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The Digital Signage Business Continuum: 'More than broadcasting or publishing on steroids'

The digital signage continuum seeks to reduce messaging cost (creative, production, fulfillment and display), increase messaging success, improve organizational alignment around branding messages, accelerate “speed to display” (therein also driving out process costs) and improve display compliance.

By Lyle Bunn

The sign of a revolutionary technology is when dramatic cost reductions and performance improvements are available, and when participation by a wide range of organizations is possible.

Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

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  • This paper describes how various organizations such as brand managers, ad agencies, display providers, message creators, publishers, technology providers and others naturally engage in the digital signage supply continuum.

    The digital signage continuum seeks to reduce messaging cost (creative, production, fulfillment and display), increase messaging success, improve organizational alignment around branding messages, accelerate “speed to display” (therein also driving out process costs) and improve display compliance.

    The desire to achieve these goals “above the line” as illustrated below, are achieved by elements “below the line” through Supply/Demand-Balanced, systems integration and deployment.

    Digital Signage is a network of digital, electronic displays that are centrally managed and individually addressable for display of text, animated or video messages for advertising, information, entertainment and merchandising to targeted audiences.

    The starting point of the continuum is the brand strategy. A brand is a simple, cohesive identity. Branding increases shareholder equity, allows for premium pricing, enables higher gross margins and allows for easier line extensions, and decreases business costs relative to equity achievement. SUCCESSFUL BRANDING IS MARKETING ROI.

    NY-based Interbrand has published Brand Evaluation reports including its July 2005 Global Brands ranking which placed Coca Cola as number 1 at $67 billion, followed by Microsoft at $60. McDonald’s was up 4% from 2004 at $26 billion. Gillette $17.5, Pepsi 12.4, Kellogg’s $8.3, Starbuck’s $2.5.

    While branding is normally considered for product, service, retailer or service provider, branding increasingly applies to a location, personnel in that location (i.e. a bank manager, produce manager, etc.) and co-branding with other products, services and activities.

    The advertising strategy and messaging definition both define and support the branding strategy. Branding is supported by media planning and buying which intend to engage the consumer.

    Digital Signage wants to brand and sell
    Digital Signage as a communications device is important to all organizations involved in brand-building and merchandising.

    A large volume of different messages can be triggered by “playlists” that control each electronic display (i.e. LCD, plasma, LED, TV) that help achieve communications and brand-building goals. Digital Signage messaging can reflect different “territories” to times of day or locations, empowering the Product Manager and agencies to better target messages to audiences.

    Digital signage is not a replacement for other display medium such as TV, billboards, print ads, etc., but an addition option for ad placement.

    Different display type can meet the “need state” of a consumer. A consumer NEEDS a particular kind of information or promotion while sitting in a TV room watching the game, or while driving or while reading a newspaper.

    The “need state” differs while in a buying location, where multiple types of information and promotion can support brand building and inspire the purchase. “BUY ME”, “TRY ME”, “BETTER THAN” and “GOES WITH” can each be used effectively on Digital Signage.

    Digital Signage is a unique display medium because it has the inherent ability to cost-effectively display different message types in day-parts, or triggered by interest or demographic, or even played simultaneously on multiple or split screens

    Brand vs. Activation Content
    Branding or Marketing communications seeks to generate revenues through branded or point-of-purchase sales “activation”.

    “Demand” implies that the buying decision is based on branding and the impression of previous purchases.

    “Activation” implies a buying decision motivated at the point-of-purchase.

    The proportion of each differs from product to product. A carbonated soft drink has a proportion of 65% demand and 35% activation. Cereal has an 80%-20% proportion, Gasoline 55%-45% and Beer 70%-30%.

    Media planners and buyers want to say, “yes” to any display medium that can achieve their results…. including digital signage. They want and need justification, and there is growing confidence in the digital signage as a brand development medium.

    Participation by a wide range of firms
    All of the organizations currently involved in the Marketing Communications supply chain today are positioned to participate in the Digital Signage supply chain.

    • All firms with existing or potential relationships with Branding organizations or location providers are positioned to present and exploit the digital signage opportunity.
    • Display locations are provided at retail, service and public locations.
    • Content is made available by creative and production houses such as Ad Agencies and Digital Graphics providers.
    • Publishers, broadcasters and out-of-home display providers can sell and manage display inventory.
    • Investors and organizations can enjoy high ROI through signage network deployment and operations.
    • Technology providers can supply hardware, software and other required elements.

