Finding Success in Digital Signage

​Ryan N. Fugler is a former editor of WRAPS magazine. 

What makes your business successful? Is it the volume of sales? Is it your plan for the future? Or maybe it’s your company’s position among the competition. Chances are the answer is different for everyone. Now, think about this: What are your biggest challenges? It’s likely at some point you may have had the same answers to both questions.

Growth is a huge part of a sign business. It starts with gaining a steady customer base, and it evolves into a wider product offering, longer client reach, and heavier investment into the business. One of those areas of growth has been in the space known as electronic digital signage (EDS).

For sign shops, playing in the digital signage arena should allow them to advance their business for all of the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph. But for end users, they are looking for specific goals.

“The starting point for end users is always, ‘What am I going to get out of this? What’s in it for me?’” says Lyle Bunn, owner of BUNN, a Toronto-based consultancy. “And so the ‘What’s in it for them’ always fits within four major categories.” The categories include:

  • Selling more products and services
  • Improving brand awareness
  • Improving the ambiance or vitality in that location
  • A lower cost of creating the messaging that they would otherwise executive with alternate methods

There’s always an eye toward success when conducting business. But the question here is: How can a sign shop and its customers both achieve their goals while working on a particular project?

Where EDS Thrives

It’s tough to specifically identify the perfect end user of a digital signage system. The technology and effectiveness of the system really provides an advantage to whomever is using it. But the solution is likely different for everyone, depending on several factors.

“Digital signage is a very versatile medium for getting information out there. It’s as dynamic as your business, whatever that may be,” says Eric Henry, VP Signage Solutions, Tightrope Media Systems.

Digital signage is prevalent in retail stores, banks, restaurants and health care facilities, but it extends out to even more areas. For sign shops looking to increase their business, the reach and adaptability of digital signage provides a great opportunity to do so.

“Sign shops should highlight the benefits of digital signage systems, such as branding and marketing opportunities that increase product turnover for slower-moving products,” says Julie Gederos, marketing product manager, Roland DGA. “Digital signage grants a level of flexibility that’s not available in printed signage. Sold out items can be announced immediately, a food special posted daily, and much more.”

For shops involved in the digital signage market, it’s important to educate the end user of how versatile and effective this type of signage can be. According to Eric Farkas, engineering manager at Black Box, sign shops should position themselves as experts in this area and convey the positives of digital signage to their clientele.

“Customers often think of a digital sign as a replacement for a static sign,” Farkas continues. “They only understand the real power of digital when they are provided with real use cases of how other companies are using signage. This ignites imagination and allows the customer to personalize the information to their own business.”

Wayfinding applications provide an example of how digital signage is being implemented. It has opened up new options for businesses to extend more accurate mapping and interactivity in places like hotels, malls and convention centers.

Another popular location for digital signage is in the food service industry. According to Nick Jerome, marketing products manager for FASTSIGNS International, “One example would be a menu board solution. The restaurant or cafeteria can now react to demand and modify specials based on weather, seasonality and other factors. That could not be easily achieved with traditional signage solutions. It all comes back to having a content plan and leveraging the flexibility of the system.”

The list of locations where digital signage is available continues to grow.

“There are many, many more examples related to virtually every market sector,” Bunn says. “Digital signage attracts the eye and the content influences actions and reinforces brand identity.”

Overcoming Objections

When sign shops are discussing the benefits of digital signage to their customers, they will typically face some objections or challenges associated with implementing such a system. Shops should be prepared to have an honest and in-depth conversation with customers to create trust during the beginning stages of the sales process.

“For new installations, the biggest challenge is budget,” Farkas says. “Digital signage is a luxury for many customers as the ROI is often weak, but companies feel like they should have it because ‘everyone else does.’ This leads to low- or no-budget attempts at deploying signage.” 

Shops should be prepared to overcome price objections. This will not only outline the value of the signage but can also put customers’ minds at ease.

“Customers often view return on investment only in terms of sales dollars,” Gederos says. “There’s so much more to consider than that. For example, a wayfinding sign can free up time for someone working at an information desk, enabling that employee to answer customer phone calls more quickly. This is clearly an improvement in the customer service being provided.”

The perception among most customers is that digital signage carries with it an exorbitant price tag, and that sort of investment is not worth the move away from traditional signage. With this in mind, some customers may not care to take the conversation past the point of cost. However, it is the job of the sign shop to highlight what’s really important in the system.

