining a localized content feed along with a subscription service provides enough content to specific locations in the branch that we only have to update the campaign and communication pieces as needed. Combining that with locally controlled content that is updated through our software system and we have a well-rounded content solution that provides a complete and constantly updated program. Similarly we look at each location within a branch and decide how to combine the different content types to complete the schedule.
Combining different types of content feeds depending on the location have provided us what we need to feed the "content beast." There were a lot of factors that were part of our decision around using different content sources. The software we use for the network determines what sort of feeds we are able to use. The location and type of content need also dictates what we can use. Taking these factors into consideration helped us be able to quickly distill all the different providers out there. For us, the final choice was easy as it was provided by partners we were already using. Our software provider was able to assist with the local content and customized content feed. Our solutions provider and installation company were able to provide us with a subscription feed that was within our cost range and delivered us only the content we needed, in a branded and complete package.
Providing compelling content to your network doesn't mean having to break the bank in order to get it. It means creating a plan that services your network depending on the need. With so many different providers available today it is difficult to pinpoint one or two specific companies that work well, instead it is important to understand what compelling content looks like for your network, no matter what or how the content is provided. Be willing to use more than one source, and think about the total program or schedule that you are trying to provide. Understand the audience and what an appropriate schedule would require to ensure that the solution you put in meets the need. Be willing to incorporate third-party content with custom-created content, and external content with internally created content. Ensure the overall experience is the first priority in determining your content strategy.
As of this September, our own signage system has only been in place for the past two months. Currently, we manually update it once a month with content pulled from magazines, clients, and events around the city, in addition to using the automatic feed from our Events Calendar database for our guests. The splash pages are updated according to events happening within our Convention Centre, or events happening that are of interest to everyone, such as the Olympics. We have reached out to some of the publications that print the events in the city, but we've not yet made any arrangements to have content generated by them be presented automatically as yet. We are also looking at hiring a part-time staffer for the signage team to research/add/refresh content as needed.
In my opinion, your network objectives will determine how often you should refresh your content. To ensure success, your network's objectives should be aligned to the objectives of your company and that of your senior leadership. In our case, we view the Walmart Smart Network as being a great tool for driving item lift and driving conversion in-store. We know it works. In the world of retail, that means we need to refresh some of our content weekly. Our customers come in with different needs depending on the time of year, whether it's Mother's Day, Back to School, the start of the football season, or Halloween, etc. Given the weekly need, we use a variety of resources to feed the "content beast":
1.) For seasonally relevant content, we partner with an agency, Studio Squared, to develop our in-store creative for our relevant advertisers at a cost that is much more reasonable than typical TV or digital production.
2.) We execute different content by week, or by day at the store and screen level partnering with another company, DS-IQ. We use DS-IQ's intelligent digital signage technology to ensure local relevance:
- a.) Targeting by geography, day part, shopper profile and behavior and more
- b.) Triggering ads based on predetermined external conditions such as temperature, allergy index, in-stock levels, severe bad weather heading to a city or area, BTS dates and more.
3.) For the third-party content we air (promotions for TV networks, movies, etc.), we have content deals with studios and networks to secure content as needed that is seasonally relevant and engaging for our shoppers.
Our network's objectives are to drive item lift and conversion in-store. We need to ensure our ads deliver on our network objectives and also on the specific campaign objectives. Some examples of campaign objectives include:
- Conversion: Moving shoppers around the store to key categories
- Awareness: Cost-effective impressions at the point of sale
- Trial for new products and new use cases
- Sales lift for brands, categories and WMT; best practices from 1500-plus campaigns drive success
- Reach: Extend branding campaigns to point of sale that complements TV, radio, print, etc.
- Seasonal: Market by market messages for BTS, BTC, Holiday and more
- Share of Voice/Presence
All of the above inform our plan to feed our content needs and the planning we do with our network partners.
Creating compelling content is crucial to the success of a digital solution. In the QSR industry, the marketing calendar plays an important role in determining content. Typically promotions will change on a monthly basis and there may be different promotions for menu segments such as food, beverage, treat, etc. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the content, up-sell messages and day-part customization is necessary. Providing this support may result in 10 to 20 new animations per month.
If you have an in-house creative team, the most cost-effective way to handle the cost of creating animations is to hire an in-house digital designer. The software/hardware for the digital designer will be significantly different from a traditional graphic designer and this needs to be taken into account when budgeting for the new position. Having a digital designer on staff is convenient and saves time. If traditional point-of-purchase graphic elements can be repurposed for digital it will make the creation of the animations easier and less time consuming.
If content needs to be created using an outside source, interview several design studios, and ask the finalist(s) to create a sample animation using the graphic images, copy and creative direction of a typical project. Ask them to detail the time it takes to create and revise the animation. Some design studios will have a less expensive hourly rate but it may take longer to create the animation. If you can project the number of animations needed by month or year, you may be able to negotiate a discount.
In my opinion, the two most important things to consider are:
1) Keep the content simple, short and to the point. Too many times I see long drawn-out spots that by the time I have either walked or driven by, I never see the "call to action." This happens quite often when graphic designers are trying to impress everyone with their visual graphic skills and lose focus on what is the message you're attempting to convey.
2) Create an aesthetically pleasing background that can be used as an ongoing spot to which you can quickly change the message's "call to action." This will streamline your operations and free you up for the last-minute request that comes down the pipe.
