Digital Signage – a not-so-short introduction

Posted on |
What are Digital Signs?

According to IHS Markit, digital signage is a market that will be worth over £18 billion ($24bn) by 2020.

There are major benefits for digital signage over traditional static signs, including the ability to update content remotely, adapt the screens to your viewers and even interact with your local audience. Above all, it provides the opportunity to tell your story through high-impact visual messages.

Both digital and printed signs require time and money for design, but printed material has far higher additional overheads to cover printing, distribution and setup. Once your digital signage hardware has been installed, ongoing costs for updates, support and maintenance tend to be lower than print. Lowering the workload from your own staff also contributes to making the business case for digital signage solutions. In just a few clicks new content can be displayed on your digital signage in-store, across one or multiple locations around the country or throughout the world. How on earth can print compare with that?

Uses for digital signage are multiple and expanding. It is widely seen in shops promoting anything from property to fashion to far-away escapes, in bus shelters and on railway platforms selling us dreams as we wait for our transport to arrive, in airport lounges delivering a mix of practical flight information and aspirational advertising of luxury luggage and expensive jewellery, and in office buildings to convey welcome messages and guide us to the correct meeting room.

The flexibility digital signs can deliver means different content can be scheduled to be displayed at different times of day, or days of the week, and content can be updated in near real time to reflect fast changing environments. The screens in our favourite coffee shops and fast food restaurants even switch menus from breakfast to lunchtime at the stroke of 11.00am. Other solutions display content relevant to outside weather conditions, such as automatically featuring advertisements for umbrellas when it rains, or sun cream when the sun is shining. Add facial recognition cameras to your system, and relevant content can be displayed based on the viewer’s age, gender or preferences. Imagine a travel agency window display promoting a festival weekend when a young man approaches, and switching to faraway holiday options when the viewers are a middle-aged couple.

Digital signage is rapidly evolving to incorporate interactive and context-aware content. Uses include kiosks to interact with – bookings, like cinemas and interactive displays to help plan routes and find local attractions etc. and mixed content displays to show real-time stats alongside live events like sport and auctions.

One of the best examples we’ve seen is the British Airways ad at the top of the page showing a child pointing up as a plane flew above him, whilst also displaying the actual flight number and destination of the plane in the sky.

Other solutions incorporate QR codes, giving the viewer a link with which to control content on the display from a web page on a mobile phone – ideal for interacting with window shoppers for businesses like Estate Agents, Automotive and Boat Sales.

Confirmed by a recent white paper by APS Group, digital signage can become a powerful investment for retailers looking to increase engagement with customers instore and online. In the world of retail, there are three key areas that you’ll usually want to place digital signage, each supporting different business objectives.

Positioning signage at a point of transit provides the opportunity to convey messages to people on the move. They don’t have the time to stop and engage, but are open to receiving messages. Roadside billboards have been positioned to deliver messages to people on the move for many years, but the advent of digital signage means the content they can now display provides are more eye-catching experience. Today the same opportunity presents itself to shop windows, with both digital screen and window projection systems able to deliver exciting, eye-catching video content to a passing audience.

Signage used at point of sale lets you address your audience whilst in the act of paying for something. Whilst not likely to be in a browsing mode, if you can present them with a great offer they are likely to be responsive. Retailers have of course been aware of this opportunity for many years, with standard practices in most stores being to position popular items at the tills to encourage shoppers to add them to their basket at the last minute. Adopting a Digital signage solution that incorporates facial recognition allows you to take the concept a step further, by personalising an offer based on their age, gender or other demographic data.

A point of wait gives the most creative opportunity for digital signage applications. People have time on their hands, and in many cases, are looking for a distraction or to be entertained. Bus stops are a great example of a point of wait, and many companies have already created innovative and entertaining content delivered by digital signage. At a point of wait you have time deliver more engaging content, such as trivia and even a little story-telling, and the opportunity to interact with your audience.

For some great examples of the creative use of Digital Signs, take a look at 15 ways to wow with digital menu boards and 5 ways to use digital signs in education published by Asus (the computers and hardware people).

If your interest in digital signs has been piqued by what you’ve read so far, then you’ll probably be wondering what’s involved in a Digital Signage solution.

Early adopters of digital signage started with a TV screen and a memory stick or external hard drive holding the content they wanted to display. Whilst a great step forward, it was limited to locations where on-site intervention could correct any issues, and where someone was on-hand to manually update or change screen content.

Modern systems take advantage of internet/cloud based technology to allow you (or your managed service provider) to manage content remotely, via a cloud-based application that configures content into an active presentation, with minimal disruption. The removal of the need for on-site intervention also means that content can be scheduled in advance, delivering greater flexibility for showing different content depending on the time of day or day of the week.

Modern content can incorporate many different media types, including video, pictures, scrolling text, weather feeds and live camera streaming.

With digital signage applications generally internet based, on-site equipment is now simply a screen or other form of display, a media player, and a housing/stand/fixing bracket of some description. Internet connectivity allows remote content changes and the ability to monitor the health and performance of the system continuously.

Digital signage screens are purpose built for extended (24hr) use, durability, visibility and a wide range of specific environments and can offer a huge range of options for presenting content. Available in sizes ranging from 10” to around 80”, they can be installed either portrait or landscape and can be used individually or combined to create huge digital walls. These screens connect to fixed office networks, Wi-Fi or 3G/4G and can generally play HD images and videos.

Transparent LED/LCD variants of these displays provide solutions are also available, delivering solutions that can show the user a combination of real product and a digital content overlay, and Front and Rear Projection can extend this concept in certain circumstances to display digital content across an entire shop window for unique and eye-catching results.

Adding Interactive touch capability to digital screens has opened a whole new set of use cases for digital signage, ideal for gathering information, guiding, or providing product information

Aside from the regular range of wall brackets, Digital A-Stands and pylons or totems, there are a growing number of solutions available to integrate the display with in-store or office furniture. Digital Clothing Rails are emerging as an ideal solution to target customers at the point of sale. With the screen built-in to one end of the rail, it can be moved around the store as desired, as seasons and campaigns change. Meanwhile Table top screens provide a sleek, stylish, natural multi-touch, multi-user experience built-in to a piece of multi-functional furniture, and built-in speakers make them ideal for multi-media content.

A wide variety of media players are available, from Raspberry Pi and small computing stick devices ideal for applications based on simple content, to high definition players and players built into modern screens and displays. The key principle is to ensure your player can handle the type of content you will be presenting, so the choice of player is a decision that should be made once you have a clear understanding of how you intend to use Digital Signs.

Digital screens are the outward face of a whole new industry, vying with traditional printed media to capture our attention, and digitising yet another part of our lives. Given the proliferation of screens in all walks of life, it is very likely that there is a business case for digital signage for most industry sectors. If you’re keen to see how others in your industry are adopting digital signage, Pro Display have some great examples of interesting and impactful uses for digital signs.