“While cost is often an objection, this is rooted in there being an inadequate appreciation and valuation of the impacts that the digital signage will have on business and communications objectives,” Bunn says. “For example, a staff communication signage is focused on productivity of the workplace, which is fulfilled by staff motivation and alignment of organizational units, the display of performance indicators, safety messaging and the reduction of staff turnover and hiring costs. Consideration for improvements in these areas singly or collectively often warrants the investment and minimizes the importance of initial cost against functionality.”  

Take a look at all that’s involved in implementing this type of signage, and try to get the customer to see beyond the hardware and components. For sign shops, the profit in the system will come from the software, service and maintenance more than for the hardware and installation.

According to Bunn, the key to digital signage is recurring monthly revenues for the sign shop and, at the same time, improved communications for the end user.

Shops have the opportunity to take these challenges and turn them into benefits and selling points for the customer. For example, instead of getting stuck on what looks like a costly and unfamiliar set-up to the customer, tout the “versatility and ease-of-use. The ability to create and customize content from the comfort of a desk,” says Henry.

Other areas to highlight are a higher-level of engagement with consumers, top-notch service, less physical clutter and the perception of being technologically advanced.

Opening Communication Channels

When sign shops are able to effectively explain the advantages of digital signage versus cost and move closer to gaining a new customer, they should focus upon how this system will improve the customer’s business.

“The customer must understand the objective of implementing a digital signage system and set the criteria to determine what a successful implementation looks like for them,” Gederos says. “Successful implementation doesn’t need to be defined as just sales, it could be defined in terms of customer experience or time saving values among other things. Find a way to measure the goals that have been defined.”

According to Jerome, there are three things to consider when implementing a project:

  • Define the customer’s objective
  • Put a content plan in place
  • Define the content schedule and management plan

Knowing your customer’s business will help you to provide the best solution. One big strength of a digital signage system is that is can be customized to fit a specific environment. Sign shops should aim to give their customers the most successful platform. 

“The environment the signage will be deployed in will be very important as all the hardware elements that make up the digital sign must be suited to the environment,” Farkas says.

Henry adds, “Do your best to learn the products you plan to implement, and know all the components and parties involved.”

Education is a very important step in a successful digital signage deployment. It helps if sign shops can cite examples of past projects that have worked and be able to refer customers to partners that can help make their system a success.

Farkas urges shops to use “real applications of digital signage. The similarities will lead to further discussion. Help the customer with their business justification after that discussion.  Being a subject matter expert puts you in a unique situation to best tell the story.”

Typically, customers have little to no experience in digital signage. This is where sign shops can help fill in the gaps with their expertise.

“Many customers are unsure how to manage a digital signage system,” Gederos says. “Therefore, setting expectations are key when servicing a digital signage customer. If the sign shop is managing the system, the agreement should include how often graphics will be updated, an expected turnaround time and a general reference to responsiveness of the company servicing the system.”

Regarding time, this is another area that should be promoted as a key advantage to customers. The necessity to change out physical signage is eliminated with digital signage and, according to Henry, “you can have a digital signage network up and running quickly, and begin creating your story in no time for an immediate impact.”

Bunn expands on this by saying customers “always want better results, however, there isn’t a very good sense of what this is going to cost and how much time it’s going to take. Return on time is one of the key determinants for this. They all want to improve their communications but not all want to put resources behind their priorities.”

This is another area where effective dialog can make a big difference to the customer. Again, an emphasis should be placed on achieving success for the customer. Sign shops “should focus on offering a custom solution that truly solves the customers’ business challenge,” Jerome says. “Digital signage is a powerful reactive marketing tool.”

Meeting Customer Needs

There are so many different configurations and ways to approach digital signage that it is difficult to identify cost or even returns without getting into why or how a customer will use the signage.

“There are solutions ranging from low or no cost to premium and custom,” Farkas says. “The low-end solutions tend to line up very nicely with traditional signs as they essentially do the same thing. The premium solutions offer interactivity, event triggering, customization, localization, multiple content elements, multiple zones, video, and a whole host of extras that really aren’t like a traditional sign at all.”

Finding the answers to customers’ needs will position shops as knowledgeable and genuine. And, in the end, providing right fit will pay off for both the sign shop and its customer.