“What emphasis do you feel is placed on content by screen suppliers, CMS vendors, end-users, consumers?”
(Authored by Guest Contributor Ben Kaluski, Director of Business Development, Freshwater Digital Media Partners)
Screen Selection, Procurement and the Impact of Content Strategy
Hardware and software procurement are often either overlooked or handled by a different department for digital signage. A pain point in the industry, especially from a digital signage agency perspective, is that content is not the number-one influence on the rationale for a project. If content and the audience to which it is being delivered was the number-one focus, the equipment decisions would come second. Unfortunately, equipment typically comes from an IT department and is often completely disconnected from the content team, i.e. marketing or communications departments. This brings up the primary questiond, “How do we resolve this disconnect, and how do we recommend our clients navigate this situation when the tangible equipment is already in place?”
These questions can probably be detailed in a 10-page white paper about how digital signage works and what the key components of a proper system are. However, for the sake of this explanation, we’ll condense it into the following sections:
- Purpose and Ownership (Who and Why)
- Placement (Where)
- Display features (size, brightness, etc.) (What)
- Software features (future proofing) (What)
- Logistics (How)
- Budget & ROI (Why)
Who and Why
First, you’re off to a good start. There’s plenty of data from reputable sources on how effective digital signage networks can be to nearly any audience, anywhere in the world. Now that you’re at least interested in digital signage, you need to evaluate why that is. To get you thinking on the right track, first identify your industry and audience. One example would be you’re a large corporate office and want to communicate to your various employees, visitors, and stakeholders. If this is the case, identify who will manage the content, even if the agency is the one making the content. In our experience, an internal communications department is the perfect team for this. You’ll want to identify this so you can manage expectations both from a budgeting standpoint and from an ongoing labor need. However, you’ll obviously want to include IT to help with the device management – power, data, and general networking security.
Where the screens are physically placed will make or break the effectiveness of a digital signage network. It’s far too often that a screen is put in a spot that would require x-ray vision to see it while pulling in Power Point presentations through a thumb drive. This not only is completely ineffective, but also quite honestly, reflects poorly on how communications are valued in a company communicating with staff, visitors, and other stakeholders. The key is to identify where there is the most foot traffic and ideally the longest dwell time, (i.e. where people hangout). Not all offices are suitable for digital signage, and it isn’t always the right solution.
Now that screen locations have been identified, the next step is to consult on the actual content strategy. The strategy should at least identify if there will be a need for longer or shorter videos and if the visuals will require large text. Every space will have a different ideal content strategy, but for budgets and labor, a compromise is needed across all displays so as to maximize efficiencies.
What – Display Hardware
After identifying the general content size, choose a display that will allow the content to be shown in a legible format. Our go-to rule of thumb is to be able to read any message on the screen at least 1.5 times while in the viewing space. That requires a display that is large enough to capture the audience’s attention but also allows them to read it without squinting for the desired amount of time. Consider consulting with experts, if you haven’t already, on what brightness or NIT/Lumens will be required for the location. Screen brightness is especially important in outdoor or bright areas. Finally, make sure it has the proper inputs needed to network and set up the digital signage players, if the screens do not have a built-in media player.
What – Media Player
Media players are incredibly difficult to choose because they all have pros and cons, and there is never a “one size fits all” solution. For that reason, Freshwater Digital takes pride in being hardware- and software-agnostic. To make the best choice, identify how the content will be used, what it needs to do, and what the future needs may be. After identifying certain features like templates, HTML5 capabilities, RSS feeds, and scheduling needs, select software and media players that best meet your needs. We recommend initially narrowing it down to two choices: One with a higher SaaS fee and the other with a lower cost. This way, your IT team can be consulted to figure out what suits their needs from a budget and security standpoint, (i.e. an on-premise or cloud-based solution).
By now, it should be clear why the IT professionals can’t be the only team involved and why the content should lead the choice of hardware. And, this only scratches the surface.
Having identified content requirements, preferred displays, media players, software, general budgets and costs, now is the time to consider overall logistics with project management teams. We recommend asking and identifying these questions:
- Are the screens we want available?
- Will they ship within our desired timeline?
- Has the installation been thought through including identifying the need for a lift or mounting to uncommon surfaces such as concrete or steel? If oversized, will the large display fit in the doorway/elevator to be delivered, or will it need to be hoisted up on the exterior of the building?
- Who will ensure the project stays on track, (i.e. who will manage the project?)
Budgets and ROI
We always recommend evaluating digital signage installations and ask if internal surveys should be able to provide better responses to employee satisfaction metrics. This is a common desire for large corporate offices that need to provide transparency while keeping everyone happily engaged. If this particular measurement is required, the cost to supply this information is entirely dependent upon budget. If looking to increase sales in a customer-facing capacity, measure that to evaluate a precise ROI model. It’s also quite common to simply elevate a space where there’s no immediate and identifiable ROI. How success is measured should be decided far before projects are approved, much less implemented.
Hardware should always be chosen based on the content strategy. Content will influence everything from the size of the display through the ongoing SaaS fees. Identify the Who, What, Where, When, and Why before starting any digital signage project.