Guest Post: Re-Thinking The Digital Signage Approach

June 8, 2012 by guest author, Michael Arnett

Those within digital signage supplier circles know how easy it is to be critical of doomed projects.

“Too many stakeholders,” we cry.

“Poor implementations,” we roar.

“No content strategy,” we howl.

“The wrong people doing the wrong things,” we sigh.

And so it goes …

From the inside looking out, we claim to have the answers, and wonder why there aren’t millions more digital displays helping viewers along their way.

“Maybe we’re ahead of our time,” we think aloud.

“Maybe there still needs to be more lessons learned before we do things the right way,” we wonder.

“Maybe the precedent just isn’t there,” we ponder.


Let’s try something different. Instead of only looking out the window to see what is lacking and what others could have done better, let’s also look in the mirror and see what we could be doing better. As an industry, we’ve taken great strides in this regard, but we’re not exactly in leaps-and-bounds territory. Let’s look at three of the most basic “why-are-we-doing-this?” examples.

The Right Congregation?

We have many great soap boxes and forums for spreading the digital signage gospel, building networks and continuing to learn. The education is there. It’s quite good now.

From conferences and seminars, to tradeshows and webinars, industry champions continue to share their knowledge for the benefit of those eager to learn how to implement and manage both their networks, and their expectations, properly.

A subset of said education are standards, which have, albeit slowly, also emerged. No end of terms, guides and glossaries help unify what should be a collective approach to solving communication problems digitally. That there are seemingly rival associations competing for standards definitions is another topic altogether, but their intentions to simplify things for the masses are good.

However, the awareness of that education isn’t quite where it should be.

Out in the field it’s clear that not all decision-makers even know where to start looking for the enlightenment we think they crave. I continue to meet people of influence who haven’t heard of our industry’s major trade shows, let alone success stories, blogs et al.

While I think the crux of our shows are generally good, many of the meandering knowledge-seekers in attendance are already specialists heavily invested in the digital signage doctrine. Evangelizing from without, rather than within, would ideally open more eyes to our wonderful, seemingly endless capabilities (preaching to the choir, I know…).

It’s high time for increased cross-event, cross-forum, and even cross-journal involvement, where different, though like-minded, audiences, thirsty for complimentary knowledge, converge.

The Right Term?

From within we get excited when we talk about “digital signage.” It’s a term that has stuck, particularly with suppliers, for several years.

But when I mention digital signage for the first time to friends, family, and acquaintances, almost all of them immediately think I work in electronic signature security, and their first reaction is to say how important that is.

After spending a minute or so explaining how digital screens can appear virtually anywhere, conveying virtually any message as a type of sign, they get it, and quickly agree that the tipping point seems within our grasp. That’s a minute, though, that I’d never have had with a relevant decision-maker because he or she likely wouldn’t know where to begin looking.

Other attempts to coin a united nomenclature that appeals to all have helped. “Digital place-based media” has emerged over the past handful of years, and seems quite good in the digital-out-of-home advertising world. But it doesn’t quite trigger “Eureka chants” in the corporate one, where I’ve been referring to “digital communication screens” for some time now, usually to significantly greater interest than the conventional digital signage term.

Different strokes to different vertical folks will ultimately yield the right umbrella terms that best characterize what they need. “Digital menu board,” for example, speaks volumes in the QSR space, but it doesn’t do justice to the ambient and entertainment displays that are being deployed while patrons munch away. In a nutshell, be mindful of whom you’re speaking with, and don’t assume that the world out there instinctively knows that we can help, let alone how we can. I can’t fathom there being a super-hero term that will save the day in this vein, but digital signage just isn’t it.

The Right Look?

For over a decade the classic inverted, rigid L-bar look has become the de facto standard for DS screens. It ties in nicely to the broadcast tv-feel several suppliers have set forth to achieve, but it sure doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. Within that straight-edge look it’s still commonplace to see lower-third crawls deliver messages that jitter, largely due to cost-shaving hardware shortcomings.

To me, the look is not only dated, but largely ineffective in environments where we aim to get one’s attention within 1-3 seconds. Without taking anything away from the importance and relevance of segmented content, I’d much rather see something different more frequently deployed, like interesting overlays, which at least give viewers the impression that they’re really looking at something different … that boundaries are just a guideline.

An educational debate continues to ensue between DS advocates, media planners and ad agencies, with “digital signage is not TV” as the underlying theme. Of course, there are obvious arguments in favor of this assertion, in particular that digital place-based media can be specifically targeted to shoppers in-store, dollars in hand, at their moment of maximum influence. But I can’t say I’m convinced that having one’s message almost always look like it’s on a TV broadcast is the answer.

Please don’t get me wrong — I can see how conveying through the illusion of something we’re all familiar with has merit — I just don’t think the better the devil you know is the be-all, end-all resemblance that will take us to the promised land, especially where crawls are involved.

Whether we consider these examples as victims of growing pains or moving target syndrome, there’s no denying the evolutionary path has been relatively swift, impassioned and remarkable. It’s hard to ignore where the technology is today relative to where it’s been, and deployment costs couldn’t be more attractive than they are now.

Speak with anyone outside the industry, though, for an unbiased perspective, and you’ll catch on quick that, at least collectively, we’re not quite where we need to be.

photo credit: wiccked via photo pin cc

  1. Tony Hymes says:

    Maybe instead of calling it digital signage, we can just call it digital signs? I find that when I tell people (who are not involved in advertising at all) what digital signage is, they don’t get it, but when I say that I work digital signs, everyone seems to understand: “oh, it’s like a TV at the train station?” Yes, exactly.

  2. The article raises key questions. The lack of identity for the (digital signage) medium causes the following problems:
    – when advertisers allocate their media budgets, they don’t have a distinct silo to put the money in when they mean “digital signs”, so the money comes out from all kinds of other buckets: Outdoor, TV, online, experimental, etc.
    The medium is hostage to the lack of identity and that prevents it from getting the share of ad spend it deserves.

    – newcomers don’t have a proper search term when they research the industry, so they revert to the most commonly used “digital signage.” “Digital signage” is not a perfect term, but it certainly beats any other when it comes to online search. Advertisers, however, use an array of other terms, none of which is standardized yet.

  3. […] Re-Thinking Digital Signage? Tags: Digital Signage Connection Blog, DSE, Content, Digital Out-of-Home Networks, Technology, Digital Out-of-Home Networks, Systems Integration/Installation October 15, 2012 Article By: Brent Adams We at Digital Signage Connection came across this blog post a few days ago — what are your thoughts on what the author, Michael Arnett, has to say? […]

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