• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Digital Signage;
  • Date: March 2015

By Monica Heck, Special to AVIXA

Rarely has digital signage received more attention than when it invited the public to get actively involved in the fight against domestic violence.

In the days leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015, media company Ocean Outdoor teamed up with the Women’s Aid charity and London-based advertising agency WCRS to run an interactive campaign in several locations across the U.K. During the four-day campaign, the attention of passers-by to the digital signage triggered an immediate response in the content, which urged viewers to “Look at Me” and showed the close-up of a woman’s bruised face.  The more and longer people looked at the image, the more the bruises on the woman’s face faded, supporting the message of not turning a blind eye to the visible signs of domestic violence.

During the campaign, facial-recognition technology from London-based Ocean Outdoor combined with large-format, digital out-of-home (DOOH) screens provided by displayLED and Lighthouse Technologies. The integrated solution used gaze tracking to trigger or superimpose content for live playback in real-time. It also identified the gender, age, movement and gaze duration of passersby.

Ocean chief executive Tim Bleakley said at the time of the campaign’s launch, “The link between our premium screens as a live and changing canvas to publicly address an issue that often goes unreported demonstrates the dynamic capability of digital out of home to amplify an incredibly important issue.”

How Not to Go Unnoticed

In a world increasingly crowded with digital signage, many organizations are wondering how they can ensure that their signage investments not only yield results, but also — at a more basic level — get noticed. Or put another way, how to make sure they don’t go unnoticed.

In November 2014, according to Grand View Research, the global digital signage market was estimated at just over $13 billion. It was expected to grow 6.1 percent from 2014 to 2020. That’s a lot of visual stimulation.

“Most digital signage is just noise to people passing by,” says Mike White, CTS, President and CEO of Multi-Media Solutions and a frequent speaker on digital signage trends and solutions. “Messages don’t respect dwell time, and most digital signage systems have no way to produce metrics to measure how effective the system is. No one in the organization has skin in the game to ensure its effectiveness, so like anything else that is not measured, it doesn’t get done.”

Lyle Bunn, adjunct faculty member of AVIXA and a digital signage specialist, agrees. “People de-select messages that do not appear to be interesting or relevant at first glance,” he explains. “So the key to communications success is to earn viewer interest.”

Bunn says content that simultaneously brands, merchandises, promotes and improves the ambiance of a location typically generates the best outcomes.

“It’s all about engaging the viewer and motivating them to take the action for which the message is intended,” he says. “How are people going to react and respond and what does that mean to achieving our business and communication goals?”

One idea is to try new technology to help solve the problem. Recent digital signage trends include increasingly sophisticated interactivity, such as holograms, ultra-high resolutions and powerful content management systems. Some users are going big and bold with giant videowalls, or small and ubiquitous, using shelf-based video strips to increase presence.

However, according to Bunn, this over-emphasis on the latest-and-greatest could be the wrong approach. “Often, there’s a tremendous emphasis on the technology, with its bells, whistles and moving parts, and too little attention paid to what the technology is supposed to deliver for the organization.”

The key, Bunn says, is to first determine business goals, then define the content that will achieve those goals, and only then select the technology that will deliver the content that will achieve the goals.

White concurs. “There are still far too many companies engaging in digital signage with the idea that if they get a screen and player in place, it will somehow get results,” he says. “They do not take the time to develop a content strategy, and to concern themselves with how they can use technology — interactivity, screen orientation, size, placement and so on — to increase the effectiveness.”

Signs in Search of Footfalls

Frequency is another major determinant of digital signage success, according to Invidis Consulting Managing Director Florian Rotberg. “You need a certain amount of people passing by a location for digital signage to make sense. That’s why many deployments are in airports or railway stations, where you have huge footfall at certain times.”

He warns that there is no silver bullet, however. Smaller, more targeted approaches work well in retail, giving customers the impulse to purchase. “It’s about the need for current, relevant information at that specific location,” Rotberg says. “It’s difficult and there is no formula.”

Jim Nista, CEO of Insteo, says the key to digital signage success is the relevance of the message.

“Relevance includes a technology component, but also a creative and user-experience development component,” he says. “Those two things have to go hand in hand; it’s not enough to focus on technology. A lot of technology, such as cameras and sensors to target gender or age bands, is being used as a crutch without focusing on creating a really dynamic user experience.”

It’s largely accepted, however, that despite failed digital signage experiments, such as 3D, the right technology still has a large role to play in the success of a signage project. And there many best practices that can help ensure an installation is eye catching, such as using portrait rather than landscape orientation, or creating mosaic screen layouts in what White calls “architectural digital signage.”

“Today, a 42-inch screen on a wall somewhere is often no better than a postage stamp unless there is a compelling reason for somebody to be engaged with that screen,” White says. He encourages designers to engage more of the human senses, such as hearing, through the use of directional audio.

“However, we still go back to the lack of commitment to a content strategy and putting metrics around what that content is supposed to deliver,” White continues. “Pilot programs allow organizations to know whether people are stopping to engage with the signage.”

Metrics and Interactivity

For Nista, the advent of less invasive opt-in approaches to collecting metrics, notably beacons or near-field communication technology, can help quantify the effects of signage. However, Rotberg warns of the potential pitfalls of some digital signage interactivity.

“It’s important to remember that digital signage is a one-to-many medium,” Rotberg says. “With interactivity, you need additional screens to keep the one-to-many communication open while dealing with one-to-one. You’d also use smaller screens for touch, for privacy.”

Ultimately, a call to action is crucial for grabbing and retaining customers’ attention. “In our experience, if you have a call to action linked to a mobile device, people are more willing to share their private information with you than with a touchscreen,” says Rotberg.

Online giant eBay is seen as a company focused on the user experience side of digital signage. In 2013, eBay used vinyl graphics and rear-projection touch films to bring e-commerce into the brick-and-mortar Westfield San Francisco Centre. The solution allowed shoppers to view Sony, Rebecca Minkoff and other content projected onto empty storefronts and to purchase items using their mobile phones.

More recently, eBay and Rebecca Minkoff launched a “connected store” at the fashion brand’s flagship location in New York, featuring an interactive mirror enabling customers to curate a fitting room wish list. A 122-inch UHD screen displaying look books and fashion runway footage, plus infrared sensors mounted in the ceiling to monitor engagement, was part of the roll out.

According to Nista, projects such as these are on the right track. “They are driven first and foremost by the user experience, which extends outside the sign itself to solve a problem,” he says. “So the technology driving it is less relevant than the strategy behind it.”

He likens this dynamic to a building where architects create the space before the construction team gets to work. “In the AV integration space, we’ve tended to build first and then figure out what we were supposed to devise the building for,” Nista says.

The recent entrance into the digital signage market of large technology companies, such as eBay, Intel and Google, is largely seen as a positive step for the AV space. “Intel is a good example,” says Bunn. “It means that an integrator can easily become a reseller, get access to good-quality product and education and even business leads. The attachment to that well-known logo makes digital signage business easier.”

The trend has a flip side, however, for the AV vendor market. “The risk is an inclination to focus on the technology,” Bunn says. “So while there are increasing options on the technology front, the tendency is to spend more time looking at those technology options rather than becoming very good at a consultant-selling approach.”