If your electric sign shop or AV business has been considering offering digital signage, but the size and scope of it all seems overwhelming, then it might make sense to start with something simple. Standalone all-in-one systems are designed to makes things easier. The plug-and-play setups, offered with or without display screens, can serve as an easy-to-understand, easy-to-install introduction to the world of digital signage.
An all-in-one system is “a great entry-level or first sign,” says Dario DellaMaggiore, director of sales and marketing for DoubleSight Displays, Irvine, Calif. “It can also be a great addition to existing sign deployments. Since it is self-contained it goes anywhere, which opens up many new opportunities for digital placement.”
Because the units offer everything needed to get a digital sign up and running, shops can focus on serving the customer’s needs instead of grappling with a system’s many components.
“It can be tough to stay focused on selling the solution when you are trying to figure out the technology,” says John Zib, founder and CEO of Memo Media, Providence, R.I. “(These systems) keep the focus on selling and installing the technology, not trying to figure it out.”
Their attractive design and intuitive interface also make standalone digital signs a favorite of customers who want something that’s affordable, simple to use and effective.
“All-in-one systems are typically small and employed at the point of viewing, which can keep installation costs down,” says Tom Searcy of MagicBox Inc., Corvallis, Ore. “They are also typically easier to use (because) they are made by one company. The learning curve on such a system is lower.”
Adds DellaMaggiore: “They are ideal for small- to medium-sized businesses that want to go digital but don’t have large budgets or a lot of technical expertise.”
Standalone system providers say the products are being used successfully in a number of settings, including retail businesses, restaurants and bars, theaters, corporate settings, colleges, financial institutions, museums, health care facilities and trade shows.
“They work great for retail promotion, information centers and building directories. More advanced solutions with timed schedules, networks and touch screens are used in hospitality, hotel, trade show and meeting room (applications),” says Zib. “Retail stores like the entry-level solutions for their low cost, reliability and simple operation. They get the job done with the least hassle.”
Among Memo Media’s product offerings is its eSign system. Co-developed with Vista system, Zib says the product is a modular architectural sign designed to hold technology and displays, with floor- or wall-mount and interior LCD or exterior LED display options.
One of the company’s recent success stories involves a popular food franchise that had a 40-inch LCD placed outside a new location in a casino as a menu board.
“We were able to install it in under 30 days from quote because of the fast supply offered and technology that doesn’t require any setup,” Zib says. “The client liked it enough to move right away to the next location.”
Searcy says that MagicBox offers all-in-one media player with software solutions to create and schedule content, with options for turning monitors off and on, and database integration. The company’s Aavelin SignMate is small enough to mount behind a display and accommodates various inputs, he notes.
The company had a large hospital on the East Coast recently install a number of its systems, including units displaying composite video and others showing high-resolution VGA. The facility is adding more of the small form factor players, Searcy notes.
“The decision to go this route came down to the ease of use of the creation and scheduling software,” he says. “In healthcare applications, the customer’s primary job is providing good healthcare; not running a signage system. They need systems that are easy to install, easy to learn and reliable, backed up by responsive technical and customer support.”
DellaMaggiore says DoubleSight’s standalone digital information display features a 46-inch LCD monitor, freestanding upright tower, preloaded software, processor and 1G Flash memory, internal power and casters for easy movement. Among the early installations was one of the company’s largest corporate resellers. “They didn’t want to just sell the units to their corporate customers,” he says. “They are using (the product) on the sales floor to communicate daily to their sales representatives. They post daily specials, training updates, visiting vendor information and more.”
For sign shops and AV integrators looking to pitch all-in-one digital signage to their clients, DellaMaggiore outlines these selling points:
• Cost-effective entry into digital signage
• Easy to install and simple to maintain
• Utilizes standard file types
• No ongoing expenses
Zib suggests becoming familiar with the workings of a standalone signage system as a way to better-explain its benefits to customers. “Start using digital signage,” he says. “Eventually it will be part of what you-or your competition-will be using. The sooner you start using it, the sooner you will understand how it can help your client’s business.”
Searcy agrees with that selling approach, noting that knowing a system’s attributes is vital. “Technically, they are fairly easy to install,” he says. “Understanding and matching up customer expectations with features is always a key component of any successful installation.”
Questions to ask, he says, include:
• What types of data and graphics do they intend to display?
• Are there external sources coming into the player?
• Is connectivity for the sources available outside of an equipment room?
• Who creates the content?
It’s been said that content is king when it comes to digital signage, and standalone units are no different. The systems may be simple to install and operate, but they still must be interesting to look at in order to be effective. “Creating visual sizzle in this new media can be tricky,” notes Zib. “Working with experienced designers can make a building directory stunning and restaurant menus sparkle. Even a simple slideshow or motion graphics can be powerful.”
He suggests talking with the customer up-front about the ongoing costs of media creation, determining how often content will need to be changed and whether it will include paid ad partnerships or material from other outside sources to bring in revenue or entertain guests. “Make sure to communicate to your potential customers the importance of updating content on a regular basis,” Searcy says. “A digital sign that doesn’t change is an expensive static sign.”
He notes that some content, such as still JPEG images, are cost-effective and easy to update. Refreshing or replacing full-motion video can take longer and cost more, but may be worth it in terms of increased attention to the sign. He adds that data feeds-such as news tickers, weather updates or sports scores-can keep content fresh without a lot of added work on the part of the operator.
And, he notes, some customers will look to repurpose content from other advertising mediums such as print. That works fine, he says, as long as the content is optimized for digital signage.
DellaMaggiore explains that installers can partner with content creation companies, or look to sell their own content by offering new message downloads over the Internet that can be uploaded to a flash drive.
Positive Market Potential
Sleek, powerful standalone digital signs can offer cost and performance benefits to the seller and end-user. “Creating and integrating an attractive sign generally means a custom fabrication or a less-than-perfect design,” says Memo Media’s Zib. “Offering an attractive and functional (standalone) sign enclosure at a reasonable price point gives you and the client a better solution.”
All-in-one system providers believe now is the time to get involved in this expanding market, as simple digital signage solutions are poised to grab the spotlight. “We expect lots of growth as digital signage becomes easier to install and more cost-effective,” says DoubleSight’s DellaMaggiore. “Our solution is already there-simple and cost-effective-and as more customers realize the marketing and communications options as applied to their business, digital signage market share will explode.”
Technological advancements will only add to their appeal, notes MagicBox’ Searcy. “Players will get smaller,” he says, “hardware costs will come down, resolution will go up and the market will expand.”
And successful installs should only lead to more business. “At the basic level, digital signs can be considered as a sign, plus something,” Zib says. “Even simple digital signage provides motion that gets attention. Reliability and the ability to upgrade will be important for (an installer’s) long-term benefit.
Screens and technology hardware will continue to change, so it’s important to have a solution and solution provider that can support you down the road.”
Allowing simple all-in-one digital signage systems to lead the way to Easy Street.