Tech Talk: Explore the possibilities of digital signage

Type: Tech Talk
8 April 2015

digital-sign750x500I delivered a keynote talk at a conference in Las Vegas recently. The conference was focused on digital employee communications, and was connected to a much larger event, the Digital Signage Expo (DSE). After the internal communication conference wrapped up, I spent some time walking the Expo floor.

Wandering among the booths from big companies I’ve heard of and small ones that were new to me, I was reminded of just how prevalent digital signage has become and how little it gets mentioned in summaries of digital communication platforms. The menu at the Popeyes Chicken near me is digital. The images move, attracting the eye, while making changes (new menu items and pricing changes, for instance) can be done once and distributed across the network. No need to print and ship hundreds or thousands of new menus. Digital signage is catching on in malls. Digital billboards greet drivers approaching the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Digital signage isn’t new. I remember visiting the offices of Southern California Gas Company in the early 1990s, where communication staff produced the content for signs using PowerPoint. Employees could spend a minute or two catching up on important messages in common areas where the screens were located, or at their desks via their PCs. Today, it’s not unusual to attend a conference where digital signs stream tweets containing the conference hashtag. In fact, when I checked into my hotel in Las Vegas, the massive digital sign behind the front desk displayed a constantly updated waterfall of tweets from guests featuring hashtags the hotel had introduced, focusing on events at their property.

Advances in a number of technologies are making digital signage even more compelling. About five years ago, I saw a fascinating example of a billboard in The Netherlands, that was designed to address a growing problem: Thugs would attack ambulance drivers and paramedics while passersby stood and watched, taking no action. The billboard told just such a story, and with a camera pointed from the billboard to the street, it put those looking at the video into the scene. They were the ones standing around doing nothing. After the action ended, the billboard implored citizens to call for help should they ever encounter the situation in real life.



In another example, a video presented at the Expo showed how far the marriage of location-based marketing and digital signage has come. Women’s Aid???a campaign to end domestic violence???is conveying the message that “If you can see it, you can change it.” The group’s billboard features the face of a battered woman. It’s not a static image; she blinks. Nothing else about the billboard changes as long as nobody looks at it. A camera notices when one person looks at the sign, which causes the bruises to start healing. The more people who notice, the faster the woman’s face returns to normal. A filmstrip at the bottom of the sign features those who are looking at it, which in turn encourages more people to stop and look.

Then the sign adds smartphones to the mix, messaging those in proximity to encourage donations. (Passersby who have not opted into the service sending the message can follow instructions on the billboard to donate.)

You can see the video here:

[vimeo 108381287 w=500 h=281]

Women’s Aid from Ocean Outdoor on Vimeo.

Personalized digital signage is surging. At Cisco Systems, digital signs on each floor communicate news and information of interest to the people working on that floor. It’s also tactile; tap a headline and get more information. Tap a video and it starts to play. Some of the displays at the Digital Signage Expo featured interactive signs that come right out of science fiction movies. I played with one that let me move contents around on the screen, increase or decrease its size, start and stop videos, and open new content.

One of the vendors at the show, STRATCACHE, is where IABC member Chuck Gose works; he was instrumental in adding the digital internal communication conference to DSE. “It used to be that digital signage vendors simply sold their hardware and software to communications departments. And these departments were left to figure it out themselves,” Gose, the vice president for corporate communication told me. “I was in those shoes once. No more. That’s one of the reasons I joined STRATACACHE. We are investing real dollars to educate communicators on how to best take advantage of the technology. But not just digital signage alone. It’s important that it’s integrated intelligently with all technology that communicators have access to. We are looking at the best research to provide guidance but also connect communicators with each other to create a learning community. Communicators often learn best from their peers???they just don’t always know who they are.”

One announcement coming out of DSE combined the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and digital signage so retailers can deliver one-on-one experiences for customers based on information derived from their connected devices (like smartphones and wearables). The announcement, from Intel, also addressed the privacy concerns that are sure to arise. Intel sees in-store digital signage as a business opportunity, as does Google, which made its debut at DSE this year. Using the company’s Chromebox computers and Chrome Sign Builder, you can create “intelligent digital signs that are easy to build, schedule, and deploy,” according to a post on the Google for Work blog.

Some of the trends anticipated by those in the industry include signs that can tell how a viewer is reacting emotionally in order to adjust the on-screen images to produce a more positive response, more innovation through data collection, and the growth of digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising networks.

As I talked with representatives at booths at the DSE trade show, I realized few were exploiting the employee communication opportunities. One presenter at the digital internal communication conference, a communicator from one of the Vegas Strip hotels, talked about how she was using digital signage to reach employees who don’t sit in front of??computers. This audience has been a challenge since intranets first surfaced in the early 1990s. While internal communicators are slowly adopting mobile solutions, digital signage presents a genuine opportunity to ensure no employee misses an important message, while also seeing that??the messages are tailored to the employee’s location (and, eventually, even to his or her own job). The strengthening connection between mobile devices and signs hold huge promise for production and field staff with limited or no intranet access.

If you’re using newer digital signage technology in your job???for internal or external communications???let me know. If I get enough good examples, I’ll feature them in my next Tech Talk column.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology in Concord, California. Follow him on Twitter: @shelholtz.

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