Digital Dynamos

Trends in dynamic digital signage – and why this growing sector matters to your print shop.

Signage is everywhere. It’s woven into almost every part of our lives – telling us where to go, what’s on sale, and how long we have to wait. In some ways, we almost don’t even see it, even though it’s right in front of our faces.

Faced with a cluttered consumer space, brands have had to adapt how they grab and hold our attention span as our recall has diminished and our attention span decreased. Brands must now seek new mediums outside of print to message effectively.
Signage has been a part of the consumer experience for hundreds of years and its evolution continues. Brands use signage to communicate – a means to deliver a message and illicit a response. Your objective as a provider in the signage industry is to assist these brands to effectively communicate that message. To do this in the 21st century, innovation is necessary.

Over the past two decades, technology has redefined the consumer experience, and dynamic digital signage was not least among these innovations. The current, widespread use of dynamic signage products demonstrates their burgeoning importance to brands. In fact, dynamic signage has become a likely extension to many traditional sign shops. Whether you are starting to consider diversification, are in the planning stages, or are a current provider, there’s much to talk about the world of dynamic signage.

What is Dynamic Signage?
Dynamic digital signage had its first inception in the 1970s in electronics stores then in video stores in the 80s. By the early 2000s, quick-serve, fast-casual, and food service operations were beginning to invest in systems and buy in to its value. Menu boards were an expected and needed application for the dining industry because of the need to change a menu from breakfast to lunch or to swap out menu items and pricing completely. Doing this for years through traditional signage had become burdensome, costly, and aesthetically unappealing.

It was this need from a food service client that prompted Charlotte-based Visual Impressions (www.visualimpressions.net) to diversify in North Carolina. Visual Impressions formed in 1993 as a large-format print shop, one of the first to employ digital printing. In 2007, after working with the largest food service provider in the world for many years, Visual Impressions pitched dynamic as an answer to a rotating menu. The client was willing to take a chance, and Visual Impressions launched a new division. They decided to offer everything from hardware, software, content, installation, and support to their clients, and have continued to grow operations steadily for the past seven years.

For the client, one feature was paramount: not only to change from breakfast to lunch to dinner menus but also to be able to change the entire menu daily. Yvonne Martin of Visual Impressions works with brands on dynamic strategies. She says their software has continued to grow as their customers have requested more features and functions. "Initially, updates and scheduling were controlled more at the location. About three years ago, we switched to an online platform, which was developed completely in house. Now, updates can be made from anywhere from a corporate office to out in the field on any device." This accessibility makes sense in a 24/7 world. Martin also says that this access allows users to create schedules conveniently: "If you have a six- or eight-week rotation, enter it at all at one time, and you are done. It's easy. Clients appreciate that."

Beyond Menu Boards
It's not just tantalizing sweets and juicy burgers making an impact in dynamic signs. Dynamic signage can be applied to most any environment, for both internal and external audiences. As a consumer, you are exposed to signs in a variety of locations – restaurants, stores, airports, healthcare facilities, and hotels. Whereever there is a need to convey flexible messaging, there is an opportunity for digital.

MediaVue Systems (www.mediavuesystems.com), based in Weymouth, Massachusetts, provides media players as part of an integrated dynamic signage enterprise package. They work with partners in software and content creation to deploy cohesive installations, customizing based on the needs of the application. Celeste Weins, marketing manager for MediaVue, shared they have worked on many different types of dynamic projects in a variety of industries, using universities as early adopters.

Raised on tech, college students seem like an ideal audience. This generation considers email passé and expresses itself via Twitter and Vine. So, how can you capture their attention? Try interactive displays, fresh content, and engaging animation, which seem to be successful as more universities roll out campus-wide systems, controlled from a central dashboard.

That central dashboard is a must for ease of use, says Martin. "To deploy content at scale with multiple screens and locations, an intuitive dashboard is a must. We spent time developing ours, and asking for feedback from our clients, the actual end users, and letting them beta test new versions. It has to be easy to use.”

Weins also noted the increase of use of dynamic in corporate offices as a means for human resources or internal messaging. For corporations with multiple campuses and thousands of employees, dynamic signage provides another avenue to mass communicate – and another tool to ensure messaging consistency. How a brand appears to its internal customers is just as important as its external personality. Dynamic signage is just one more medium to continuously enforce.

Software and Hardware Considerations
The two basics in putting together a dynamic solution are the hardware and software – you need commercial screens, players or servers, and a software to control the settings and play the content. The industry has become inundated with suppliers from the very basic to highly complex. Deciding on the right fit for your organization depends on many factos. So many of those I spoke to kept saying: do your homework.

Bill Taylor, a 17-year veteran of the industry and executive with Coolsign software, expressed the need to use a complete software platform that provides varied functionality. CoolSign, a product of Haivision, was one of the first enterprise which considered the need to play different content on different screens. Coolsign offers its users control over their network and necessary tools to plan, schedule and deploy content on any scale. Taylor expressed that “scheduling is one of the greatest benefits to Coolsign as well as real-time analytics.”

