Courtesy of the 2012, Digital Signage Expo, Sydney Convention Centre, Sydney, Australia.

After 12 years of being immersed in digital technology in all its shapes and sizes, I don’t claim to know it all (despite being Gen Y) and do believe that there is always more that I can learn. I particularly like to think that even when I feel I truly know something, I can always revisit that  thought from any number of various perspectives and still be learning more. In thinking that, I decided to attend the 2012, Digital Signage Expo at the Sydney Convention Centre.

In all, I was exceptionally surprised at the number of speakers that were reinforcing, what I thought were absolute fundamentals to a rewarding, in store and out of home (OOH) experience, that creates absolute value for both customers and the showcased brands. It seems that there are a lot of operators within the digital signage industry that are committed to having hardware, without any thought for their brand. Whether that be the store the hardware is going into or the content being presented; the lack of consideration was the same. It seems crazy to me that so few people are actually working with basic advertising, marketing and customer behaviour fundamentals. Surely this can’t be as bad as was being suggested by speaker after speaker after speaker?

To test this theory, I walked around Sydney CBD, and took note of the Digital OOH and in store media I saw, and what mistakes were being made and compared this to a typical example we were given at the expo of what not to do. In this example the reference brand discussed is a well-known convenience store chain in the United States that is operating one of the largest private in store media network of its kind.

Sight-lines must be taken into account.
In this scenario, the screens were placed on the ceiling. Who walks around convenience stores, look up?

Study what people do and work out your viewing time.
Not only will the placement of a screen have a major impact on whether customers see your screens at all, but how long they will see the content for. In this scenario screens were placed at the back of the store, and allowed for perhaps 5 – 10 seconds of viewing time. The counter, or somewhere near a point of queuing would have been a better idea, I thought.

Another consideration is to run a number of smaller screens throughout a venue. This has the effect of creating multiple content hot spots, which would take viewing time up to 3 or 4 times the final installation depending on how many hotspots the customer sees as they navigate their way round the store.

Don’t break up your screen 
It’s great that brands want to serve, weather, news, the latest fashion information, local bus time tables and what’s happening on the stock exchange, least of all getting to today’s in store specials. But it shouldn’t be done on the same screen at the same time. Breaking up the screen only creates confusion and runs the risk of having content side by side that doesn’t naturally work together. Humans are typically able to process one thing at a time. Having too much happening on your media, will force people to ignore what they are seeing rather than work out what is going on. A typical person will take less than 1 second to decide if they are going to continue to view something or disregard it completely, most of the time they are not even aware of having made this decision consciously.

Content must not exceed your viewing time
It surprised me the number of ads that were running on the brands network that were way too long to meet the few seconds of viewing time that a customer could be in a store for; let alone in front of the screen for. Who is going to stand in an aisle for 3 or 4 minutes and watch a movie trailer, when they nipped out for milk? I tested this and typically my time in a convenience store was no more than 45 seconds. I know what I want when I go in, I get it and get out as quickly as possible.

Content must be checked before it is published.
It is imperative that someone with brand authority is able to review all content going onto the network before it is published, even if it’s only to a single device. There is nothing more embarrassing than to be in a store and a competitor is advertising for customers to go across the road and see them. The most basic mistakes are fundamental spelling errors, way finding pointing in the wrong direction, or artwork that becomes washed out or is too bright, because it wasn’t tested visually on final media running on a high brightness before being published.

Respect your brand and respect the medium.
If your brand is the most important thing to your business (and it should be only after your customers of course), and hardware is important enough to put into your brand experience, than you should be paying them both with the respect that they deserve. Don’t just shove screens in for the sake of it. If you need them, great, but don’t destroy what could be a great brand experience, because it’s too hard to rethink a small part of your store.  Every screen should be thoroughly thought about and stores should be appropriately and proportionality designed to accommodate the technology as required ensuring the most effective output from the medium and adding brand value without destroying the customer experience in the process.

Consider your up time.
This particular brand didn’t make this mistake, however I am sure that this is one fundamental that they have covered, but it certainly surprised me to learn that as many as 50% of all screens will be out of action at any one time on most networks due to poor operational excellence. Ensure that when an installation is completed that a robust content management and hardware maintenance management programme is in place.

So how did Sydney compare?
Well, in my professional opinion, no one particular example stood out as getting everything right, and there were plenty of examples of at least 1 or 2 mistakes being made by everyone. I was pleased to find only one example of media being used that was on but had no content. Most media was set up high towards the ceiling, but would prove ok, if it was in hospitality or entertainment venues given you had a captive audience, but few ran more than 1 screen to capture customers facing in multiple directions. Nearly none of the examples I saw had clearly redesigned the space around the media to accommodate it and everyone seems to have ‘found a place for it’.

From a content perspective, there was little or no local information other than weather, and the vast majority were presenting content pushed out across a much broader publishing network. In once case I saw 3 stores in the same street running the same content. Not one of them had chosen to use the screen for their own advertising, which was such a waste. Why have the screen at all if its not going to be used for your business.

It is imperative that if a brand is considering introducing digital media to any brand experience the basics are done right. If digital media is being recommended by an installer or network operator as an opportunity to bring you revenue, ensure it is complimentary to your brand strategy and not going to detract from the hard work your brand is doing, and adds values to the people seeing it, so that they can in turn add value too.