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Campus Dynamic Signage Networks: Communications Value and New Revenues, Part I

In the first of this multi-part series, we'll take a walk through the world of dynamic campus signage beginning with an overview, the inherent capabilities, and finally the communications benefits.

By Lyle Bunn

Dynamic Campus Signage

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  • Dynamic Digital Signage overview
    The terms "Digital Signage1" and "Dynamic Signage" are often used interchangeably and are but two of the many descriptors of on-campus dynamic message display. In seeking its place in advertising plans and budgets, other descriptors have been used. "Dynamic Place-based Media" and "Dynamic Out-of-Home (DOOH)" for example, generally describe dynamic place-based media networks seeking out-of-home ads. "In-store TV" has sought a share of TV/broadcast ad spending and in being called "the Outernet," the medium has become part of Internet budgets.

    The growing base of approximately 300 networks (outside campuses) that are entirely advertising-based have produced a critical mass of displays that advertisers are using. Nearly 1.4 million dynamic signage displays are now deployed across the North American economy and growing at 24% annually.

    According to the 2010 Arbitron Digital Video Display Study3, 70% of teen and adult U.S. residents have viewed digital video displays in the past month, an estimated 181 million people.

    An October 2004 article4 in University Business (Solutions for Higher Education Management) by Jean Marie Angelo titled "Digital Signage Delivers on Campus: Affordable wide-screen digital signs are finding multiple uses on campuses, and may even generate revenue" opened with "The millennial generation was raised on the moving image. HDTV, MTV, flat-screen PCs, PDAs and other electronics have created a generation with high expectations of media and its messages. No wonder digital signage - a new presentation technology - is making its way onto campus".

    James Velco, Chief Technology Officer, Information Technology Services of The John Marshall Law School says, "We have been using our digital signage for about three years and its use is growing exponentially. Initially, students were even skeptical about its possible value, but after about a year of use, they are now coming to us to asking for increased use of it. Our dynamic signage network is quickly becoming one of the first places that students go for information and based on the growing requests to display content and messages, we are having to develop standards and policies to help govern and better direct content".

    Velco reflects, "Over time, different content has been posted to the signage, but the most effective content is timely, relevant and authoritative. We are trying to offer more value by integrating the digital signage with databases to provide students information they would not be able to easily access. We pull information from the school's databases, which contain information on room changes, class schedules and cancellations and other relevant databases such as the Chicago time updates on the expected arrivals of buses and trains. For the longer term we are considering how cont ent might interface or integrate between the dynamic signage, interactive displays and mobile devices. That is the direction that we are heading".

    James Velco, Chief Technology Officer, Information Technology Services of The John Marshall Law School said "The swiping of a student ID card at an interactive display helps us determine the effectiveness of information delivery through these devices".

    Over the past several years, most large post-secondary campuses have installed dynamic signage networks motivated by the desire to:

    • Provide mass notifications and alerts to improve campus safety
    • Better inform students of campus activities, key dates, opportunities or services
    • Present the campus "brand," values, culture, successes and achievements more effectively
    • "Clean up" the campus environment
    • Support campus sponsorship programs and generate new revenues
    • Present messages targeted to students, staff or visitors at specific times or locations on campus

    This paper outlines the broader value of dynamic signage on or near campus and the proven approaches to its effective planning, expansion and use, with a focus on revenue opportunities available through the medium.

    This centrally controlled video presentation medium has been on a compound annual double-digit growth trajectory for close to 10 years. The post secondary campus environment enjoys many of the benefits that this medium can deliver.

    Dynamic media is typically installed at points of high traffic in areas such as Point of Purchase (i.e. retail and service locations), Point of Transit (walkways, elevators, bus, air, rail, train, boat stations), Point of Waiting (i.e. medical office, line ups, lobby areas), or Points of Gathering (i.e. student unions, stadiums, hotels, hospitality venues, museums, office and manufacturing workplaces, government facilities, military bases and other locations). The networks deliver messages that inform and can influence. Each of these points of display has relevance when the content message is important to a communicator and the viewer at the presentation time and place.

