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Make or Break Content Management Software

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

Studies have shown that human beings have an attention span of somewhere between eight and 12 seconds. With the rise of digital technology, people are more likely to be fixed upon their smart phones than engaged with real people sitting around them. This creates heavy competition for individuals and organizations that want to convey a message—the fight for space within one’s attention span is ongoing.

Consider this scenario: You’re shopping at the grocery store; your cell phone contains a list that you study while guiding a squeaky-wheeled cart down the food aisles. You need about 20 items, and want to get in and out of the store in a hurry. As you pass the beverages section you see a small digital screen promoting some kind of refreshing fruit drink. What would it take to convince you to stop and give your attention to the screen?

Content is Key

Digital signage “can serve to make the viewer feel comfortable with their surroundings, or can elicit a need to find out more,” says Todd Heberlein, business development manager, Almo Professional A/V. “Well-developed content can keep viewers engaged with their surroundings.”

Content is the piece of a digital signage system that can always make or break the experience. Well-managed, highly-relevant content is the part that affects the viewer, it's the agent that taps into a person’s interests and holds his or her attention for longer periods of time.

“The only way to create a memorable experience using digital signage is by doing something unique and unexpected,” states Colin Bovet, head of marketing for digital signage software developer Enplug.

Necessity of Updating

When it comes to content as part of a digital sign, adaptability and relevance are of the utmost importance. Think of it this way: Most people will speak to their friends differently than they will with a complete stranger; or use a different tone when speaking to a child versus an adult. With digital signage content, frequent changes to the message are typically necessary.

“Digital content can enhance the experience for the customer, as well as provide flexibility for the store owner when it comes to changing content,” says Tom Westerberg, founder of Mango Signs. “A simple, but valuable benefit provided by most providers is the ability to change content throughout the day to deliver a specific message at the right time.”

Westerberg cites the restaurant industry as a good example—having the ability to update a display that shows breakfast content in the morning to one with a lunch or dinner menu later in the day.

Of course, it’s easy to simply declare what you would like to include on a digital sign—and at what day and time—it’s a completely different scenario trying to manage this process. This is when software management applications become vitally important.

Managing Content

“Content management software can be infinitely flexible, and designed to fit a particular application,” Heberlein says. “The variety of software on the market allows each user to find a solution that fits their specific needs as well as tastes.”

So, a restaurant managing the content of its menu boards may require a different solution than a company that runs news on an internal digital bulletin board. Or organizations that adjust content based on inventory, as Westerberg explains.

“Digital signage and content management capabilities can help to provide the right content at the right time, as well as allow for stores to be able to pivot quickly when needed,” he says. “Content can often be scheduled to change based on conditions. For example, if inventory is running low for a particular product, digital signage can give you the ability to dynamically remove ads that promote that product without interaction.”

That in mind, what kind of content management software is available for digital signage? And what works best for a specific application? These are questions that sign providers should be prepared to answer when offering digital sign solutions.

“Many businesses use flash drives, Chromecast, or laptops to manage the content on their displays,” Bovet says. “These methods work for simple content that doesn’t need to be changed often, such as a photo slideshow.”

Advanced Options

But when moving to more interactive and intuitive content, there are more advanced options available. Options that allow for features such as social media integration, file sharing and video uploads.

“Digital signage software can incorporate video, live television, web content, weather feeds, and social media channels for a media-rich customer experience,” says Connie Macias, a sales manager for DSA Phototech. “Content updates can be quickly deployed across multiple locations from a central office using software.”

With these capabilities being integrated into a signage system, there must be a process in place to manage and control the uploaded content; which also includes providing updates to the software. Depending on how the software is being run, this is done through a variety of ways.

“Managing software updates to players has become a lot easier over the past few years,” Westerberg says. “Prior to the app stores, custom implementations and home grown solutions were required to manage updates to media players. This would require some type of periodic check from the application to a server that managed the current version for the various players and the ability to serve up a newer version if required.”

Because of the accessibility of app stores, Westerberg believes that most of the version update verifications have been alleviated, “allowing companies to focus on layering in features that provide benefit to their customers rather than managing various installers and upgrade strategies for legacy devices.”

Operating systems that run the media player also play a part in the updating process. For example, Windows-based media players, “typically require the most updates because they run on a system that relies on numerous software components (which may include Adobe, MS Office, Internet Explorer, Windows and the player software). An update could be needed for each, and all at different times. This could mean numerous updates per year,” Heberlein says.

Streamlined Updates

However some updates are performed in a more streamlined fashion. According to Macias, “Digital media players can be set to update automatically when connected to the internet, or updates can be applied manually before system-wide rollout to ensure no content updates are required as a result of a software upgrade.”

Though auto updates can still present a few challenges, especially in a setting with several media players in different locations. Heberlein notes that updates done over the network “many times requires a visit to each player. Because this can cause headaches for the end user, the signage provider may shut off automatic updates.”

