Digital Signage as an Effective Communication Medium


When most people think of digital signage it is on flat panel displays with some type of advertising on them. Over the years it has moved beyond retail advertising and come into its own as a full featured communication medium with a multiplicity of uses. While ad-based networks are certainly the largest segments, some of the fastest growing applications are in corporations, education, municipalities, and healthcare with employee and/or student facing networks. We will address the benefits in both ad-based and information-based systems for the viewers and the network managers.

There are benefits common to all forms of digital signage. Overall, it is intended as an experience enhancer and behavior modification medium. The medium is also intended to facilitate and promote a call-to-action message delivered on the signs. After looking at a digital sign, it asks you to do something and prompts you to take that action. It may be building brand awareness or an advertisement prompting you to buy something at a location. It may also be to give you information that will prompt you toward further awareness and/or involvement of a situation or condition. The concept is to add something of value to a venue and their viewers.

As we engage with digital signage it is the images on screen that stand out but the largest parts reside beneath the surface.  The viewers see the results but as intended, they do not see all the planning, implementation, and work that went into the system. This article is for the insiders or those that want to join the community of digital signage.

The Benefits for Ad-based Systems:

Let’s begin with some interesting statistics related to ad-based systems. 60% of a shopper’s purchasing decisions are made at the point of sale. Digital displays capture 400% more views than static signs. Not only do they capture more views, but their recall rate is 82%—significantly higher than any traditional media. One in three people make an unplanned purchase when digital signage is displayed. Plus, over 80% of brands that use digital signage displays see increased in sales of >30%. Looking at giant digital billboard signs, 83% of people recalled at least one ad they were shown over the past 30 days. 65% recalled 2 and nearly half recalled 3. Over 80% of the populations see digital signage every day.

According to a recent study on checkout lines, 69% of shoppers said long lines were the most irritating part of shopping. That beat out high prices (66%) and inventory being out of stock (65%). 84% of those customers said watching digital displays helped them pass the time while they waited.

Ultimately it is about the buying experience and the perception of good customer service. Research shows that if the experience is not good then 56% will never return to the company. 25% will tell their friends not to give them their business and 20% will post an online review while 14% will share their experience on social media.  

The following list of benefits is born out of research by subject matter experts over the last 5 years and collecting real-world data on ad-based systems.

The following is a partial list of benefits in ad-based digital signage systems from a customer engagement, sales promotion, and loyalty generation perspective:

The following is a partial list benefits in a digital signage from a system management perspective:

Before moving on, I want to address the all-important issue of analytics. This is the missing link that tells a store whether the digital signage system is achieving their stated objectives. With analytics software and a tiny video camera anonymously recording activity, a multitude of data points can be collected and then use that to maximize the effectiveness of the system. You can record foot traffic and dwell time at the screen. You can quantify and qualify their facial expressions, what they looked at and for how long. Furthermore, analytics can also be used to improve the content and length of play. For example, you might find that most shoppers only stick around for about 10 seconds of the 20-second video clip. If that’s the case, you either need a more compelling video or it’s time to create a shorter version. If your system has interactivity you can see what they searched for and how long. You can also request comments and reviews that provide one to one feedback. The point is that analytics are necessary to know how your system truly performs.

The Benefits for Information-based systems:

There are obvious differences in the two most common digital signage business models. Ad-based systems rely on hard dollars invested and hard dollars in return. Information-based systems rely on hard investment dollars spent and soft returns that can’t directly be rung up on a cash register. The soft returns are less tangible but no less valuable. The key objective is the dissemination of information and matching the investment to the ascribed value of what is being shown. We will use employee facing networks as our prime example of information-based systems but many of the benefits port over to applications in education, municipalities, and healthcare.

Corporate communication systems uses various methods for management to convey policies, guidelines and other information to employees, vendors, and stakeholders in the enterprise. Let’s face it, the old company bulletin board is inadequate and digital signage is the ideal solution. The challenge is to place displays where people congregate in individual departments, break rooms and staff cafeterias or in strategic locations as people go about their daily tasks.  Digital signage is a highly visible internal communication platform to share information and keep your stationary or mobile workforce in-the-know. The result? A well-informed and more productive team.