    It is common that messages use the full display area, and equally in multi-zone screen layout whereby multiple types of messages are presented on the same display, such as:

    • Campus-wide and localized (i.e. departmental, food court, stadium) messages
    • Informational and promotional messages
    • Wayfinding, venue and event information
    • Campus or broadcast TV as well as pre-prepared messages

    Communications on campus is a primary area of operations, and one in which greater efficiencies can and are being achieved through Dynamic Signage.

    The use of visual display in campus sports venues and for broadcast uses some technology elements that are similar to dynamic signage, and campus team content is often presented on campus signage. The ability to leverage and interface campus stadium content feeds and display to other points on campus in real-time, near real-time or as excerpts or pre-recorded programming can provide "info-tainment" while serving other campus communications goals.

    The interface of stadium broadcast, CCTV, IPTV6 and Dynamic Signage on campus can provide a campus media infrastructure that leverages on-campus content production and can serve other campus communications goals.

    Another approach to proceeding with on-campus dynamic signage messaging is through providers of on-campus services. For example, the dynamic signage used to provide information on nutritional, health, menus and specials by food services providers can also be used to provide campus information.

    Digital Place-based Media has been rapidly growing and maturing during the challenging economy of this decade which has included 9/11, several economic downturns, recession, business uncertainties and a cautious investment climate. Dynamic communications provides "speed to messaging8" and recency9, while many displays improve branding, staff and student communications, and the patron experience at a location.

    Inherent Capabilities
    A typical campus network of dynamic media includes central control Content Management Software, connectivity between the central control point and media players that drive media presentation on devises located at high pedestrian traffic and gathering areas on campus.

    The inherent characteristics of the medium have not changed. "Digital Signage" reflects the inherent economies of a fully digital supply chain of media creation, management, connectivity and presentation. It is a highly target-able, vieweraddressable, "audience of many", location-based display media. Central control of message delivery to digital displays (i.e. LCD, plasma or LED) gives communications flexibility and assures 100% compliance of message presentation to audiences at a time of day, in out-of-home locations where people shop, wait, work, commute and gather. Messages have high relevance when delivering content in the context of the location, time and viewer to achieve measurable business goals. It can provide a laser focus of message delivery to time and audience, wide demographic or geographic coverage, or anything in-between.

    The Dynamic Media Platform is comprised of a connectivity infrastructure, display devices and media/data management capability.

    Dynamic Signage describes digital display screens connected by a network and controlled from a single centralized point. Displays are typically 7 to 60-inch single or tiled Liquid Crystal display (LCD) or plasma panels, or larger Light Emitting Diode (LED) boards. Typically, content spots are integrated into a playloop of 4 to 20 minutes in duration, coinciding with the length of time that a person would be in the viewing proximity of the display. Play-loops and content are configured to optimally reach viewers according to traffic pace, dwell time and viewer demographic.

    An element of mobile commerce is the ability for information download to mobile devices through a text message ("short code"), a bar code or Quick Response (QR) code presented on dynamic signage or printed onto static signage. A user with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader software can take a photo of the QR Code causing the phone's browser to launch and redirect to the programmed website, from which video, text, graphics or animation could be downloaded, or Mobile Commerce could be launched.

    Monitoring and Safety
    of patrons and property are high priorities for administrators, patrons and visitors to campuses and other environments that Dynamic Signage can serve. Permanently mounted displays offer a physical platform for cameras and atmosphere monitoring devices (i.e. sound, light, smoke, hazardous material/chemical detectors, etc.) to be mounted. They inherently offer visual information, alerts and direction, and can be configured to provide audio messaging or can emit close proximity messaging (i.e. bluecasting). The media platform provides an audience-of-one safety messaging, wayfinding and GPS/location detection capacity when the mobile phone is used to extend the display message.

    Training and Video on Demand
    are increasingly delivered as part of a multi-use media platform. In retail, administration and consumer services organizations, a digital display may be customer-facing most of the time, but staff-facing for training or orientation at other times of the day. A dynamic media platform can provide the ability for campus "leaders" and spokespersons to distribute video messages that inform, educate and influence.

    Wayfinding and Venue Signage
    are enhanced by dynamic signage. In presenting maps or directions pedestrian traffic can flow more smoothly and efficiently. Interactive flat panels can provide wayfinding and routing on campus in much the same way that it would be used in a shopping mall, hospital or other high traffic public facility.