I believe the key to successful content management and refresh is ensuring that digital signage is considered an active medium for marketing on par with other media, such as print ads and websites. As part of a holistic portfolio of content, digital signage plays an important role in the on-site reinforcement of the same messages being driven at home or in other on-site or off-site locations in other media. If digital signage is thought of in this manner, then much of the same content being regularly created can be considered for use across multiple media and an emphasis can be placed on refresh of digital signage content. Obviously that's not to say that there aren't costs associated specifically with the digital signage content refresh; there are. But if this holistic approach is adopted at the time of budget planning then these costs are baked into the plan and the synergy of content for multiple mediums can be realized without breaking the bank.
Compelling content sources don't have to be expensive — they just have to be relevant to your audience. Having European soccer scores streaming across a pet care site for hairless cats is a huge mismatch between content and audience. But having those soccer scores on a site that offer live game updates and a place to buy your favorite team jersey, now you're talking staying power and high potential for user loyalty.
Content must start with a good understanding of WHO you're talking to. Once you have that down, WHAT you offer for content is easy as pie. To get you started on ideas for gaining that ever so important, match-made-in-heaven content, the folks at copyblogger and Blue Glass offer a infographic to boil it down — easy ideas that are cheap and compelling. http://www.copyblogger.com/create-content-infographic.
With news feeds, white papers, directories, weather feeds, podcasts, blogs, stock quotes and poorly drawn animated gifs out there, content is one of the easiest things to acquire. The trick is providing compelling content. That one word can easily jack your budget to the point where the office might start rolling brown outs and charging for lunch space in the break room fridge to make up the difference.
We create 98 percent of our content in-house with a team of broadcast-trained shooters and editors, but I realize that's not an option for everyone. Two things that I have recommended to people considering digital signage:
1.) Create a calendar of content for at least a year in advance. This will allow you to prioritize production dollars allotted for a fiscal year, and
2.) if in-house shooting/editing/graphics are not available, then you can approach many great, independent production shops and tempt them with the carrot of a year's worth of production for a predictable cost.
There are numerous one-man band shops that do a very nice job producing content for digital signage, but ensure they indeed do understand the unique nature of signage content, and get examples of their work for this particular medium. Clearly most signage doesn't use audio, so graphics, use of motion, and clarity of message is very important. These production people need to clearly understand the medium and how to best use its unique space. I have often been given content from outside agencies representing vendors that clearly have no idea how to use digital signage. Conversely, lately, I'm seeing much better agency work from some who have a very good idea, so it's catching on.
Another thing that I consider; audience and dwell time. Just because the "same old message" is on the screen and all of "us" have seen it, how many of your customers have seen it and how often. Do you have the same customers in your retail or service space every day, week or month? If one subscribes to the idea of effective advertising frequency, and that it takes up to three-plus viewings for an impression to be made, and you have a frequency rate of any one customer seeing your screens of say only 1 time per month, your content may not be as "old" as you think it is. It's easy for you to get tired of it, but what does the customer really think?
What about rotating content? Sure, this is an old trick, but it works. I have clients who rotate their Twitter feed every six months, running it two to three times total. It's a good bet that with as many as 5,000 messages per day seen by the average person they won't remember yours without some repetition.
The bottom line? Spend some time planning and don't forget to budget for good production. It will probably last longer than you think and unless you have the very same people every single day looking at your signage, it will repeat into the future farther than you might have considered.
We have two distinct "beasts" to feed. The customer-facing advertising and promotion content is aligned with our Enterprise Marketing objectives. That content doesn't create itself, but we have a large team devoted to deciding what messages should reach which customers and the timing of those messages. Enterprise Marketing is a constant source of new and relevant content.
The other beast is the employee-facing content beast. We have digital signage in several lines of business and corporate properties. We have tried to find content that is relevant in most situations. Company news, weather information and human resources bulletins are nearly universal content. Then, for each business we include news and information specific to that group. We get that information from line-of-business management, sales and telephone data, management objectives and newsletters. We find that automated data feeds take the strain off the signage managers while keeping the content fresh so we are putting development time into automating the feeds as much as possible.
Externally produced content doesn't work as well for us, since we have to spend time re-branding everything for our company. We tend more to use external data and references and use it to populate our branded templates.
— With special thanks to Chuck Lampe, Network-Graphics Manager, Wells Fargo, for his contribution to this month's answer.
The long-term success of any digital signage network rests on the shoulders of content — content that is current, relevant and engaging. This is often a challenge, especially on large college campuses where digital signage content is often created and managed locally by office staff, Web designers, IT professionals and even students — each with their own of knowledge and expertise. In such an environment, developing content can be a hit-or-miss affair; but here are a two quick and easy ideas to feed the digital signage content beast without breaking the bank.
1. Leverage Existing Resources — Most colleges and departments have a Web presence of some type and reusing elements of the these sites, the underlying systems or just for inspiration can go a long way in feeding a digital signage network. For instance, webpages that contain dining hall menus can sometimes be repurposed with little or no modifications and then used as content elements in reusable templates and then deployed to the digital signs in the areas where it is relevant to the students who dine there.
2. Develop Partnerships with the Community — One of the most popular content items on my campus are bus schedules. Our community has a very popular and nearly ubiquitous public transportation system. Although the public transportation system is not directly affiliated, departments have been working with them to develop webpages that show real-time bus schedules for specific locations near campus building. This could have been planned centrally but it wasn't. It was a good idea that has become a best practice. Today, this content has been by many departments because it not only was a no-cost way to deliver dynamic content to their displays but the high relevance of the content draws the eyes of students, faculty and staff alike — to not only the schedules but other content elements.
