What’s The Point Of Digital Signage?

Guest Post: Debbie DeWitt, Visix

Debbie DeWitt

Digital signage is often talked about in terms of technology, and that makes sense. At its core, it is hardware sending signal to other hardware. It’s often purchased by IT folks, and it runs on a network. But that’s not its purpose. The reason any organization spends time, money and resources on digital signage is to communicate better with their audiences. Digital signage is not a technology solution – it’s a communications solution.

Really, there are only three things that digital signs are for: to inform, to assist and to motivate. Informing is done the moment a message goes live on the screens. Assisting is already there in something like interactive wayfinding – the maps show not just where something is but the best route to get there. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of organizations stop.

Motivating often gets overlooked, and that’s unfortunate because it’s the most powerful tool digital signage offers communicators. Good messaging can build morale, drive performance, increase participation and reinforce culture. If you want to affect people’s perceptions, behavior and actions, you have to motivate them to do something.

It’s a misconception that many messages don’t need a call to action: “We want people to know about this (policy, event, or whatever) and now they do, because we put it on screens.” But do they? How do you know? That message is one of several in a playlist rotating throughout the day. How effective is the message design? Is it on the right screens? Is it being displayed often enough? What days or times of day is best to reach your target audience? Without getting people to do something that can be tracked and measured, you have no way of knowing if anyone’s paying attention.

Even an innocuous message like “Today is Monday, July 15 – have a great day!”, with a weather module showing the forecast can have a call to action. Send them to the intranet to see what’s new. Include the top three things happening on site or in the organization that day. It might be someone’s work anniversary, or birthday, or who knows what? Surely there’s something you can add that will further inform your audience, assist them in some way, and motivate them to do something. So, the process can be summarized as IAMA – Inform-Assist-Motivate-Action.

Calls to Action
Some people skip a call to action is they don’t want to overcrowd the message with too much text. And that’s a fair point because you want your messages to be short and sweet. However, a call to action doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. There are many ways to encourage people to take action that eat up very little screen real estate.

What form the call to action takes could be:

  • An instruction (“Do this”)
    • Something real-world (go somewhere, do something)
    • Interact with your social media
  • A short URL to a webpage on your intranet, website or social networks. Use a vanity URL that makes sense and is easy to remember. Bit.do makes this easy.
  • A QR code in place of a URL. This takes up even less space on the screen, and there are lots of free QR generators online.
  • A promo code that can be entered online or a code word to be used someplace like the café or bookstore for some reward.
  • Take a photo of the screen or message, and either post it or show it to someone (usually to get something in return).
  • SMS a word or phrase to a certain number to respond to a question or poll on screen.
  • Take a short survey (if you have interactive screens). Make sure it’s less than 12 questions.

Think about Twitter. A tweet is a short message that encapsulates the essence of an idea, and usually has a couple of hashtags and a link. It’s streamlined to motivate people to take a specific action for that specific message. In a tweet, you want people to click the link; in a digital signage message you want them to take your call to action.

Another similarity is this: on Twitter, if you have a longer message to convey, you can link tweets together in a serial format. You can do the same thing with digital signage playlists. Just make sure that the messages come one after another in the playlist, and they should all use the same call to action so you’re measuring results for the campaign like you would a single message.

As each message is being composed and created, before being scheduled, think about what call to action you can include. Every kind of message can prompt people to do something, even a welcome message. Let’s say you have a high-level guest is visiting your facility, so you put up a welcome message to a) inform your people as to who this person is and why they’re there, and b) assist that person to feel welcome, find where they’re going and form a bond with your organization. In this example, your call to action for employees could be something simple like “Say hello”, or could be a URL or QR tag to motivate people to get more information about the visitor (an online bio, company website, etc.).

If you’re promoting an event, the obvious goal is to get people to show up for it. Your call to action can motivate them to make a reservation, purchase tickets or send them to a webpage for more details. If it’s a meeting announcement, you can direct people to your calendar system, so they know where to always find updates and changes. If the message is for enrolling in something, like a 401(k) plan, you can direct them to online signup forms, an overview of your benefits package, or an article about retirement planning.

Maybe you are trying to encourage people to interact more with your social media. Direct them to the social portal (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and ask them to like or follow the page. You could even go further and ask them to post something, like a photo with a particular hashtag you have set up specifically for this campaign.

You can even get people to do things in the real, as opposed to the online, world. Menu boards can include a coupon code that gives the person a break on daily specials or healthy choices at your on-site cafeteria. That menu board could also include a QR code for people to find out nutritional information for your menu. A bookstore can show people where to see the inventory, offer discounts, give away swag within a certain time frame, etc.

If you are trying to reduce energy consumption in the building, you can display a dashboard or stats that show current usage levels next to your overall goal, and the call to action is simple “Please turn off lights” or something similar.

Leveraging smartphones is a great way to get people doing something. As already mentioned, asking people to take a snap or video, and then show it somewhere in exchange for a discount, or a free muffin, or some other gift, is a great way to get people doing something.

Using text messaging is another way to get people involved. Again, you can use it for some sort of promo – text “xxx” to “12345” and get some kind of gift/swag/etc. But you can also use SMS capabilities to ask short poll questions, check training comprehension, get people to pledge for fundraising or charities, answer trivia, respond to Town Hall questions, etc. There are many online companies that provide simple SMS polling plans you can use.

Best Practices
The other benefit to always using a call to action is that you have a built-in way to directly measure how effective certain digital signage messages are. Simply count the number of people who take the action, and there’s your ROI.

That’s why you want to have dedicated landing pages when you send people to the web with URLs or QR codes, so you can track how many hits it gets in a certain timeframe. The same goes with messages asking people to use SMS and promo codes  – make them exclusive to you can track how many times they were used for each campaign.

And always be thinking of how you can make it easier for people to take your call to action. A series of complicated steps will just get forgotten or ignored. A good portion of your audience is on the move, and you have just a few seconds to get their attention, get them to comprehend your message, and then either take some action then or remember how to take that action later.

Make it easy for viewers to do the thing you want them to do. Here are some best practices for calls to action on digital signs:

  • Make sure the call to action is easy to see in the message – don’t bury it in lots of other text or pictures.
  • Be clear, concise and specific.
  • Write at an appropriate level for the audience.
  • Prioritize verbs, then nouns, and only use adjectives sparsely.
  • Use vivid language, and imperative verb forms (commands).
  • Include trigger words that are considered to be persuasive.
  • Make taking the action easy.
  • Focus on the benefits to the audience and common needs.
  • Create a sense of urgency to encourage immediate action.
  • Consider adding a small reward for taking the action immediately.
  • Think about cross-promotion possibilities.
  • Build some way to measure ROI into your calls to action so you can adjust future messages to be more effective.

If you aren’t doing these things, then your digital signs are little more than electronic posters. You aren’t using your digital signage system to its fullest potential or its purpose. It’s like buying a new car, but only using the trunk for storage and never driving it. Digital signage adds an information layer to an environment, organization and audience that interact in the real world. With well-crafted messages and calls to action, it can help affect and change human behavior in ways that benefit all of those entities. Put simply, it helps people communicate better. That’s the point of digital signage.