Digital signs can be used in any organization—large or small. Digital signage is both scalable and flexible. As digital signage hardware becomes more affordable and scalable, it’s attractiveness to corporate IT managers and other decision-makers increases. As technology, application, and prices have converged it makes it more likely that digital signage solutions in the corporate space will become more prevalent. With the inclusion of mobile, it allows the message to be accessed by the employee wherever they are.

The following is a partial list of digital signage benefits from an employee focus perspective:

The following is a partial list of digital signage benefits from an overall management perspective:

  1. Clear, Convenient group messaging in real time
  2. Schedule content in advance, so they can change and update automatically without supervision
  3. Display calendars, schedules, and upcoming events to keep viewers informed.
  4. Design new content with templates without hiring a graphic designer to help
  5. Digital signage allows you to display multiple forms of content at once.
  6. Connected to the internet, allows real-time internal and external information “feeds
  7. Visibility for your mobile workforce
  8. Ability to overcome spatial limitations by fitting more content onto one sign
  9. Provide directions and interactive wayfinding options for people in large facilities
  10. Staff can be trained more efficiently during or after business hours.
  11. Digital signs allow you to display content 24/7
  12. Improved workplace safety and emergency notifications in real time

The CMS Tool

The benefits of digital signage are significant. From a cost benefit analysis digital signage pays its own way. It goes beyond the obvious “eye candy” of colorful displays which unto themselves do not provide a benefit other than being a vehicle for good content. Great content is a necessity but the unsung hero is the content management system (CMS).  This is the operation epicenter that makes it possible to get the work of digital signage done. Think in terms of the operation system on your computer. It facilitates what you are trying to accomplish. If the digital signage system is a pain to use, then you will not receive all the benefits. Many of the features will never become benefits. Selecting the proper CMS operation system for your application is a make-or-break proposition.

Most CMS provider’s do similar things but they do them in different ways. At the top-level, content is created. This is followed by the importation and aggregation of content in the system. There is the storage and distribution of content. The management control separates who gets what and when. Along with that there is also delegation of authority of who is allowed to manage and change content and, in many cases, there is reporting.  It is those different ways things are done that makes all the difference. It becomes all about the tools available to you and the user interface.

A colleague of mine when asked nearly any question about digital signage answers, “It Depends”. This is especially apropos when asked about the “best” content management system. There is no single best for every application. If you have a small network, then a full featured system may not be for you. A feature is only valuable if it is a real benefit to you and your objectives. On the other hand, if you have a lot of data to work with or there is a complexity requirement to your system then one CMS may work better for you than another. Here are a few suggestions that may help you decide what CMS to use.

  1. Begin with understanding what do you want your digital signage to do.
  2. What types of content will you be using?
  3. Who will be supplying the content?
  4. How often will it need to be refreshed?
  5. Will the same content be displayed on all screens?
  6. Will there be levels of management required?
  7. Will reporting be required and in what format?
  8. Do I need the CMS to monitor my network “health”?
  9. Is SaaS or on premise the desired format?
  10. What level of complexity can you tolerate?
  11. What level of support will be necessary?
  12. What are the implications of cost for the CMS?
  13. Is a “free” CMS adequate for me?
  14. Is there a benefit of buying a media player and CMS combination?
  15. Is there a benefit of buying a CMS provided by a display manufacturer?

As you asses the value of deploying digital signage for your application refer to the all the proven benefits, we have noted for both viewers and managers alike and use those expectations as the “umbrella” of your plan. Design with those goals in mind. Once it becomes clear what the objective is for your digital signage system then focus on two major issues: The creation of great content and dedication to keeping it current and relevant and the selection of a CMS software package and vendor partner that will work with you to effectively and efficiently manage and update the entire process. Let proper planning be your guide and your friend!