While these two examples come from my own experiences in the campus setting, there is no reason that the principles can't be leveraged elsewhere. What digital assets can be reused in your organization? What partnerships can you build? To get the most value from your digital signage investments, you may need to work across traditional boundaries — but the nature of digital signage makes such efforts very necessary and, in the end, very worthwhile. Like many of us, I'm learning as I go and sometimes marvel at the unexpected and how something as simple as a bus can take us far more places than just across town.
If you have a long program, I would suggest adding in entertainment. Based on our demographic, we add in music videos; but there are plenty of TV previews (NBC, HBO, ESPN) that you can get for free and you may receive money to use them. This is something you can get a lot of to keep your network fresh and to keep your customers watching.
To source compelling content without breaking the bank, we look to our business partners. When new products launch they are the ones promoting the products for us — they create the spot and (in our case, they pay to put on our network) but that depends on your agreement with them. I also look around my company — content is sometimes produced primarily for our social media sites and our website that may not be exactly what we want for our network, but it's a lot cheaper to edit a spot down to 30 seconds than to create a whole new one.
Great sources for timely health information are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state and local health sites. There are many exceptional health networks with programming very suitable for health care waiting areas. America's Minority Health Network with Spanish subtitles is a great option for a health facility serving minorities. The bonus some offer for the hosting institution is the ability to add your own community health events and practice specialty information. Any compelling content is straightforward and uncomplicated, with fonts that are easy-to-read, using an appropriately placed photo and a large, visible call-to-action.
In the hospitality industry, content revolves around in-house products and services such as amenities and restaurants. If the hotel has convention space, we often include content for the meetings. Easy ways to "refresh" content include: News feeds, weather, local and holiday-specific events. To design content can be pricey depending on the type of "player" you have. I suggest that you set up a monthly, quarterly, semiannual or annual agreement with your current vendor to include an "X" amount of design changes.
This will also allow you to budget and may help turn the project into a fixed cost.
Content has to be a touchy subject for many of you digital signage implementers. The "content beast" may or may not be such a beast if a little planning is done. Many of our signs are event-driven, this means the content changes continuously. We revolve around event- and convention-type business. Each client, including ourselves, sends custom materials to be displayed, the digital signage software automatically pulls event info (room, time, info, etc.) from different data sources and marketing will jump in with the "links" and other input as needed. The source or content doesn't have to be dramatically changed, just enough of a change. In other "worlds" of contents, your needs should have been part of the initial implementation, followed up by a small group of "maintainers." What most seems to be missing is the automation needs and hooks into other sources or source providers for content. That was really key on our software selection; the ability to interface to any data source and send out to any output device. The system runs pretty much automatically with just data insertions as required. That means I might even get to go on vacation without having to dial in every day and update a board. I am currently in the midst of the Los Angeles County Fair, the largest county fair in the world, and have to deal with many "job-hats." Content and video streams to the display boards is one of them. Without an automated system pulling and extracting data to show daily admission deals, concert acts, horse racing information, sells ads, social media, etc., I would never stay afloat and make my 14-plus hour day a 24-plus hour day. Either way, at the end of the day, automatic content delivery will be cleanest, safest and least stressful part of that day. Now, I'm back out on the Fairgrounds answering a radio call to help find an escaped "piglet." Eat something deep-fried and on a stick!
Best practices might state that an effective digital signage network launch should include a time and financial budget for content development over the life of the digital signage network. Reality, on the other hand, is often different. Our approach to finding unique inexpensive sources of digital content is to look at what is produced for our organization across multiple platforms. We have found that same content being produced for one digital solution can be used on another digital solution — video or photos used on our website/Facebook/Twitter/YouTube efforts can often be easily adapted for our digital signage.
YouTube has also been a source of industry-specific content. We have reached out directly to the owners of content and asked to use on our publically viewable wall. No one has asked for reimbursement other than recognition yet.
Also, our tenants are often running specials, promoting unique items, or hosting social media contests. More and more of the content developed for their program fits well into a HD video stream. Since we have shared revenue agreements in place, we decided to make our tenants aware of our willingness to include their quality messaging on our network on occasion (subject to time availability).
Finally, for the content that we do have pay to produce, we obtain quotes, or bid the work locally. Prices can vary significantly between production shops, and we have that the simplest way to save on production costs is comparing prices.
I would argue that the initial content is VERY DIFFICULT to create (and frequently done poorly). The content for a network must follow a specifically defined strategy. What follows week after week or month after month will/should play off the content of the initial launch. Do the launch wrong, and you turn off (or display irrelevance) to the target, your customer base. Once they've tuned you out — and they will do so quickly — it will be very hard to get them to pay attention in the future.
Spend the time and effort to properly define your strategy. Understand what tactics (content) will deliver on that strategy for the first six months to a year. Map it out, including an estimate on the frequency change must occur. Determine where the content will come from (e.g. — an internal production team, an advertising agency, a content provider). Will it be pick up B-roll, graphic inserts, animation, new shoots, computer graphics, etc.? Understand what demands this will put on your staff, your outside source and your budget (the dollars are too often ignored until it is too late).
Once you have a clear vision of the strategy, the tactics, the timing and the budget you are prepared to move forward. Will there be surprises? Of course! But now you're dealing with minor adjustments rather than an "OMG, how did this happen?" moment.
Content is absolutely the key to maintaining the value of a digital signage deployment, especially in a retail environment. For us at Dunkin' Donuts, we have an agency that produces photo and video assets of our standard products and limited-time offers. These assets, though typically shot for broadcast advertising, can be repurposed after additional post-production editing to make them most effective for the in-store medium. Obviously, this method of attaining content is expensive, but is standard practice for a QSR who needs to advertise to keep their brand name in the minds of consumers.