When deciding on a software platform, focus on creating a relationship with a provider that is an expert and works predominantly with providers not end users so that they can support you and provide the technical expertise while your efforts can be based on your assets – understanding your clients’ needs, their messaging, and how their audience interacts with their signage.

The major attributes to look for are:
• Accessibility: Being able to make changes and schedule through a cloud-based platform.

• Inclusivity: Choose a system that easily integrates many different kinds of media and allows you control over your content.

• Scheduling: Be sure you can make changes when content is played, ensuring you can make changes easily to best align with the time of day or your audience during a particular timeframe.

Easy Dashboard: A critical part of how systems work, an intuitive dashboard allows you a quick review and easy navigation.

One of the most important aspects of dynamic signage is the display itself. The right equipment has much to do with a project's chance of success, beginning with the use of commercial monitors rather than consumer TVs. Commercial monitors are built for constant use, have an ideal nit count (brightness), and include a warranty. Manufacturers of screens now understand digital signage as a growing, worthwhile segment, and are developing new technologies and products to meet the demand.

LG continues to gain market share in the dynamic space, recently inking a deal to supply one of the largest retailers in the U.S. Layton Harwell shared with me the success was mainly due to their use of IPS, or in-plane switching, technology. IPS is a technology used in LCD displays that "switches" the molecules of the liquid crystal layer between glass substrates.

Harwell advises that IPS "allows for a clear, consistent image from any angle, which improves the visual experience for the customer." IPS also boasts stable response time, can process high-speed signals without data loss and is resistant to "ghosting." This phenomenon occurs when interacting with a touchscreen. A clear expression is made on the screen when a finger touches it, extending the mark instead of a dotted or unconnected line. IPS screens do not lighten when touched either or show "tailing.”

Harwell described a long list of new sizes and features available including new options for video walls: "We have the thinnest bezel in the industry for video walls." This thin bezel helps create a seamless look.

Not only are monitors becoming thinner and more efficient, they are also getting smarter. Harwell explained monitors now have a "pixel sensor, alerting users if a problem with the screen is detected."

These new options and features keep the market competitive and prices continue to come down on these new, lean displays. Harwell stated, "with pricing decreasing all around, it's allowing for the right product to be used in digital signage displays."

Future Trends in Practice
The growth of dynamic digital signage shows no signs of slowing. From interactivity to social, to new ways to install screens, we will see a diversification in the ways this visual element is used. For example, Weins says that dynamic had been initially designed to "broadcast to the masses, but the shift is toward one-on-one interaction." In other words, the future dynamic signage will likely involve displays that discover individuals in range and target the messaging and advertising to that person.(Think Minority Report.)

Another example, from MediaVue, is the interactive display at Boston's Logan Airport. This new installation marries interactivity and personalization, allowing passengers to scan their boarding pass and to display a personalized route for you to your gate, highlighting the retail and dining selections along the way.

This appears to be a big win for all brands involved. Passengers enjoy a detailed map of where they need to go and what they can expect, which is especially helpful if they are unfamiliar with the airport’s layout. Retailers and vendors on the route hope for an uptick in sales, too.
Asked about other trends, Weins mentions the emergence of higher resolution, especially in retail. And both she and Harwell pointed to new screen shapes and applications, such as LG’s range of screen sizes for a range of spaces.The company recently displayed a diamond-shaped video wall at an industry event, and they and other manufacturers have even begun offering screens with a slight, eye-catching curve. This new type of display can be found at Denver's International Airport, where large columns wrapped in high-resolution digital screens stand directly behind the security screening area.

Another trending concept is incorporating live TV feeds. Think of a screen that has been divided into multiple sections. You are probably familiar with this type of application in airports. One area may be broadcasting CNN while another area displays ads or RSS feeds, a feature popular with CoolSign users.

Functionality trending will likely be in the realm of social media integration, which is another part of individualized experiences and interactivity. Also, softwares that interact with P-O-S systems or inventory data acting as triggers to launch different content, are sure to be on the horizon.

Best Practices for Set-up
The current industry is crowded with many options for hardware, software, and content. But before even considering any tools, Weins recommends careful planning.

"Jumping in without a strategy is a big mistake,” she says. “Understand what your objectives are." She also added that choosing the wrong technology is often a problem. "Do your research. Know what you are trying to achieve. Then choose good partners."

Harwell also recommends considering placement and the environment, like natural lighting and glare concerns. If those are concerns, consider anti-glare products and be aware of nit count.

And then there are the simpler things, as Taylor notes that successful signage often comes down to "compelling content in the right spot.”
Taylor says to think first about how the brand will use dynamic signage. "Businesses must consider dwell time and, based on this, what call to action makes sense." Additionally, keeping content fresh keeps it appealing, especially for repeat audiences. Think of updating dynamic content as often as you would all your digital platforms like websites and social media platforms.

 

Today’s audiences have now adapted to and expect better content and visuals from print providers, whether that be from static products of dynamic displays.

Although there will always be the need for print, there have never been lower barriers to entry in expanding your shop to include dynamic. With the proper research and a sound strategy, print shops can continue to offer multiple ways for their customers to communicate actively with their audiences.
 

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