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Digital Signage...from concept to customer connectivity: dynamic signage on the move

Stay up to speed with the changes in electronic digital signage applications.

By Louis M Brill

As retail businesses constantly fine-tune their marketing and advertising strategies for increasing sales and discovering new customers, they inevitably discover the realm of electronic signage and the resources of changeable message copy as a continuing customer contact process. For those companies who embrace electronic signage as either providers of the service or as customers who use it, their relationship to electronic signage has become a dynamic process of advertising as "instant messaging."

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  • Electronic signage (aka digital displays) is the future of retail advertising, both for the stores that use it and for the 21st century sign providers who can create and manage electronic signage as a moving message display format. Digital display benefits include multiple messages continuously appearing on the display screen, messages that can be changed with no physical labor of printing and replacing signs and customers benefit from up-to-the-minute store or retail center information about their products, services, sales and special event announcements. Two full service electronic sign providers, AlivePromo and Visual Productions Inc. discuss their management of the electronic signage and the solutions they provided for their customer's electronic sign needs.

    AlivePROMO's Zona Rosa kiosk showing off two of its sides, on the right, its electronic screen and the left, a sign cabinet for displaying tenant product samples.
    photo credit: Zona Rosa

    AlivePromo (Minneapolis, MN) is a digital sign company (started in 2000) that deals with the creation and distribution of electronic advertising content for in-store dynamic digital displays and point-of-purchase promotions. Director of communications for AlivePromo, Matt Rogers discussed how the company transforms a client's marketing needs into an electronic advertising fulfillment program. "We provide every service essential to digital signage including consulting for needs analysis, creative services for content development, and installation to electronically display the sign and the management of the completed sign system." Versions of these sign programs have been installed by AlivePromo throughout the United States in businesses such as banks, museums, salons and multitudes of retail stores.

    "Most companies have a wait and see attitude about the value and the impact of digital signage. There are however," says Rogers, "early adopters who are employing digital signage as a means for communicating with their customers. Digital signage is the future of retail-in-store advertising and it's only a matter of "when" it will become main stream. Companies who have started down this road of electronic advertising will have a distinct marketing edge over their competitors."
    Close up detail of the kiosk's LCD electronic screen.
    photo credit: Zona Rosa

    As to the impact of using digital signage says Rogers, "There have been some marketing studies that have shown these electronic display systems have a measurable sales increase of 1% - 3% . The client use of these digital sign systems is varied as some companies depend on their electronic sign systems to initiate a direct positive sale impact for their in-store use. Other companies are just as happy with their digital signage providing a more enlightened atmosphere that adds to the store's retail presence and to educate customers about the various products and services within the store."

    The core component of AlivePromo's success is 'AlivePULSE,' a patent-pending web-based content management fulfillment program of supporting each client's digital sign project. A few digital sign projects are very basic," says Rogers. "Some stores have a set-up of an LCD screen and a DVD player and a self-repeating loop of store promotions."

    "In our digital sign process, we use AlivePULSE as a sign scheduling program which can be accessed from the Internet. We describe AlivePULSE as a complete process of getting content from 'design to sign.' It's a fully integrated solution that allows for the scheduling of digital collateral and a function that allows the end user to view the contents of each sign. Here, changing sign content is self-service, and can be managed completely by the client who can log into AlivePULSE and adjust their sign content as defined by their latest marketing strategies. They can change messages, sales prices, add new info on special events and have their new sign content available as screen displays overnight. In some instances, the tenants prefer us to manage their sign systems, and they send us the changes and the new artwork and we'll take it from there"

    A recent case history of an AlivePromo installation was showcased at Zona Rosa in Kansas City (MO), which is an urban retail center of shopping, dining and entertainment. Also included in this urban mix are lofts and apartments and spaces for offices with a total of 500,000 square feet of developed space. The center was developed by Steiner & Associates as an innovative retail development that added a state-of-the-art digital sign system as a customer enhancement information service.

