Thinking Big

When it comes to thinking about electronic digital signage installations, in many cases it pays to think big—even if your customer is a small, one-location business.

Far removed from the thousand-screen networks of Wal-Mart or other national chains, local EDS systems still offer the flexibility and expandability that make them a whole different animal from typical one-and-done printed signs. And new technologies, such as those showcased at the recent Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, offer more choices and are easier to use than ever before.

Approaching electronic digital signage from a sign shop’s perspective, industry professionals may see a screen and a message and equate it to a traditional sign. But even basic systems offer much more than that.

“Really, there are three parts to any digital signage project,” notes Chuck Wilson, executive director of NSCA, the National Systems Contractors Association. “There’s the display and the PC and all the local stuff, of course, that originates the local content. But the big thing is the other two parts—which is the transmission media, and then the content itself.”

The pizzeria owner from down the street may come to you looking for a simple electronic sign that shows slides of his best-selling entrees. But, once the screen and player are in place, it really doesn’t take much more to link them to real-time data such as news or weather feeds, for example, or even into networks that offer third-party advertising or other original content.

“They may be only a one-location or a three-location outlet, but every screen has media value,” notes Brian Dusho, chief strategy officer for BroadSign, a software as a service company that can tie local EDS systems into a larger network. “Even if they don’t sell third-party advertising today, they might one day. A car dealership on Route 55 may not think he has media value, because he’ll never pick up the phone and call a media agency. But, if his outdoor LED screen is part of our network, one day he could use his screen to sell third-party ads, just by the nature of where it is, without doing anything more.”

That means your customer isn’t just spending money on his digital signage system, but can be making some money with it as well.

A Community Service
The types of companies and institutions looking at digital signage show that the systems are taking on more of a community feel—and fit the profile of an electric sign shop’s typical customer base.

“We have schools that are asking for this, hospitals, even churches are putting in digital signage to display information about the next service,” Wilson says. “It’s a phenomenon that’s replacing other types of signage.”

As an example of little guys thinking big, he points to a project in Seoul, South Korea, where an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s incorporating high-tech retail, nightclubs and shopping is using local EDS to create a collective community environment.

“Imagine Times Square or the Strip in Las Vegas, but having it linked into every establishment with a sequence of displays that are all tied together,” he says. “Say there’s a national holiday. Well, the cityscape changes to that using the digital signage. In New York, you don’t have to decorate for Christmas, for instance. You just push a button that says Christmas and you have instant decorations. So, for that neighborhood, they are using it to create a theme, maybe by the week, and it all sequences together.”

As more local digital signage systems are linked, it creates the “critical mass” that can attract national advertising and the other types of benefits that strength in numbers can provide, Dusho notes. In other words, your local digital signage installation may be more powerful, and coveted, than you might think.

The ability to quickly change messages and track results is what makes that possible. Verifiable data can be used to see which ads work and with whom, allowing flexibility and justifying an expanded approach if your local account decides to extend the reach of his digital signage system.

That expanded reach could utilize some of the latest digital signage technology that allows for customer interaction. From touch-screen applications that let users control content, to mobile phone technology that encourages two-way communication and allows customers to take the message with them, interactive technology not only creates a longer-term relationship with a shop’s clientele, Dusho says, but also makes people more comfortable with digital signage in general, which advances the entire industry.

“Really, the market is to the point where the technology is there,” he says. “Now we just have to go through the process of getting it validated.”

New Toys
The breakneck speed at which digital signage technology is advancing is another reason for electric sign shops to open their minds to the possibilities EDS presents. It may be hard to believe, but some consumers are already growing accustomed to digital signage messages, reducing their effectiveness.

The vendor displays at DSE showed that industry advancements will continue to engage and impress customers. For instance, electronic menu boards can be programmed to show a restaurant’s breakfast menu in the morning, and then automatically switch to lunch or dinner items at preset times, and with daily or weekly specials and other promotions built in.

A digital movie poster can display the typical static title and tag line, but with a live-action trailer running in the middle as well. Omnivex Corp., Concord, Ont., was among the companies showcasing new software applications. Its Moxie offering allows certain aspects of EDS content to be edited without affecting other portions of the on-screen display, with advanced 3-D graphics that approach the level of videogames and other rich content offerings.

“Digital signage today is flat, and the graphics are limited,” says Jeff Collard, Omnivex president. “With greater exposure to high-end graphics from computer games, and with the pending cutover to HDTV by 2009, people’s expectations of video content are growing rapidly.”

In fact, three dimensions are all the rage, as several top-name monitor companies have introduced products that offer a 3-D view without the funny glasses. Viewers hit a “sweet spot” where 3-D content seems to leap off the screen, and the monitors are fully equipped to run standard two-dimensional video as well.

Meanwhile, tiling options are now linking multiple screens together, allowing for unique configurations and an exciting multi-media feel. And some touch-screen applications are now becoming no-touch with the advent of sensors that read intent before a finger ever contacts the glass.

Add it all up, and it’s easy to understand why so many companies are excited about the prospects of electronic digital signage, and when an electric sign shop is called in on a project, it makes sense to think big.