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Designing Digital Signage for Your Audience

Whether you are developing a digital signage network for a client or for yourself, the one person who takes precedence above all others is the viewer- the person you want to engage. The old adage, "know your audience," is as true to developing digital signage networks as it is for other communications methods.

By Chris Heap, Managing Director, Imperative Group

For several years, the phrase was "content is king," but now we know that relevance is "king," and without relevance, viewers see little value in any form of communication presented to them. Without relevance, they will turn the page, flip the channel or in the case of digital signage, simply look away.

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  • To ensure the best chance of success with digital signage, consider these five fundamental points before developing a digital signage network.

    Understand Your Audience
    Do your research on who shops or visits a particular venue and determine when and how often they visit. Does the audience change throughout the day or week and how frequently do they visit? If possible, use your client's customer database to build a profile of who your viewers are likely to be. These profiles will guide you when you are deciding what type of content is required at what times and in which parts of the venue, and enable you and your client to target viewers with specific, relevant messages.

    Know the Viewing Environment
    Conduct an audit of the physical environment where your digital signage network will be installed. Make note of its impact on how people will move through the physical space. This has direct bearing on the design of the network (screens and screen placement) and the content (form and function). Ask questions such as whether the venue lends itself to different types of zones to cater to varying audience habits. Are there areas within a venue that enable a viewer to watch a screen for a long period of time such as a waiting area, entry or exit? There is a direct relationship between the screen and the viewer in any space and his/her ability to see versus proximity and clarity.

    Design Relevant, Timely and Appropriate Content
    Knowing your viewers' interests and needs and how often they may watch your network will help you and your client create content. The flexible, dynamic nature of digital signage media means that - unlike posters and other venue-based communications - digital signage can be highly responsive to a company's needs or to the audience.

    In addition, time is a valuable component of the marketing opportunity. For example, if you are promoting retail products and services, you can use the screen network to feature particular offers based on the time of day, the day of the week or the season that makes the promotion relevant to the viewer. For example, you are on your lunch break and see an offer on an in-store screen that says: "Buy [product] within the next 10 minutes and save 25 percent." Would you buy this product? If the next message says: "If you don't buy me in 10 minutes, you can buy me in 30 minutes at only 10 percent off," would you be more tempted to buy the product? Time can offer significant viewer value and be used as an enticing call to action.

    The digital signage network should provide helpful and useful information to the viewer to assist him or her in making better decisions. Inform viewers about the history of a brand, the venue or the products or provide them with "coming soon" information to ensure they visit your client's location rather than a competitor's. A digital signage network also helps viewers understand that your client is an expert on a particular subject.

    Entertain viewers where and when it is appropriate to do so. Digital signage networks have a commercial role to play, but just like commercial television, if the content isn't interesting, informative and fun, viewers won't view it. Find ways to inject humor either in the content itself or in the way it is presented, but make sure you know when to keep content and its presentation serious.

    Guarantee that the information a viewer sees is correct and up-to-date. There is no excuse for a lack of compliance in digital signage networks when you can upload new content within hours and remove content almost immediately. While there are significant commercial benefits to doing this, from a customer's point of view, if it's on the screen, it must be available.

    Match the frequency of the content repetition to that of the viewer visiting the store. If 90 percent of viewers visit the venue once a week, program the content to refresh weekly to ensure that viewers see fresh content each time they visit. Repetition is not something that viewers or staff want, so avoid it as best you can.

    If you need to use audio, match its levels to the ambient noise in the environment, and don't compete with it. Make sure a viewer can hear the audio clearly and that it complements the visual content and helps the viewer understand the visual message.

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    Make It Easy for Viewers to View
    For digital signage to work at a basic level, as many viewers as possible must be able to see the digital screens and their content without any effort. The more effort required for the viewer to see the screens and/or content, the harder your network has to try to engage them, and the more likely you are to lose viewers. The best outcome for any physical deployment is to ensure that all screens and content can be seen clearly 100 percent of the time. Specifically:

    • 100 percent direct line of sight from maximum to minimum viewing distance.
    • 100 percent viewing at eye-level (relative to distance, does not involve "head turning").
    • High clarity of screen image, no pixelation or reflection.
    • Correct color settings (e.g., a "true-life" presentation).

    The physical size of the screen you choose should be based on several of these points balanced with your budget. Consider choosing a screen that offers the right level of image quality for its use. Screens closer to the shopper's field of vision may require higher-quality screens than those placed further away. Image quality is relative to the viewing opportunity and the intrinsic limitations of human eyesight.

    High-definition screens, however, may be necessary to show high-quality content if quality is part of the overall proposition such as selling high-definition televisions/monitors. Choose the format most appropriate to the needs of the viewer and the customer.

    Delivering a Measurable Return for the Viewer
    Viewers are active users of digital communications and trade digitally every day. They create Web sites, blogs, text messages, emails, DVDs, use PVRs, etc., and consequently, the trend is that the audience is more critical of what is presented to it.

    Networks measure commercial return in many ways such as increased viewer spending, increased time viewers spend in the venue, facilitating repeat visits or engaging enough viewers to attract advertising spending. This is all pointless if the network does not provide tangible, qualitative reasons for the viewer to view. Viewers express their needs in these ways:

    • "Don't make it hard for me to watch you"
    • "When I watch you, show me something relevant"
    • "Save me money"
    • "Save me time and don't waste my time"
    • "Help me make better decisions"
    • "Tell me something new, innovative and interesting"
    • "Give me ideas"

    If your network caters to these stated needs, you will create viewer value. This, in turn, generates all the positive numbers required to validate almost all business cases relating to the deployment of digital signage networks.

    Chris Heap is Managing Director for Imperative Group, a digital out-of-home development and communications agency helping retailers, landlords, media and technical businesses connect, develop, innovate, deliver and communicate their digital retail and out-of-home media projects in order to deliver competitive advantage. This article is republished with permission.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 1st Quarter 2010 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2010 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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