    Zona Rosa's kiosk-based electronic way finding system shows the layout of the retail center.
    photo credit: Zona Rosa

    In the Zona Rosa installation, AlivePromo provided an outdoor electronic sign solution in the form of nine kiosks that were deployed throughout the retail center's street space. The kiosks were installed as a completely integrated sign network strictly dedicated to Zona Rosa tenants and their on-site retail center activities. Connecting the kiosks to the LCD screens was done via a WiFi (wireless) setup using Flash Networks as a connectivity source. As a by-product, Zona Rosa was also able to offer wireless hotspots for the laptop and latte crowd to reach the Internet from any Zona Rosa cafe location.

    "Kiosk location is very important to us and we placed each kiosk in a key spot to capture all our visitor's attention who passed by the kiosks, as described by Rosemary Salerno, General Manager of Zona Rosa. "Depending on your direction of travel they are either the first thing you see as you enter upon the retail center, or the last thing you see as you leave. Either way they provide a contact for our customers between the retail center and what we offer here in entertainment, special events and shopping services. Through our electronic signage we are able to keep customers totally informed about tenant shops and event activities on a daily schedule of what happens each day."

    As for the four-sided kiosk sign faces, each represents a different sign use, one side has a poster cabinet for static signage, another has a sign cabinet for tenant product samples and the third side has a location map and directory for shopping guests to find their way around Zona Rosa.

    It is the fourth side however, where Zona Rosa has entered the 21st century and the new world of digital signage. Here the kiosk face includes an LCD digital display with its on-going series of electronic messages that informs passer-by's of the full range of activities within the retail center. "We have several message categories," says Salerno, "including tenant sales announcements, way-finding to locate stores within Zona Rosa, announcements about on-site special events and third party advertising with outside non-competitive advertisers. Each spot is about a 10 - 12 second message and then it rotates to the next spot and continues to the end and repeats."

    "Our outdoor kiosk system is a network covering a large part of Zona Rosa's shopping area and tenants who buy into the electronic advertising can elect on what kind of coverage they want. They can choose to be on a single kiosk, several kiosks or the complete network, depending on how much of our daily customer base they wish to reach. They can also appear in day parts," noted Salerno, "to position the appearance of their ads against time of day. For example, a restaurant may start advertising their lunch specials by mid-morning and use the afternoons to promote their daily dinner menus."

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    "On one kiosk we're even experimenting with an electronic way-finding system where we have posted a map of Zona Rosa which shows the layout of the retail center and a tenant directory that tells where all the stores are. The map also has an added feature that provides a series of automated pop-up promotions that tells all about the special events or sales specials at certain stores on the map." Salerno pointed out that this is in a beta test right now, but if it achieves high customer satisfaction as they expect it will, the Zona Rosa map/directory will become a regular feature of all their kiosks.

    Close-up detail of the Zona Rosa way finding shows detail of map including in the upper left corner, a pop up that tells about the special events or sales specials. On the right side, the retail center's tenant directory with a store guide.
    photo credit: Zona Rosa

    Solerno sees a great future for Zona Rosa's use of electronic signage, of not only adding more kiosks as the retail center expands in size, but also relocating existing kiosks to keep in touch with shifting pedestrian traffic patterns through Zona Rosa. Soon she said, she expects it to even migrate indoors as they will have an inside food court where an LCD sign system will reside next to their guest information desk in the food court. "It's been a great success with our tenants, as they have all favorably responded to the electronic sign system and all the possibilities it offers them in marketing their stores to our guests."

    Visual Productions Inc. (Southfield, MI) is a company specializing in interactive kiosks, in-store fixtures point-of-purchase signage to draw impulse spending from a customer during a shopping visit. Initially these POP displays were static signs placed in the front of store or showroom. In a marriage made of inspiration and insight into the future of signage, VPI collaborated with its sister company Bluewater Technology, whose specialty was audio-visual services and was able to integrate A/V with POP to formulate electronic signage as a new display format for POP customer contact.

    The transformation was summarized by Bryan William's VPI's Director of Sales, who noted that with static signage, it's a cycle of print and continual replacement for each new store promotion. With digital signage, once the signboards (LCD or plasma screens) are in place, the sign content runs indefinitely and is changed seamlessly as needed.

    Digital signage as Williams pointed out, is a whole new media environment to market within. "The biggest challenge in displaying electronic signage is you have about five seconds to catch a viewer's attention, and get them interested to watch." Talk about creating compelling content. Text, graphics, bright colors and a short poignant 'call to action' message are the paint brushes to this end.

