We’re excited to publish a guest blog by digital signage industry expert, Dave Haynes. Spectrio acquired Sixteen:Nine, of which Dave is the founding editor. Dave remains an unbiased industry expert and we’re honored to be able to dedicate our blog to his unique and impartial opinions. In this blog, Dave explores what it takes to create a successful digital signage project.

I am an old – emphasize old – daily newspaper guy who years ago somehow found his way into digital media. While my days of chasing around politicians, monitoring police scanners, and talking to 1980s hair bands are long over, the skills I learned many years ago still get applied today when I get pulled into discussions about digital signage projects.

Just about any journalist learned in school to apply six key questions to any story being covered, and then get them covered off in the opening paragraph:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

It seems simple enough – maybe even elemental – but I’ve been amazed through the years at how often companies that were considering an investment in digital signage technology could not come up with solid answers for those questions. Going through the exercise of addressing these core questions will go a long, long way to ensuring a project gets off to a good start.

Why Are You Creating Your Digtial Signage Project?

“Who” usually comes first when people rattle off the so-called 5 Ws, but in digital signage, the first W to address, characterize and resolve is “WHY?” 

WHY is this an idea? A notion? WHY:

  • That, or any, technology?
  • Now?
  • In THAT area?

I raised that question at a first meeting, a few years ago, with a Top 10 global brand that was considering screens for its production areas. WHY did they need screens? WHY were screens and software the answers to a problem? 

That snapped a couple of heads back, with one of my clients frankly admitting she hadn’t really thought about that. The team was just kinda moving ahead and sorting it out as they went.

So we talked about it. We identified the communications issues on the production floor, and the dynamics, and came up with a clear sense of the WHY for the project. When you have the WHY sorted, it helps frame the rest of the Ws, as well as HOW.

Consider the workplace, and the modern challenges of communicating with staffers who may only come into the workplace part-time, or others who may be there much of the time, but don’t have dedicated workstations, aren’t in front of screens all day and don’t have mailboxes, pay envelopes or company emails that traditionally get used for employee communications. HOW do you reach them?

“We’ll use digital signage!” may be the umbrella idea, but more detail is needed on WHY. How about: “We will put screens in break rooms, common areas, and busy production areas that will communicate key performance indicators in real-time from our business systems, and blend that with messaging that boosts morale and celebrates achievements. We believe this will improve the timeliness of communications, reduce workloads and help reach or exceed production targets by extending need-to-know to line workers, and not just their managers.”

What Should Be Displayed On Your Screens?

Knowing the reason WHY screens make sense directly informs the next big set of questions – notably WHAT needs to be on screens, how much content is needed, and the frequency it needs to be changed. When you know WHAT the content mix and volume of material looks like, you can start to make some technology, budgeting, and staffing decisions. 

For example, a network that will contain a lot of original high-resolution video creative may need very different technology than a network that will largely be a set-it-and-forget-it collection of KPI dashboards showing numbers and charts. Original creative also takes much more time, budget, and people than dashboards, menus, and listings that can largely be automated by tapping into other business systems.

Where is Your Signage Going to Be Placed?

WHERE screens will have the most impact, based on sorting out WHY should be addressed early. A common mistake, still, is putting screens WHERE there is room or WHERE it’s easy to do. An empty section of wall in an office, with power and network easily accessible, might seem to make sense, but if the dynamics of the venue see people walking past that wall without stopping, it’s probably the wrong spot. Put screens WHERE they’ll be noticed, and WHERE they are needed, not WHERE there was space.

Put your heads into the behavior of the target audience – WHERE they are most likely to see and need screens, and at what scale. Not every job needs giant LCD or LED video walls, but an 85-inch screen that looks huge in a showroom may be too small for a common room that has viewers as much as 60 feet away.

There is much more to cover off in WHERE – including the implications of the location. Outside screens present challenges and extra costs. Even indoor screens can be troublesome because of the conditions – from glare to airborne particles and grease.

Who Is Involved in the Digital Signage Project?

The people taking the first meetings about a digital signage project may not be the people who will run it, so it is very important to get that WHO question sorted out early. WHO:

  • Needs to be involved in planning (like IT, building ops, procurement, etc)?
  • Needs to approve?
  • Has the budget?
  • Owns the project and will get it launched and then run it? Will the network be run internally, or outsourced to a service provider? 

I did a three-month engagement years ago with a big international telecoms company, planning out digital signage in its retail sites, and it was clear that while many departments wanted a direct say in how the network would look and work, no department wanted to actually own it. But somebody had to, as orphaned projects rarely thrive. I had another client – a global automaker – that assigned the notion of digital signage for dealerships to a team self-described as the Land of Misfit Toys. They got all the jobs square peg-round hole marketing and communications jobs and knew nothing of signage. In that case, outsourcing the day-to-day made total sense.

WHO is also about the audience. WHO will see the screens, and what messaging will have the desired impacts?

With all those considerations coming together, the next big question is WHEN? As in WHEN does this network gets launched? WHEN does technology need to be sourced and ordered to hit the timeline? WHEN is training done? If the process is pilot, test sites, and then roll-out, what does that timeline look like? WHEN does the budget come available, and are OpEx and CapEx budgets on different timelines?

How Is This Project Being Used?

Finally, and this tracks back to WHO, is sorting out HOW this will all be done. While there are cases in which companies just source the technology and then pull the rest together themselves, a lot of digital signage projects – of all sizes and types – get done with the help of their technology vendors. That can start as early as the idea generation/consultative stage, all the way to after-care, with third-party managed services teams effectively running their clients’ networks day-to-day.

The catch-all term for that is turnkey services. It’s important that end-users have a clear sense of what they need done for them, and also to scrutinize the true capabilities of a service provider. I have seen small software companies pivot to being “turnkey” solutions providers when I know those firms don’t really have staff for that and are relying on partners and sub-contractors. With turnkey, you want a tight in-house team and one key contact to inform, guide, yell at and hug.

The End Result: A Successful Digital Signage Project

Digital signage, at a first pass, seems pretty simple in times when we’re trying to make sense of NFTs and cryptocurrencies and epidemiology reports. Getting a screen on a wall is indeed no great technology achievement. But getting it right is a challenge. Knowing WHY the network exists, WHO it is for, WHAT technology to use, WHERE it works best, and WHEN to roll it out are all going to be helpful- arguably critical – to get any digital signage project off to a proper, chaos-free start.