Another avenue of maintaining a stream of relevant content is seeking out advertisers to provide assets to be aired. This approach must balance with the objective of your digital signage deployment and whether advertising products or services on behalf of other brands will be accepted by the audience.
To begin with, the digital signage network needs to have the proper governance in place in order to collate, manage and maintain control over content. At our higher education institution, we decided the most logical place for governance would be in the Publications/PR department, because they are in the business of creating content for the entire campus.
Luckily, (or not so luckily) we have no problems with content for the signage and in fact, the Publications department had to occasionally turn content down. This had led to instituting time management on content, so that there are no monopolies on time and space utilization by one content provider. While this can generate some minor dust-ups, it does keep the playing field level and allows us to get as much timely content on the screens, as possible.
This was not always the case though. After four years, the institution has realized the benefits and usefulness of the screens as an effective communication tool, but shortly after the network was launched, there was no demand for content and much of what was broadcast was repurposed from other ad campaigns. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to generate content, but because the repurposed content is not designed with the proper aspect ratios and tends to be too "wordy" it does not utilize the signage to its fullest. That will come later, as the institution realizes what can be done with the right content.
Outside of the digital signage industry, there is much discussion about how brands and marketers are increasingly starting to look like publishers. They're producing a ton of their own content, and much of it is extremely compelling and interesting to consumers. Some of it is overtly branded, but more and more seems to be taking a softer sell approach. It would seem to me that there is an opportunity for networks to leverage this longer format content from advertisers. Guidelines would need to be established to ensure that the consumer continues to see value in the content, rather than just be barraged with ads. But, assuming that balance can be struck, it flips the content economics on its head. Suddenly, instead of paying for content (either via licensing or production), networks start to make money off of the content. A similar approach would be to create a model of product or brand integration into the content – both seem like viable options.
The answer to this question depends upon several major factors. After identifying these factors we can begin to determine actual sources of content that a particular network should be used.
1.) Does the network have sound? This will have a huge impact on what kind of content should be procured.
2.) How long do people look at the network's screens — how long will the content pieces have to be?
3.) What is the environment in which the signage exists? The content should be appropriate to that environment.
First, certain networks have sound, so the content must be full audio also. This content can be more complex to create, and is often taken from existing pieces of content from other media outlets (i.e. television). This approach, when well-edited and well-selected, can provide engagement without having the challenges of maintaining a full production department. On the other hand, sometimes a network requires a more customized approach, and specialized production is also necessary: This is often the case with longer dwell-time networks. Non-sound networks can have simpler content, but it must be poignant. For these networks, daily updates of news, sports, weather, entertainment and even interests such as travel and horoscopes fed through RSS can be effective, as long as it is all visually appealing.
Secondly, a factor in selecting and feeding content is how long people actually look at the screens. Fleeting dwell-time networks, whether with sound or not, will have to edit heavily and adjust the content to match dwell times so that the viewers will engage with the signage for that brief time. These networks can often use pre-existing content exclusively and be effective. Longer dwell time networks often require much more original content to keep viewers' attention, build relationships with them and also maintain high standards.
Thirdly, it is extremely important that content is appropriate to the environment in which the signage exists. For example, signage in a truck stop will have different content then signage in a high-end nail salon. Content strategies are not always simple and should be very well considered as the network is being built and implemented. Often, this specialized content must — at least in part — come from media outlets that specialize in interests that are similar to the venue's audience's interests.
Overall, feeding the "content beast" is a challenging task that requires investigation and assessment of the audience's needs to ensure that it is relevant. There are numerous sources of pre-existing content that can be adjusted for use with the network. Often these sources — taken from other media outlets — are enough to feed the beast. These sources do not necessarily have to be expensive or the highest-profile as long as they are engaging. There are plenty of media outlets looking for greater distribution that would offer their content at rates much below major outlets'; however, with certain networks (generally the ones with longest dwell times) specialized production is also necessary for content fulfillment. Here, the network would have to determine whether in-house production or outsourced production would be the best route. No matter what tactics you ultimately choose, begin with content ideas that align with your network's audience's interests and build out the strategy from there.
In my opinion, as networks increase their footprint and become more and more ubiquitous in our lives, it will become even more important for them to ensure the content does not become stale or too generic. Just as traditional television networks need program directors, so do digital place-based networks. The content must be specifically appropriate to the venue and not just "generic enough" for the venue. If the network is in a great venue but displays the incorrect content, the network will have no viewers. No viewers means no advertising revenue. Brands are starting to realize how important the content is in addition to the other considerations taken when evaluating digital place-based media. Brands will not buy into networks that have not put the time and energy into ensuring the content is appropriate.
From my perspective, content is the most important aspect of a network, whether it is an advertising-based platform or information/experience-based — it is only as strong as the message it delivers. Therefore, budgeting for content that optimizes awareness and recall for both the launch and an ongoing basis is critical.
Not all communications are created equal. One needs to take into consideration display size and function. For example, large format displays that are key to navigation and branding communications may get a budget for a video shoot for a specific campaign period. Whereas smaller multitouch displays that are used to explore product details may receive a budget for repurposing of assets for an interactive experience. It all depends on the communication objective of that particular display.
Once the content plan/budget is defined, the content management solution you select will also have a significant impact on the cost of keeping content fresh. A solution that enables you to target content elements using meta-tags and real-time rendering will go a long way to cutting cost from post production and distribution.
The majority of our clients are focused at creating digital in-store experiences that drive shopper engagement and lead to increased sales and loyalty. A compelling content experience is at the center of their success. The metric they look to is Return on Experience, rather than simply the budget.