    The best success of digital signage begins with a need analysis review to understand what the client's project is trying to accomplish. This means understanding the client's business, who their customers are and the best way to use an electronic sign system to meet those needs. Another concern is to become familiar with the customer's store site or sites to determine exactly where the electronic screens will be located and what kind of content will be displayed on them.

    Williams maintains that electronic signs have a greater potential than just being a video playback system of commercials for the company's customers. "While presenting advertising continually to customers is an important function for a business, a well-planned electronic sign system should be designed as a multi-purpose system as well." One example Williams cites, is an electronic sign system that's keyed into the store's product inventory. Here the sign system periodically survey's product inventory counts. If it spots an "overstock" of a product or maybe a product is not moving fast enough, the sign system could offer a special sale to alert customers to its "reduced pricing" availability. Another use could be to use the system for in-store trainings to inform the sales staff of new products and how they work.

    As a full service provider, VPI's expertise is complete from designing the electronic sign system to putting the system together, installing it and managing its ongoing operation as required. In some instances VPI will manage a client's sign system, and in other cases, the client will do so, depending on their on expertise in collecting new creative ideas and transforming them into sign content.

    The backbone of the VPI sign system is Fujitsu's TELentice system which is a flexible platform for delivering mixed-media messages to any type of digital display. In one part it acts as a software schedule delivering all types of digital multimedia, ranging from static images and text to high-quality video and animation. TELentice ranges from handling pre-recorded messages to an interactive-driven data base managed by customer selections. Among the many media formats TELentice can transmit are: Pre-cached digital media files, including video, audio, presentations, animations and still images. It can also deliver live Internet content, including Web pages and streaming video, live data streams all which can be sent to PCs, plasma displays, LCD flat-screens or mobile phones.

    VPI's electronic display philosophy was recently demonstrated in an installation with a Verizon mall store. Here the company employed electronic signage to act as a 'people magnet' and a sales associate in keeping customers informed of its new products as they are waiting for sales reps to assist them.

    Inside the Verizon store, customers encounter a series of 17-inch wall mounted LCD video screens with continuous displays of Verizon products. Here two screens can be seen mounted on the building column. In the background on the wall is the 42-inch interactive plasma screen.
    photo credit: Visual Productions Inc.

    Verizon's electronic display signage was organized into three customer contact parts. The first sign segment was a HoloPro screen (HoloPro is a specialize translucent video screen that amplifies a video projection against the ambient lighting of interior store spaces) used as a window display with two purposes: to alert all passerbys with ongoing advertisements promoting the brand and its products, and to draw customers from the mall corridor towards and into the store. Once inside the store, customers encounter a series of six 17-inch free standing LCD video screens with continuous displays of Verizon products. The LCD screens were all wall-mounted and distributed in key areas around the store including two in the merchandising section, two in cell phone accessories and two screens that dealt with calling package information. Sign message displays were all controlled by TELentice which released different messages based on time of day and the assumed clients who might be visiting the store (early morning relegated to business customers looking for better calling plans, afternoon to teen-agers shopping for new phones).

    Close-up detail of the interactive wall mounted 42-inch plasma monitor that allowed customers to self-select specific Verizon calling plans for further information.
    photo credit: Visual Productions Inc.

    The third part, the interactive screen was a large wall-mounted, 42-inch LCD monitor that allowed customers to self-select specific information based on whatever Verizon calling plans they were trying to learn about. From Verizon's viewpoint the electronic signage was enough of a success that they have employed versions of this system in at least four stores around the country.

    The HoloPro screen (HoloPro is a specialize translucent video screen that amplifies a video projection against the ambient lighting of interior store spaces) placed against the store front window display alerts passerbys with ongoing advertisements to draw customers from the mall corridor into the store.
    photo credit: Visual Productions Inc.

    Electronic signage is becoming a premium in-store customer service marketing tool for those businesses willing to deploy the system. Essentially, store signage is going through a transition from being part of a store's background look to a more proactive player in how a store communicates its products and services to its customers, and hopefully boosts store sales along the way. And that would be a great electronics sign - one that pays its own way.

    Louis M. Brill is a journalist and consultant for high-tech media communications. He can reached at (415) 664-0694 or

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