    Sign Elements Vehicle Templates

    Each of these can and are becoming new digital signage players and partners. The significant business opportunity exists when:


    “Media Planning and Buying” is about eyeballs at LOCATIONS. Multiple brands seek to get their message into multiple locations. So, digital signage network planning will consider this broader, expanding universe of display potential.

    Knowledge (or accurate projections) of display intent, location opportunities, revenue potential and Digital Signage network costs allow the network owner to create the business plan. Some key inputs are number of locations, displays per location, rotation wheel and rate card. (See planning articles in the Resources section of

    More than “e-pub/loc-d”
    Dynamic Digital Signage has substantial merit as a display medium, because it;

    • Reduces messaging cost.
    • Increases messaging flexibility.
    • Gets noticed, motivating action and recall.
    • Improves the shopping or waiting experience.
    • Reaches audiences out-of-home and at point-of-purchase.
    • Accelerates “speed to messaging”.
    • Allows message day-parting, change frequency and micro-marketing.
    • Enables both branding and merchandising message display.

    Digital signage could be considered as “electronic publishing to location displays (“e-pub/loc-d” in techno-speak), somewhat as broadcasting or publishing on steroids - a technology integration exercise.

    Paradigm Shift - “Blue Ocean Strategy”

    Satellite connectivity enables real time, TV quality content Live, full-screen content

    • Sponsored events
    • Instruction
    • Subject-Focus Edutainment
    • Business Communications (BTV)
    • Interactive Distance Learning (IDL)

    An October 2004, Harvard Business Review article described a “Blue Ocean Strategy” as an approach that substantially improved competitive advantage through the use of new approaches. This applies to digital signage, which offers an integration and leverage of business communications approaches.

    Marketing campaigns usually include consumer education, a Public/Media relations campaign and sponsorship. These are not publishing processes but so much as they are real-time consumer presence.

    The infrastructure of a digital signage network can rotate hundreds of static, animated, or video messages while also scrolling or rolling text or visuals.

    The highest value comes when that some infrastructure is used for display to different audiences of different content.

    “Digital signage display reflects the application of current technological capability, but this alone simply situates digital signage as the fastest runner among Dinosaurs. A new paradigm in integrated, aligned business communications is offered by Digital Signage”.
    Lyle Bunn, BTV+

    Each display can be designated to a particular purpose during the day. Or, by placing the displays on a metaphorical swivel, it could be staff-facing in morning for orientation or training, customer-facing for merchandising during business hours and management-facing in evening for sunset situation reviews/wrap-ups (sit-rep/sit-wrap). Staff or patron communication could include live, private-to-location broadcasts of events and presentations, which advance revenue and branding achievement.

    These marketing approaches can leverage the digital signage network, providing greater service options, improving the customer experience and align enterprise messages, while providing excellent non-display revenues for the signage network provider.

    To be of full, best and future service, the Signage Network must support live (not just pre-recorded), standard definition, full-screen display. The world of acceptable postage stamp-sized, cell phone display is not nearby.

    Below the line, Digital Signage is a system integration exercise, where hardware, software and connectivity will define network:

    • Capabilities
    • Revenue Potential (and therefore network valuation)
    • Capital requirements, and
    • Operational costs

    Numerous options for each of these elements are available. Primary considerations must be 1. Functionality, 2. reliability and 3. scalability.

    In a typical digital signage system a Bill of Materials includes 40 hardware and 6 software elements, 500 locations can be installed in 60 days and “all-in” costs under $500/location/month with each display adding another $100/month could be expected.

    The last part of the continuum is CONTENT and NETWORK OPERATIONS, and the supply/demand balance of the flow of content that requires display, and the supply of display “inventory”:

    • Ads will be placed elsewhere if display inventory is not available.
    • The ROI on display inventory will be lower if content for display is low.

    A business model based on “pay-for-performance” would be a breakthrough in Digital Signage deployments, and some network operators are considering this approach. Perhaps it is Digital Signage that will “step up” to the pay-for ­performance approach that brand managers and their executive management have longed for.

    In Summary
    Digital Signage offers a paradigm shift in business communications aimed at brand building and revenue achievement. The opportunity is for enterprises to side-step many costs while dramatically improving communications results. The ideal digital signage partner is not only a proven integrator of proven technologies, but also a provider of services and expertise that leverage the digital signage infrastructure to meet broader communications needs more effectively. BTV+ welcomes such partnerships.

    This is the next in a series of articles, which focus on Digital Signage business planning. See the RESOURCES section of for articles and White Papers.

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