From an information refreshment perspective, a good place to start is our good friend Google. What I am talking about here is the Google Alerts system, where you can receive daily journals on keywords that you set. From this umbrella approach, most topics will have major websites, blogs, forums, industry organizations, etc., that address specific issues. A designated person is assigned to monitor these on a daily basis. Add to this industry publications, and attendance at relevant trade shows throughout the year, and the net result will be a package of information that will provide direction for content refreshment.
Excellent sources of content include press releases, schedules, policies, photo libraries, archives, speeches and presentations. Live feeds such as AccuWeather, news, sports and events can keep the content lively and relevant. Sponsored messages and ads can provide relevant content while also delivering operational funding. Content can easily draw from and point to content in other media, such as websites and print publications. The content strategy, playlists, day-parting and content spots used at launch offer insights into what is best suited to achieving the goals. Successful content gets noticed and provides benefits, so should be used as a template for the structure, look and feel of additional, ongoing spots.
All too often, network operators make one of two mistakes regarding content:
1.) They default to content that is cheap, easy, generic ... and ultimately worthless. Stock tickers, news and weather do nothing to motivate or educate the audience about the product and offerings of the network operator. (Just this morning, I was in a luxury car dealer showroom where a digital display was tuned to CNN. I saw commercials for Yoplait, Crest and Pampers. I saw nothing relevant to the luxury car dealership or the brand).
2.) They feel compelled to create unique content for their digital signs ... content that is not related to their other, already-established, integrated marketing communication strategies, resulting in audience members scratching their heads.
The long-term solution: Repurpose content from your existing communications programs. What are you saying on your site? On broadcast? On social media? Do you advertise in traditional mediums such as newspaper? What conventional signage do you have in your location? Do you have sales/promotions/special offers?
All of those platforms have content. Repurposing that content, i.e., making it appropriate for the specific circumstances of your digital network experience (read: "dwell time") kills two birds with one stone. It saves money. It reinforces your overall messaging.
After your network is an established, proven commodity (and, hopefully, creating a digital signage content creation budget is justified), then you can create content specific and unique to the network. Even then, do not wander far from your other integrated marketing messages. A digital signage network should enhance and fortify your messaging. The last thing you want your network to do is confuse your audience.
Beware of jumping straight to tactics. If you've launched a digital network and now seek compelling, cost-effective, refresh content my advice to you would be:
1.) Start with mapping your content strategy
2.) Develop a network style guide — This will define the look, tone and feel of the content for your network. Will you be using a lot of video or lifestyle photography? What brand and promotional colors are approved? What fonts and word counts by messaging type?
3.) Require a creative brief on all spots and segments — The brief will help you determine if you'll need custom content, generic content, vendor-provided content, vertical specific content, educational loops, broadcast or a blending of the above options.
4.) Develop a day-part programming guide and schedule (the plan). The plan is key in determining your approach and creative needs.
Be sure to take into consideration the network design, the contents purpose, audience dwell time, and other network design best practices.
Once you've completed the above tasks you are ready to discuss sourcing.
If your content volume is high you may decide to staff up a creative team in-house. If most of your content comes from your product vendors you may want to provide them with your network style guide so that they provide you files that meet your brand standards. You may even provide them with templates. Independent designers and agencies may be an appropriate route to follow — Consider buying blocks of time at a discounted rate and design a schedule based on new product arrival, seasonal changes, events, promotions, etc. In the event you want to procure generic and vertical specific spots and segments be sure that your brand is OK with potentially airing content that your competitor may be airing as well. Canned content and programming; news, RSS feeds, weather and local ad sources can be found online and can be purchased per screen monthly or negotiated on annual agreements. Video clips are also available for purchase in which you can over type your message, pricing, and logo. For example, you need a steaming cup of coffee — you can purchase the video clip or its usage and then customize for your personal use. Make a plan, work the plan. If you need assistance, hire a content strategist to map your plan and identify the appropriate sources for your specific business.
There are three issues to be concerned about:
1 "Knowing" what your target audience wants and/or needs to see!
2 Having a "content owner" for each channel of information!
3 Have a GREAT DESIGN, have "multiple" GREAT DESIGNS, and keep your content fresh!
The majority of the issues are not much different than managing a website.
The "sources" are dependent on the type of business addressing the three items listed.
Marketing, sales department, human resources, production, and/or any "other" relevant department should already have content ... and an owner!!!
To be cost-effective, plan for content in each channel months in advance; hire or procure design staff to create attractive content, and reuse templates and content as much as possible.
And, it doesn't hurt to "jazz up" the content with appropriate "eye candy," current events, and/or music (videos)!
I am going to divide my response into two categories: general information and organization-specific information.
In terms of general information, there is an advantage to having updated screens with things like weather forecasts, sports scores, stock market reports, etc. If you can tie an RSS feed with this type of info into your content management system using templates for different types of info, there will always be something fresh. As a viewer, knowing that I'm going to see updated "real world" info all the time makes it more likely that I'll look at the screen.
Then, once you have viewers hooked with the weather and sports, it's time to add updated organization-specific information into the mix. This is much harder — and much more likely to impact your budget. Who will be responsible for compiling it and actually creating the content? Fortunately, we live in an age where most companies have hidden gems on the team. Find the computer geeks who design computer games on the weekends or stay up all night blogging, posting to Pinterest and Tumblr, and communicating with a network of friends via Facebook or Twitter. Then, find out if they could be made available to you to create content for your network on a part-time basis.
Once you have your in-house geek(s) on board, it's time to think seriously about what information you want them to incorporate. You should already have a strong content strategy plan as part of your network implementation plan. Look for images from company photographers and in-house video production staff. Repurpose artwork and copy from company advertising or employee communications materials.
