Failing To Plan A Digital Signage Project Means Planning To Fail

July 26, 2014 by guest author, Mark Janke



Guest Post: Tom Pritzker, JohnRyan

The old proverb “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” may have a lot of miles on it, but it keeps getting used because it’s simple, sound advice.

Big projects can go adrift quickly if good work and thinking doesn’t go into the early scoping and planning stages.

It can be a big risk when digital signage projects get started in banks. In the context of the enormous complexity that banks manage day to day, getting video screens running in branches may look and seem relatively simple. So the project might not get the attention it really needs.

In our most recent The JohnRyan Report on Digital Signage In Retail Financial Services, we asked detailed questions about how bankers around the globe were handling these projects. We found, in 2013, less than half of the 200-plus banks that responded had developed a business case. Less than a third had plans and processes to measure what the screen network was doing for their banks.

That may explain why 54% of the respondents in The JohnRyan Report were just moderately satisfied with their digital signage deployment.

If you’ve been charged with creating a digital signage project in your retail financial services company, or getting an under-performing one on track, here’s a run-down on how to build a plan that’s effective, ROI-driven and fail-safed:

Develop And Define Objectives

What’s this about? A digital display project needs a clear, concise outline of what the technology and people investment will do and deliver, and how its success will be measured.

These objectives may be soft, hard to measure ideals like driving and reinforcing the brand, elevating the banking customer experience though better communications and improving staff morale. They may be much more tangible, like increasing in-branch loan applications or mobile app downloads.

Either way, or both, project goals should have substance, as well as criteria in place to measure if goals are being met once the network gets in the field as a test and rollout. Not everyone does measurement when their networks launch, and while that’s not ideal, it’s also OK. Sometimes you just need to get a network running.

Build Your Programming Model

With some sense of a network’s messaging goals, you can start to build the basic elements of the content programming model.

That model will give you a foundation for understanding the breadth of content programming, as well as the duration and frequency of changes. It’s simple to develop a broad sense of the key kinds of messages that will appear across all branches. The complexity comes in thinking about the types and numbers of messages that could be delivered branch by branch, and even down to zones within branches, times of day and week, or tied to objectives like loan activations and downloads.

Understanding the amount of content being produced and moved around has direct implications on staffing, workflows, bandwidth consumption and the choice of technology platform.  You not only want to know roughly how many messages, but how and when they’ll change. You’ll also want to develop some sense of the types of media, as sending video files around a network consumes a lot of bandwidth, while still image files have minimal impact.

You’ll also want to think about the context and relevance of content, the balance of marketing versus informational messages, and the timing and volume of content needed.

Many networks struggle because not enough time was spent building the programming model, and understanding the resource, budget and operating implications to keep content steadily fresh.

Decide On The Operating Model

A big digital signage network has a lot of moving parts, and  the project team needs to determine what it wants to take on internally, and who will do that work.

Content Management Systems (CMS) that are at the heart of most digital signage networks fall into two distinct categories: one kind you rent; the other you buy.

Some organizations want anything that touches on their networks securely housed and managed within the corporate firewall, so that means buying a software platform and running it on bank servers, managed by bank people.

On the flip side, some banks want anything not deemed to be mission-critical operating entirely outside their data centers and firewalls. Some CIOs even mandate the use of Internet connections completely independent of the bank’s own connectivity. That often steers the choice to companies that offer their software as a service (known as SaaS).

The servers, the storage, the connectivity and management are all offloaded to the SaaS vendor, and a user just logs into a management platform online, in much the same way that banking customers log in and pay their bills via the Web.

Because JohnRyan works specifically in the retail financial services sector, we’ve learned the challenges and developed approaches to work inside or outside the firewall, and leverage the WAN/LAN without undermining security.

How the platform needs to work is a big point on the technology decision path, and the choice needs to come early because of the programming and infrastructure implications.

Identify Roles And Responsibilities

A successful project is invariably going to involve multiple departments and functions, but ultimately, somebody has to own it.

The department, and those people, need to be its champions from the moment objectives are settled on and the operating model determined.

They need to be involved right from project kickoff, to understand, very early, such things as:

Also needing an early decision is just how much of the complementary work gets outsourced. Who will produce creative? Will the scheduling and distribution work be done by staff, or by a bank agency, or by the software service vendor? Will the IT support team watch and troubleshoot equipment deployed in the field, or will that also get outsourced?

