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Signs of the Times: Digital Display Screens Set to Take Leading Role

Well-established as an advertising medium, digital display screens are now finding countless new applications in internal communications and on-site navigation, while now offering a more bespoke promotional service than ever before.

Photo: Times Square is a’changing: Aerva’s digital outdoor campaign for Taco Bell.
Times Square is a'changing: Aerva's digital outdoor campaign for Taco Bell.
Photo: Times Square is a’changing: Aerva’s digital outdoor campaign for Taco Bell.
Times Square is a'changing: Aerva's digital outdoor campaign for Taco Bell.

From bus shelter video screens that change ads depending on who is standing close by to interactive 4K touch screens that help children find their way around holiday resorts, digital signage is getting smarter – at least according to exhibitors at Chicago's CorpComms Expo.

Among the other highlights on show were a range of powerful and flexible next generation video screens as well as systems for integrating signage with mobile devices. Also making their debut this year were several automated 'concierge' systems, all designed to reduce the burden of repetitive tasks while helping users navigate large sites, including campuses, hospitals and airports.

Digital signage, of course, is nothing new. Large format video walls and displays have been a feature of shops, sports stadia and prominent outdoor advertising boards for many years. There is, however, something of a revolution under way, with digital displays taking on new roles in a wider range of organisations. At the same time, many established users are now finding smarter and more effective ways to employ such technology.

In line with this, internal communications systems that 'push' messages to employees' mobile devices were widely on display. Several exhibitors also had on offer software that can manage content creation and dissemination, while also enabling non-programmer staff to easily create new mobile apps.

While hardware was very much front of house, a number of systems for actually managing digital display networks were also being heavily promoted at the event. One company specialising in this sector was Massachusetts-based Aerva.

Outlining the evolving demand for such systems, David Kaszycki, the company's Marketing Director, said: "It really all started with external communications and the digital-out-of-home concept. This led to things like the digital screen networks in New York's Times Square and those on the subway system making a lot of money.

"More recently, there has been the emergence of playspace networks – digital displays in health clubs, convenience stores, retail centres and the like. The next step will see a move into higher-education establishments and internal communications. With the price points coming down, such sectors will inevitably see the benefit of it."

Overall, justifying spending on digital signage for marketing purposes has been relatively straightforward, with its proven effectiveness seen as certain to increase sales revenues. The argument is rather more difficult – though getting less so – when it comes to other applications, notably its use as an internal communications tool.

Putting the case for such usages, Matt Welter, the Communications Director for InLighten, a New York-based digital signage company, said: "It can clearly be argued that it actually cuts costs in a number of ways. It removes the need for printed communications for example, which has an environmental benefit. Just being able to get information to employees is also a huge plus point, something that is clearly worth spending money on."

This seems to be the consensus, with a number of exhibitors solely focussing on internal / employee communications. According to Jude Carter, Marketing Vice-president of The Marlin Company, a Connecticut-based specialist in digital signage for the workplace, though, it is worth bearing in mind that different departments will all have quite separate requirements of this particular form of communications.

Expanding on his theory, he said: "Typically, a person with operational responsibility is largely focussed on maintaining high productivity and creating a safe environment. By contrast, the human resources department is more concerned about reaching everyone across the organisation, regardless of their job function or physical location.

"Then you have corporate communications, where the remit is more to manage branding consistency and tone. That leaves us with IT – our world – where the overriding concern is that nothing should be done that might compromise the entire network, creating a lot of additional work for everyone."

As well as tailoring such signage for departmental needs, being able to demonstrate effectiveness is another clear concern for companies operating in the sector. In terms of advertising, this is quite straightforward, with sales performance a clear indicator. In the case of internal communications, though, other key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be borne in mind.

Photo: Digital workplace signage from the Marlin Company.
Digital workplace signage from the Marlin Company.
Photo: Digital workplace signage from the Marlin Company.
Digital workplace signage from the Marlin Company.
Photo: In-store shopper engagement from ComQi.
In-store shopper engagement from ComQi.
Photo: In-store shopper engagement from ComQi.
In-store shopper engagement from ComQi.

Believing that this, too, can be handled in a relatively clear-cut fashion, Carter said: "In the workplace, return is directly related to how sure any given user is about their objectives. If they know that they are investing in digital signage to improve safety, they will have something safety-related in their KPIs and their content strategy should be aligned to that. Any user needs a good understanding of their own company and a clear idea as to what they are trying to accomplish."

Another sector that was widely referenced at the event was the use of digital signage for internal navigation, with California's 22Miles emerging as something of a pioneer in this particular niche. Explaining the USP of his business, Tomer Mann, the company's Senior Vice-president for Global Sales, said: "We specialise in creating 3D editing systems suitable for in-house users rather than graphic designers. Typically, these give people the ability to create, for instance, campus-wide interior mapping, which can then be pushed to a mobile device.

"Our real-time room-booking system also allows users to see just which rooms on the map are actually occupied at any one time. This can be sent to their desktop, integrated with fire and safety protocols or used to create emergency alerts and highlight evacuation routes."

Integrating digital signage with mobile devices and creating multiple touch points was another theme addressed by many attendees. Highlighting her own company's approach, Liz Goodwin, Digital Marketing Manager for Massachusetts-based Modo Labs, said: "We have created a platform that the average person can use to create mobile apps without needing to learn any new technical skills. We believe that pushing messages to mobile devices is especially useful in certain working environments and for certain worker age groups.

"The millennial generation is now arriving in the workplace and they rarely read emails, making push notifications to their devices the best way to contact them. We see that as very much the coming trend.

"In a factory space – a setting where there is seldom laptop access – workers can be somewhat disconnected from the business. Pretty much everyone has got a smartphone though, and we can also access non-smart handsets through SMS. As a result, the level of engagement we can offer is really on the increase."

While advertising and marketing companies were the first to embrace the use of digital displays, subsequent improvements in technology are now obliging them to reassess just how to make the best use of such systems. One of the key changes here has been the facility to tailor the messages to the interests and profiles of those in close proximity to the screens at any given time.

Explaining the technology behind this, Kaszycki of Aerva said: "Most digital screens are controlled by cell networks and, with those now being considerably better and quicker, cameras are now a common feature of these displays.

"This means it is possible to tell whether a viewer is male or female, how old they are or even if they are happy or sad. This information can then all be tied together with data about the weather and so forth, ultimately delivering highly targetted programmatic advertising."

As well as identifying and targetting its audience, digital signage can also act in accordance with store stock levels, promoting certain goods while removing any references to sold out items. One company offering this particular refinement was ComQi, a New Jersey-based specialist in in-store shopper engagement technology.

Ashita Nagori, the company's Marketing Co-ordinator, said: "We can integrate with your point of sale or we can integrate with your inventory. For instance, if something is close to running out, we won't show it on the screen because we don't want the customer asking for something you don't have. Similarly, if something is high in inventory then we can specifically promote that."

Photo: Inlighten: Bringing internal communications into the digital age.
Inlighten: Bringing internal communications into the digital age.
Photo: Inlighten: Bringing internal communications into the digital age.
Inlighten: Bringing internal communications into the digital age.

CorpComm Expo was held at Chicago's Navy Pier Building from 15-16 November 2016.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Chicago

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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