One last piece of advice: Don't let the geeks run wild! Make sure you have a content approval process in place to ensure corporate branding guidelines are followed and that all content is consistent with your messaging strategy. You don't want to be apologizing to customers in 200 stores for an offensive or incorrect message that went out without approval.
There are numerous sources of content, ranging from user-generated content to custom storyboarded and produced content. The challenge is to first identify and understand what and with whom do you wish to communicate. I entered the digital signage arena in 1997 after almost 10 years introducing high-end digital video and audio production and post-production systems. Our clients included LucasFilm, Paramount, Warner Bros., the BBC and Disney — Brand names in the world of content generation. Hourly rates in these facilities could top $1,000 and they viewed the introduction of digital technology as an evolution to become more efficient with those available hours. In the past 14 years, I have never heard anyone in the digital signage community ask what effective display or software shall I acquire that didn't "break the bank." Incorporating the correct content is critical to the viability and sustainability of any digital signage initiative. The ongoing cost of the correct content needs to be identified and factored into the total cost of ownership and hence return on investment of a digital signage initiative BEFORE buying anything! All too often content is an after-thought and a victim of the "shoot-aim-ready" implementation strategy. After designing and using my ROI modeling tool — EVAlidate — for numerous digital signage business modeling exercises over the years, I can say that hardware and software represents a surprisingly small percentage of the overall ongoing cost of a viable digital signage initiative.
Go to your local TV station or newspaper and offer them space in your loop in exchange for news feeds. They will love the idea as you are distributing their content with their brand for free. The first challenge is to get their content department to agree and re-purpose their content to meet your network's format. The second is that they will need to feed the news stories through a RSS feed. This process may take little time, but once you get it going, you will have 80 percent of your content problem solved. If you are not successful getting content from a traditional media company, then you need to create your own, or outsource your content. You may try to approach other networks that are already producing some content, they will probably sell it for marginal profits, as they have paid to produce it already. You should not be paying much or not paying at all for content, have in mind that some of the content can also be sponsored. But the key is to make sure that you delivered content must be relevant to your viewers.
Keeping the viewers' eyes on the screens is the lifeblood for any network. What we've accomplished at IZON Media (formerly PRN) over the past 20 years is blending paid advertising with venue messaging with entertaining and relevant content. This allows us to tap into three different types of messaging to keep the experience dynamic and seasonal.
The first move is pretty logical — go after popular third-party content such as NFL, National Geographic and the best studio content, initially under an "in-kind" agreement — providing a distribution platform of (hopefully) a lot of captive eyeballs in return for some (hopefully customized or exclusive) content. Another great source of digital content is the print publishing world. These are big companies looking for small nimble partners to help them transition their print content into the digital world beyond online. If the "big guys" don't give you the time of day, then go after the small online video ad networks that aggregate user-generated content. You will have to be selective and filter out the better content, but your value proposition of "free eyeballs" will resonate more with these start-ups. But there is a lot of good free content out there if you invest the time and energy to find it.
The next move takes more focused thinking: Develop short, template-based venue-specific messaging that is hyper-relevant to your audience at that moment. This requires production (and costs) but, if done right, can be done without bleeding the profit and loss. At IZON Media (pronounced "eyes on"), we are lucky to represent venues where many purchase decisions are actually made, thus, we can blur the line between contracted retailer messaging and entertaining content. A great example is a trivia question spot where the viewer tries to guess the new low price of a stocked item while waiting in line at checkout.
The last move is the most complex but has the greatest payoff — sell branded content to paid advertisers. Today, brands are smart and they realize straight "price and item" advertising doesn't always work. They need to win the hearts of consumers by entertaining them via comedy, shock or some other type of emotion. The most talked about (and oftentimes viral) commercials integrate almost subliminal messaging about the actual brand. Remember the VW Jetta commercial with the little boy who thinks he's Darth Vader and can use The Force to control objects? The car and VW brand don't appear at all in the entire first two-thirds of the spot. But most people can almost replay the entire spot in their head — more than two years later. Now, you can't expect to become an in-house creative agency to produce award-winning ideas like that, but the philosophy is proven and helps to not only feed the "content beast" but also make some money along the way.
Content is the key to maintaining a successful network, and as such, can be expensive. It's a huge mistake to not plan for and budget this ongoing expense. After all, it's the reason the screen is hanging on the wall to start with. At CARE Media, we use custom content, which we produce through a content partner. We also use a medical advisory board to keep current on the latest science. There are opportunities today to access per-produced medical content through sources such as TV networks; it comes down to what makes sense for the success of your network. In the case of CARE Media, our goal was to develop a strong brand with a consistent look and feel. We also needed to make sure that the information we are sharing has the approval of doctors across our networks; our doctors are invested in what their audience is exposed to in their offices. The investment in content is our No. 1 priority and working long term with our content partner allows us to leverage cost efficiencies for refresher segments that we need to develop throughout the year.
We are fortunate in that our network is seen by unique visitors every day and we are not as worried about content getting old. Nevertheless, we have explored four alternatives for content that we can gladly recommend.
1.) RSS Feeds — Most digital signage software or management tools allow you to pull content from websites, including videos from YouTube. With so much free content available online, you have more than enough to fill your content gaps, if streaming video is not a concern.
2.) Social Media Feeds — Give your audience a voice by allowing them to have their posts appear on your screen, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.
3.) Nonprofit Organizations — Due to limited budgets, many nonprofits would love the opportunity for additional exposure. You can add their existing content and use your network to support social and community causes.
