Commentary by Lyle Bunn
It is supposed to be easy to get the maximum value from digital signage investment, but as networks are used, this is often showing itself as a challenge. Incremental improvements, particularly in content strategy and composition, improve return on the investment, but often a whole new level of operability is needed. The next plateau of value often eludes network operators and end-users, and delivering enterprise value and benefiting those who use the medium for messaging and engagement, can mean that core changes and improvements are required.
The symptoms of struggle include:
- Difficulty in getting new content and advertisers;
- Low levels of viewer engagement, including noticing messages and acting on them;
- Poor communications results;
- High cost of ownership and operations;
- Lack of integration with other communications approaches and campaigns; and
- Outage and inadequate/challenging/expensive system support.
There are several events or timeframes when a review/upgrade might naturally be undertaken. For example, related to budgeting cycles, as investment in network expansion or upgrade is being considered/undertaken or when viewer and impact analytics are being reviewed.
The operational review can be undertaken in large part by network operations personnel and administration. External, independent facilitation and moderating can keep the process on track and moving forward, while bringing perspectives from other applications and serving to upgrade internal staff perspectives and skills.
Those who are using the system for messaging have ever-increasing expectations and desire for benefits, while the personnel charged with delivering value through the investment are increasingly tasked with serving these needs.
Too often, the approaches in use and, at times, the technology infrastructure are unable to scale to provide outcomes in a cost-effective way, and without increasingly heroic efforts.
Three elements typically need attention as the number of display points and signage usage grow:
1. Content strategy, which encompasses intended outcomes, playlist structure for audience targeting and calendar-parting, style guide, dynamic data feeds, database interfaces, message composition, localized messaging, content sourcing, transmedia and driving viewers to online, mobile and social media.
Executives have reported disappointment in digital signage, noting that the benefits from have been costly to achieve. Others have been pleased by its value and are seeking benefits on a larger scale, and wish to better integrate digital place-based media into communications approaches to the patrons, shoppers, travelers, staff and students that they are targeting for revenue and brand growth, and productivity. These same end-users and network operators often reflect that minimal effort has been put into content strategy and message composition. Since it is "content" that ultimately achieves business and communications goals, it is essential to put resources behind this priority.
2. Processes for network support, messaging management and impact analytics.
As the use of the medium increases, the burden is increased on network operations and support personnel. The constant response to end-user (e.g. marketing) needs and enquiries often provides too little staff time to educate and coordinate with marketing, regional, branch, campaign, product management and agency personnel.
3. Technology infrastructure that can maximize messaging impact while minimizing costs of operation.
The increased use of digital signage means that messaging is increasingly targeted to regions, branches or even individual displays. Managing playout groups and an increased number of messages aimed at influencing patrons draws heavily on the content management software, or CMS, that governs traffic and system use. As system use or needs grow, the CMS must have the capacity to efficiently schedule content playout so that the use of the system is aligned with campaign and communications goals.
System use also can burden internal communications system on which media and playlist updates are distributed and playout analytics are returned, suggesting the business value of a dedicated network for this promotional system.
Technical support, including help desk, maintenance and repair, does increase as the number of display locations and hardware/software components increase on the network. While many organizations draw on internal resources to meet this need, there is sometimes merit to contracting these important processes.
The four-point prescription for re-establishing digital signage at an improved level of operability and value is to "Review, Refine objectives, Recalibrate and then Re-launch."
Review starts with a SWOT analysis (at least at a high level) identifying strengths, which should be reinforced; weaknesses to be minimized; opportunities to be exploited; and threats that must be addressed. Assets including technology, brand, viewers and impact data should be inventoried as an element of the SWOT process. The input to the SWOT can generally be provided internally, with an objective outsider with subject-matter expertise in digital signage serving as facilitator or moderator adding value while keeping the analysis moving forward. This will typically take two to 10 person days of effort.
Refining business and communications objectives will not only catalogue desired uses, but will define the service levels in viewer engagement, message presentation and engagement drivers to other devices/channels such as online, mobile, apps and social media that can be delivered by the digital signage network. Not only can this calibrate current needs, but future-proofing can be inherent in this element of the "re-plateau-ing" process. Applications and insights from digital signage use in other applications such as retail, hospitality, food services, health care, corporate and other consumer-facing networks can add high value to the definition of what digital signage can deliver. Two to 10 person days investment in refining the business goals following the review process will provide high value to validating, changing or expanding network processes and network investment.
Recalibrating processes, support approaches and even the technology infrastructure will assure that the costs of successful, ongoing operability are met. Network design and sourcing approaches are addressed at this stage, and digital signage messaging processes will be harmonized with those related to campaign, regional and local messaging, as well as with static sign, online, mobile, "paid" advertising and other communications methods.
This recalibration may include the network operations approach, where, given the experience of network deployment and operations, the organization may wish to outsource its requirements in new ways.
In focusing on total cost of ownership and operations, the investment is "right-sized" and the network investment is better structured to best serve the enterprise and its goals.
Re-launch with renewed capabilities will follow the restoration, reconfiguration, right-sizing and future-proofing of the digital signage network. In this stage, the merits of using the digital signage network is described to viewers, end-users such as product or line of business management, those messaging, agencies, advertisers, partners and others who could benefit from their using the digital signage network.
Every experience leads to new opportunities. Using first gear begs for new gears to be used, and success begs for increased value. Maximizing the return on investment from digital signage means that occasional review is not only a healthy activity, but necessary to ongoing value.
Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon) is an independent advisor and educator who has served hundreds of networks and helped thousands of digital signage network operations, end-user and supply professionals to succeed. Lyle has published more than 250 articles and white papers on digital signage and was recently named as one of the 11 most influential people in digital signage by DigitalSignageToday.com. He can be reached at Lyle@LyleBunn.com.
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