Perhaps due to the breadth of work, respondents in the 2013 Ryan Report said the ability for a digital signage solutions partner to provide end-to-end deployment and management support tops their vendor selection criteria list, trumping both banking knowledge and technical know-how.

Get Broad Buy-In

It’s important that while one department – such as marketing – takes on and owns the in-branch digital communications program, it shouldn’t get silo’d. All the departments who touch on and can contribute to the project success should be on-board in the planning, and kept involved as part of a working group through planning, testing, implementation and long-term management.

You don’t want IT people making marketing decisions, just like you don’t want marketing people managing servers and troubleshooting outages.

Often, the digital signage projects that fail are those that were conceived and implemented in a vacuum. They may start out with funds and enthusiasm, but quickly became orphaned efforts, with no broad base of support within the company.

Take The Long View

JohnRyan is focused only on working with retail financial services companies, and we’ve seen how companies working with other vendors have often failed to take a full three to five year view on their investment.

Successful projects need a strong launch with great creative and rock-solid performance. But they also need a strong plan and commitment to what’s going to happen and change over the life-cycle of the equipment, and the program.

You need to plan out all the creative costs to bring the network to life, but also create a budget that reflects a steady change-out of content, likely mirroring the calendar for other branch marketing and merchandising work.

All that creative work can roll up to a big number, so part of your creative planning should look at tools – such as good-looking templates and dynamically-generated, data-driven content – to steadily refresh programming.

JohnRyan clients work with an intelligent messaging and playlists platform that uses centrally-set business rules and priorities to automatically optimize the content played at each branch. By assigning descriptive attributes to individual branches, as well as to content elements, what would be enormously intricate, time-consuming scheduling jobs are take minutes instead of days.

Make Careful Technology Choices

While most digital signage platforms, at their core, essentially do the same thing, the choices of platform, hardware and solutions providers are enormously important. Even seemingly innocuous things like media file support types can have a big bearing on performance and cost.

Taking the long view is also going to help your planning team factor in shifting technologies and consumer habits.

Are you factoring in PCs for what will effectively be digital versions of posters, when LCDs will soon have much lower cost embedded computers built into them?

Will your displays and your network connectivity handle ultra HD content when and if the bank’s agency starts producing that way? You might have 4K ready screens, but not the broadband to get it there or the storage space to handle what will be very big video files.

Are you thinking about the implications of technology like NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy that bridge mobile devices and screens, even if you won’t use it for 18-24 months? You don’t want to be waiting four years, for a hardware refresh, to get a compatible system and catch up with competitors.

Future-proofing is tough because technology is so fast and fluid future, but it’s an important, ongoing consideration. You’ll have technology people within your company – from IT to interactive – who can help. And the right solutions partner will have solid insights and a steady eye on future applications.

Test And Tweak

Develop a plan and discipline to test, measure, review and improve your network.

That might start in a technology lab or testing branch, or some other controlled environment. Often, signage rollouts are done in phases that start with pilots, and then expand after tests and revisions.

The early stages are your chance to validate everything from the consumer response to messaging to the quality of service provided by the vendor.

Work With Subject Matter Experts

A big part of a solutions partner’s ability to provide turnkey support has to do with understanding the client’s business.

As the project leader and champion within your bank, part of your challenge with bringing a network together will be internal education and evangelism.

You shouldn’t also be burdened with having to explain to your vendor how banks work.

The digital signage eco-system has a broad cross-section of companies that do very different things. Many market on their “turnkey” services but very few genuinely have the range of services, skills and resources to take projects from conception to lunch and then manage on an ongoing basis.

Agencies do creative, but they rarely know tech. Systems integrators do installation and management, but they rarely know and do creative. Display guys sell displays. Software guys write code.

Unless an organization wants to hire, train and staff a dedicated team to manage all aspects of a network, the best option is to hand it off to a company that can genuinely build and manage the network. Ideally, you work with a large stable company that has a lot of experiencing planning and building networks, but also – and this can’t be overstated – has experience working within the unique operating environment of retail banking.

Your path to success will be that much quicker – and your risk of failure much lower – if your business partners already know your business.

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