4.) PowerPoint-style Presentations — Simple content focused on getting a message across. Enhance it with music and stunning visuals to turn more heads.
The two questions this month highlight the importance of developing a sustainable content strategy. Not only must a network program compelling content focused on achieving business goals, it must do so over the long haul; no one intentionally deploys a "temporary" network. Unless you have robust internal production resources, relying completely or significantly on video content will quickly drain your budget and likely result in a longer refresh cycle. For many networks, live data can be a relatively inexpensive way to keep content fresh and provide relevant and actionable information to the audience. "Live data" include everything from basic weather and news feeds to local events information such as upcoming concerts and football games. In addition to external data sources that may or may not come with a price tag, internal data can offer a rich source of content. Examples of internal data sources include class schedules, (for college campus signage), drink specials (generated from a restaurant's point-of-sale system), etc. Using live data does require some front-end development time and resources to establish a mechanism for integrating the data with the organization's digital signage software. There are all resources involved with figuring out how to display the information in an attractive and meaningful way. While there's no such thing as "set it and forget it," live data feeds refresh on their own, usually cheaper, easier and faster than other forms of content.
I believe the key is finding a content partner as opposed to a content vendor(s). This kind of strategic relationship with a professional content development organization typically ensures that the content will remain consistent in quality, will be refreshed on a regular basis and will evolve with (or ahead) of your audience.
The key is how you identify the brand and the strategy at the inception of the campaign.
There are multiple sources for developing content in a network campaign. These include news services, traffic and weather services, sports updates, as well as several other interactive opportunities such as financial information. The technology allows a great deal of flexibility and immediacy in delivering relevant content.
Plan ahead for speed and simplicity! Content cannot be an afterthought! One of the biggest mistakes one can make when they decide to build out a digital network is to underestimate what it's going to take to "feed it." My advice would be to start with a deep understanding of the model for your network. Obviously, the best way to keep the content fresh on network is to consistently sell the ad space within it. Making it easy for your customers to provide content can go a long way. Try to standardize spot lengths, sizes and formats as best you can. From there, develop a consistent methodology to feed dynamic elements into the content. Be sure you have a sound plan in place to ingest, moderate and distribute feeds from various sources into the content of the network. Doing so will help give the network a voice of its own. A great source for dynamic content with Lamar's digital customers has been social media. It doesn't cost anything, and most everyone is already participating on some level. Social allows us the capability to tie into existing conversations between creators and consumers — and that direct interaction makes the message more personal; adding a human element to a brand while at the same time reduces the operational needs of the network operator to keep it fresh.
We believe that the key to a good content strategy is relevance. And few content streams are more relevant than live broadcast TV. With a product like DIRECTV's Message Board, digital signage functionality can be added around the live TV content and allow viewers to consume your contextually relevant messages while in a particular venue. This off-the-shelf solution is an affordable add-on to a venue's typical monthly cable bill.
For us, committing to an internal production team was the best decision we made towards meeting our ongoing content needs. When we first launched, we outsourced our own content to third-party agencies. After just a few months, we realized the demand was higher than we initially thought (shocking, I know), and the cost to pay outside agencies was only worth it when the amount to be produced was lower than a threshold that we quickly surpassed (the old "rent vs. buy decision"). Bringing it in-house gave us greater flexibility, cost controls, and the ability to create custom work for our own sales/promotional efforts — including making limited custom creative part of the overall package for major companies signing on to our program.
My team and I come to work every day to help networks solve this very problem. The challenge every network has is to get viewers ... the next challenge they have is ... that they have viewers! You'll need to engage with those viewers and create a transaction where you give them a reason to watch the screen and they in turn may take the actions you are trying to promote.
In a conversation just this week with a network that has built up a number of screens where some 10 million visitors come semi-regularly and spend up to 20 minutes within eye-shot of the screens — a great opportunity, for sure — but his screens played the same content all month until they do their monthly update. He'd like to add more content, but producing content has been too expensive.
For this network, syndicated content was one part of the solution, along with developing a more staggered approach to randomizing the schedule of his existing content. Syndicated media is content that is already being produced by others that you can subscribe to and add into your playlist.
The advantages start with cost — it is much cheaper for a company that develops content and offers it to several networks to produce constantly updating content, than for a single network to take on all of that cost.
Because syndicated content providers specialize in content and have the resources to do high-quality work, you may find an increase in the quality of the content as well. That said, there are many 'easy' solutions such as an RSS feed or other options that though they are 'fresh content', do not elevate the quality of the connection with your viewer. It's important to source syndicated content that is built specifically for digital signage or otherwise meets the needs of the audience.
Since syndicated content does in fact continue to be delivered on an ongoing basis, your audience will likely view your screens as more up-to-date, even if other content in the playlist has remained in the loop for quite some time.
Syndicated content in our industry has grown beyond simple text tickers, weather or horoscopes (thankfully) into unique and effective tools. It's not an entire strategy, but syndicated content is a great tool for network operators looking to keep their screens fresh at a reasonable cost.
I'll start my recommendation with how I start almost every answer, with this disclaimer — every network is unique, and each will really have their own unique answer to this question (as with most questions). We run one network now that only needs five to eight minutes of programming, which we custom produce on an as-needed basis. So for this, it's fairly easy answer, as we produce everything on the network. But we have had and still operate other networks that need (based on the content strategy) 15 to 20 hours of content that is refreshed as often as possible. Fortunately for our current network that needs this amount of content, there is an abundance of content available, and we are constantly licensing it from producers and networks. If this content wasn't available, or wasn't so abundant, it could cost a lot to license. This is why it's important to know these factors when developing the content strategy.
