Unification! Thinking About Those Pesky yet Utterly Essential Paper Handouts & the Rest of Your Static Content


Nowadays, technology connects everything.  From my watch to my sneakers, from my home speakers to the cloud and from our customers smart devices to our finely crafted marketing campaigns, everything is connected in one way or another.  So, we should be covered right?  No doubt, we’ve stopped cutting down trees a few years ago as all of those pesky paper handouts at our retail locations have been rendered obsolete.  Yes, aren’t I glad that I was able to show my son newsprint in paper in his first year or two now that it has gone the way of the Dodo bird, right? What? Not yet you say.  Those are still chainsaws I hear in the distance?  Alright, I admit it, we don’t yet live in a world where nano-luminescent particles are mixed in with every construction material and can of paint so that every surface is a canvas for storytelling, and any space around me could become a hologram of breathtaking perfection.  We are somewhere in the middle, as we always are, and have to make some choices about how to adapt our stories across mediums that range from permanent globs of ink to real-time dynamic  digital signage interfaces.  So what are we going to do?

A few strategies:

#1 Best and worse of both worlds…

While not a very innovative solution, lots of retailers use digital signage to reflect updates in pricing, policies or product offering availability, but then keep around paper equivalents. Then, when an update occurs, they just re-print and perhaps laminate another few hundred copies as needed.  Why?  The reasons are mostly simple—loss of power, technical issues, bad angles for customers to see displays at all locations in a store, not enough investment funds to blanket a given area, limited screen real estate or dwell time to communicate everything.  Sometimes it is as simple as people like to collect your static handouts as souvenirs from a trip, and you don’t want to go against tradition.  Any one of these is a good reason to keep some paper equivalents around to allow for operations to continue, or find a compromise to an imperfect installation.  As long as the frequency isn’t too bad, and the cost to produce is low enough, you are willing to go this route. 

The only complication comes from having to adapt content and messaging strategies across static and digital, which might require some additional content creation work for your teams.  If you don’t keep up with all of the changes, you run the risk of being out of alignment. This problem could manifest itself in a number of ways including prices that don’t match up, policies that have changed, customer complaints and even safety concerns about exit locations and allergens.  If you don’t align your content across static and digital mediums, you’ll have some lumps ahead of you.

#2 A little bit of this and a little bit of that…

So you really want to avoid alignment issues, but you do have some solid reasons to keep static signage and handouts around? Okay, then we start getting a bit selective.  You look for the low-hanging fruit first, things that almost never change but you need to communicate. These could be paper handouts or boards that target particular group needs, such as families looking for kids’ menus during busy meal periods or handouts that act as supplements once you connect with your customer using a digital engagement strategy or even language specific handouts for international travelers and families. 

Communication is another huge component for this and the previous scenario, as you want your operators to not just hand out menus by default, if this was the prior policy.  It now becomes a matter of circumstance depending on need, and when that need is triggered, it must be communicated to the measurement and optimization team for your digital signage analytics. To not do so invites dirty data, inaccurate CoC (cause of change) analysis and forever scratching your head about why your digital promotion tanked this past weekend.  Speaking from personal experience, you really want to avoid this.

The short version is that you want to print and produce less quantity, and/or reduce the frequency of your static workflow.  All of this trickles down to content team resources, reducing risk from misalignment and perhaps even a cleaner read on measuring the value of your digital signage promotions.

#3 “Static signage…Where we’re going, we don’t need… static signage”

Yes, the time is nigh.  You’ve smelled ozone in the air from your printer for the last weekend, and this time, you are never going back.  This is feasible and certainly achievable without anything particularly extravagant. But remember, when we say all in, we mean it.  Electronic shelf labels, no handouts for customers and enough digital interfaces and touch points to communicate your message.  Plus, having a generator or some hefty battery systems onsite better be part of your budget.  The upside, of course, is one production flow for content, nimbly making updates anytime you want, and an audience that knows if they want information, a screen is never far away.  Depending on your product offering, a streamlined menu perhaps, this is quite possible and desirable.  And if your situation is mostly geared towards a customer shopping with a smartphone in hand, the digital sign of importance is far smaller than you would expect.

As I mentioned earlier, we are forever “in the middle” of this tug of war between legacy operations and new capabilities granted to us by advances in technology.  The above doesn’t touch upon our evolving usage of every paper cup surface, the back of every paper receipt and the various pre and post visit paper mailings still being sent to customers in order to expand the conversation.  The decision is truly not a simple case of cost effectiveness, saving some funds on toner, paper and laminate.  Rather, it requires an understanding of your guests’ preferences for interaction.  You will, by default, fall somewhere in the middle of the above as your business is not a case study but a never-ending series of lessons learned and changes made. 

Good luck in finding that right balance, unifying your storytelling mediums where possible and serving your customers well.


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Integration Consultant
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

End User Council

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