In many instances, the user’s configuration of the signage system will dictate how software updates are completed. Typically it is a choice between an onsite software solution or cloud service content management.

Place of Control

In general, cloud services have become increasingly more popular as digital offerings expand. Think about storing personal photos and files, or streaming music on a portable device. This type of technology can also be applied to digital signage and the content that brings it to life.

“The biggest advantage of cloud-based content is that it can all be standardized and managed from a central office and easily pushed out to each location,” Bovet says. “Since the content is stored in the cloud, the business never has to worry about setting up and maintaining their own servers.”

Less hardware and less hassle is an attractive notion to many customers, especially if they are small or understaffed and don’t want to deal with another hands-on item. And for sign owners who are proficient with digital devices and web-based systems, “the cloud” offers a way to bring their signage up to speed with the surrounding technology already in use.  

Updating The Cloud

“The advantage typically for cloud offerings is if internet access is available, signage can be updated or controlled from any device, including mobile devices,” Westerberg says. “There have been several times our customers have praised the ability to be able to change content at any time at all of their stores while standing right in front of the signs through their phone.”

Bovet agrees, stating that “with remote management, you can change the content on your displays from wherever you are,” and “digital signage software is much more scalable because it’s designed to manage content on many displays and usually includes the ability to add users with administrative or single-location access to content.”

But cloud-based solutions don’t always provide the absolute best results in every situation. Westerberg has noticed an ongoing discussion about whether cloud-based or dedicated onsite systems are more beneficial. He says, “Depending on the use case, one may be a better choice than the other. For applications in which internet is not available, cloud-based can—most of the time—be ruled out as an option.”

Bovet echoes that an unreliable internet connection will kill a cloud-based system’s ability to update content, emphasizing that “although most cloud signage options cache content in case the internet goes down, the system can’t be updated unless it is connected to the internet.”

To illustrate the key differences between a cloud-based content management system (CMS) system versus an on-premise CMS system, Heberlein offers the following bullet points, noting also that “these are not absolutes, but tend to be the trend in the marketplace.”

Cloud-based CMS

  • Easier to understand user interface that requires little or no training
  • Lower up-front cost
  • Accessible from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Software does not require purchase of server hardware
  • Software can be updated with little or no interruption to service and no interaction from end user

On-premise CMS

  • More robust feature set
  • Low, or no ongoing fees
  • Total control of the software and where it is installed
  • Does not require internet connection to function
  • No concern that the provider will go out of business and be left with blank screens

Creating an Experience

Now, place yourself back into the grocery store setting where you’re hoping for a quick and easy shopping trip. Is there anything that may enhance your outing to elevate the typically mundane chore of selecting household items?

“It turns out that customers care more about their experience than they do about the quality of the product,” Bovet says.

Think about if you stopped at the digital sign that had been promoting the new fruit drink, and took a few seconds to learn about the product. Perhaps a touchscreen allowed you to interact with a video; maybe you even received a coupon code by entering your email address. Would you be more likely to remember this experience versus when you mindlessly snatched a bottle of ketchup from the shelf?

“Many businesses are deploying digital signage with direct viewer interaction through wireless communication, image/motion detection, touchscreen and old school keyboard/mouse,” says Jimmy Dun, chief marketing officer at DYNASIGN Corporation. Content providers “need to allocate resources, internally or externally, to create content instead of repurposing the content, which is very common to save the cost. The informative and entertaining dynamic motion content will certainly grab attention.”

Enhanced Elements

There are a multitude of elements available now that, when used correctly, will enhance a sign’s content—elements that have never been accessible in the past. This includes the ability to upload new content in a matter of seconds, incorporate video clips, provide user statistics, and leverage social media for further promotions.

“Digital signage content can incorporate social media, video, and other existing digital assets such as photography, collateral, and web pages for a multi-faceted customer experience,” says Macias, pointing to content management software’s ability to quickly update messages. “Touchscreen functionality can also be incorporated into a digital sign for tactile customer interaction.”

With even one or two of these elements in place, customer purchasing patterns and overall activity will become more apparent. Bovet advises digital signage users to, “understand your customers’ psychographic profiles and share signage content that speaks to them with its design and messaging.”

And the applications for these types of signs and their content are growing tremendously: wayfinding, donor walls, P.O.P. displays, menu boards, and more.

Enplug’s interactive social media walls have recently captured a larger segment of audiences due to their fun and unique way of delivering content. According to Anthony Thomas, chief operating officer at 101 Management Group, “Enplug [social media walls] enable us to reach out to our guests personally and highlight what we can offer when we want to offer it.”

What will it take to penetrate and elongate that mere eight-second window of opportunity? Human attention spans can be missed opportunities waiting to happen. Make sure your sign’s content is a difference-maker.

Heberlein says, “Finding a content management system that makes sense to those updating content for their signage application is one of the most important aspects of the signage solution, yet can be one of the most challenging without help.”

Maybe your digital signage offerings need the assistance of content management software.