As a general rule, research who the manufacturers are within the industry you are working in. Do they produce videos that customers may be interested in seeing in these locations? So many companies are producing videos these days, mainly for social media, so this could be an additional outlet for them. Obviously, this could be a potential advertiser but also may need to be provided for free for the benefit of the end-client. This is a situation we deal with very often, how to balance advertisers and end-clients (subscribers) to our networks. Other questions to ask. Who else produces content that makes sense for this environment? Are there networks that have content already pre-produced for other purposes that could work? We have created relationships with many networks and studios, including SPEED, ESPN, NBC, Fox Sports, Turner, Paramount, Disney, etc., for various networks. Some want money to license their content, others are open to us providing them with time to promote their programs. Without a doubt, this is a vital component of many networks, and these negotiations take a lot of time and energy. This is something that constantly evolves during the lifetime of a network, but it's something that needs to be addressed when the network goals and content strategy are developed, that is, long before the hardware and software choices are made.
A lot of network operators suffer with the challenge on how to keep content fresh without breaking the bank. One suggestion would be to "creatively" develop content that can be easily edited or dynamically linked to external resources. Video production is the No. 1 killer of content budgets and there is no rule you have to constantly use video. Think about programs such as Flash, Swish or Hype which provide the capability to create "Web-like" content that can be utilized for digital signage. These programs allow you to create "templates" that can pull in images and text from other digital resources and are very easy to re-edit. By creating "dynamic" pieces that pull in info from other sources (i.e. websites and social media feeds) you can extend the life of a spot by enabling it to be automatically updated.
Syndicated content is also another "budget-friendly" source for operators to populate their loop with. Groups like ScreenFeed provide numerous pre-developed content feeds that add a source of infotainment to networks. You don't want to rely solely on infotainment to create attention but the addition of syndicated content will balance out the loop.
It may not be difficult to develop content for a launch if you have a well-thought out strategy and the budget to fulfill it. But, it becomes difficult if your audience feels that they are not receiving the right content to engage with your brand. You must allocate the time, effort and money to develop a targeted content plan. We've worked with clients who barely budget for launch content — let alone, think ahead about how they are going to continue to update and refresh segments. So many times we hear "let's just throw this up there and we can change it later." The opportunity to do that may never materialize because the audience has already become turned off by content that is not relevant. The success stories come out of mapping out content that will maintain the "beast" and drive continued and deeper engagement with the audience. These days there are sources of content everywhere. TV networks and popular websites are all offering access to their content. You can also extend the life of existing content by re-purposing and/or creating "mashups" of your content. Working with a content partner who already has established relationships with content sources allows you to leverage efficiencies in pre-negotiated pricing. Whatever you do, keep in mind that content is your most critical business asset and can make or break the success of your network — engage a content partner to help you do it right.
In addition to your own internal promotional messaging, you can feed the "beast" with outside resources such as ad agency assets, including logo animations; supplier product stills, video footage, and "how-to"s;' licensed third-party news, weather, sports and financial feeds, licensed music videos and video news releases. Be especially cautious of repurposing pre-produced television or Web spots, since their formats, resolutions and audio might not be compatible with your network. To make economies, strategically consider the scope of the "beast" from the beginning: Carefully assessing display orientation and location, screen zones, dwell time and refreshment rate can help manage your ongoing content requirements. In addition, content templates can help save creative time and dollars. Stock images will be more economical than custom video. Infographics can be powerful, yet cost-effective. Free government and nonprofit content assets might be relevant to your audience. And a revenue-based model will transform network time into dollars.
"Compelling" is the key word! I've used content feeds such as AccuWeather, CustomWeather, Eventful and Associated Press, done license and barter deals with major broadcast and cable networks for custom programming, created original content when I couldn't find what I needed and sometimes even gotten advertisers to pay for it (templates can keep costs down too). I've also scoured the Web for interesting content in categories such as pop culture, food and lifestyle. Realistically, the best way to feed the beast for the best price is to hire a content expert. You'll make up the cost of the contractor (or employee) in license fee savings and viewership results. You need someone who knows all the tricks. Most importantly, you want someone who can work a deal. The cost of licensing content varies widely and it sometimes takes an "insider" to get you the best price. There is so much content out there ... but you might not have to look any further than the Digital Content Show at DSE. The great thing about the content experts at DSE is that they understand the appropriate formats and cost structure for our space. See you there!
In order to keep content fresh and create a sustainably model, the key is thinking omnichannel. In the purest form, omnichannel marketing ensures that the same message is delivered across all media. This approach will create the most favorable impression with the consumer, but also makes good financial sense. In an omnichannel culture, digital signage simply becomes one of the outputs, albeit one of the most dynamic.
While omnichannel is an ideal place to be, many companies have not been able to find this sweet spot due to internal silos. This leaves the marketer responsible for digital signage with the challenge of either finding ready-to-use content, or custom creation.
In our experience, the first step is to partner with other marketers within an organization, in order to be aware of what content is being created that can be reengineered. This should not be limited to dynamic content, from broadcast or online, but rather all high resolution content. In other words, all sources of content should be considered. Ideally, when you have knowledge of what is being created for another medium, you can sometimes influence the end result to suit the needs of digital signage. In practical terms, this may translate in to creating components of a Web campaign at higher resolution, so they can then be repurposed for digital signage.
Step two is to work with a reputable agency that has the ability to cost effectively manipulate, or repurpose all forms of content in to a suitable form for digital signage. This might seem obvious, but we still see a lot of poorly executed content in the marketplace.
By thinking omnichannel and partnering with other marketers, you will be well on your way to creating a sustainable content model.