    Dynamic signage can display location information when classes, lectures and events are purposefully assigned to the most suitably available, sized and equipped rooms.

    Students are media savvy people.

    "Visual is our new language"
    explained Paco Underhill in a keynote address to delegates of Digital Signage Expo in 2009, noting "Our visual language is evolving faster than our spoken words. We process images faster, and it is a single language". This makes digital signage a powerful appliance to improve retailer and brand success. "And," he added, "the value of digital signage does not decline, but increases over time when content messaging is refined".

    Dr. Hugh Philips of McGill University in Montreal has described that the human brain in particular notices motion. He further notes that humans "ingest" sensory information (i.e. sight in particular) and rapidly, unconsciously "de-select" items that are not related to their intended action, needs or interests.

    The animations and motion inherent in Dynamic Place-based Media serves to get the "content" noticed, while its message subject or composition stimulate engagement and influence actions.

    Digital signage is part of the Communications Continuum. Communicators use multiple devices such as internet, posters, TV, etc. to maximize the return on investment (ROI) and the economies of content production on this continuum have advanced significantly.

    Dynamic place-based media is a high-utility medium on the communications continuum. The medium can speak to an "audience of many" in serving as an outof-home broadcast network, but also to a highly targeted audience (i.e. geographic, activity-based or demographic) in a highly refine-able (i.e. granular) way. It can also speak to an "audience of one" at a point of decision.

    Importantly, it can motivate a download, browse, mobile commerce session or opt-in by a user through a handheld or mobile phone, or direct a viewer to a website for additional information, registration, sign-up or purchase.

    The medium provides additional value to brands, communicators and marketers.

    • Messages need not be "shrill" to capture attention and motivate action. Active content presented at a prime location can calmly and confidently present features, points of value and a call for action.
    • The medium "levels the playing field" of marketing communications by enabling low cost, highly targeted messaging. The ease of message placement and rapid placement/assessment cycle time allow communications campaigns to be modified quickly to maximize investment.
    • Dynamic Place-based Media "plays nice" with other communications devices through the repurposing of brand assets and content. This has a twofold benefit.

    Content from other medium can be re-purposed for use on dynamic placebased media. This increases the overall return on content production investment, while reducing the cost of message production intended for use on each medium.

    Messages can be produced and presented on dynamic place-based rapidly and at low cost, providing the opportunity to test market and refine the message prior to more costly production and placement on other media, in particular TV and cable.

    Dynamic signage "plays nice with others" by helping to drive traffic and engagement by viewers with other devices.

    Digital Signage content spots typically include a "Call to Action" implicitly or explicitly directing a viewer to do something such as "buy", "try", "visit the site," "sign up," "remember", "take note," "attend", "download," "register", "visit", "call/dial", etc.

    Out-of-home digital is a visually present and often captive medium and affords the chance to clearly articulate a value proposition and provide a call to action.

    While many communicators, marketers, advertisers, brand managers and network operators want high returns on the dynamic media investment, specifically sales lift with growing brand awareness, the failure to include a call to action impedes the success of a content spot. By using content from other media such as TV, print, static signage or other media, without adding a call to action, which dynamic place-based media is so capable of delivering, results are diminished.

    A primary solution to the problem of under-performing Dynamic Media content is to clearly define the value proposition of the product or service, and then either display or request the desired action. Beyond the interest of art or branding, the dynamic media spots must be developed to "close the sale".

    The call to action seeks to activate a viewer decision or close "the sale". This "ask" engages the viewer in motivating immediate or inspiring a future action. The call to action typically immediately follows presentation of strong value propositions presented in a direct way.

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    Communications Benefits
    Dynamic Place-based Media responds directly to the growing needs for communications cost-effectiveness, innovation, efficient information provisioning, public safety, administrative efficiencies and social networking.

    Following are some of the benefits typically delivered through the use of dynamic digital signage.

    If the Value Recipient is the Campus Communicator
    , the following benefits are realized:

    • Amplify key messages
    • Communications to Students, Staff and Visitors
    • Improved campus safety
    • Enhance campus branding and awareness of departmental activities.
    • Improve "wayfinding"
    • Enhance event information
    • Improve the signage for event locations
    • "Green" and "clean up" the environment
    • Improved campus communications such as values, events, services, offers, invitations, guests and visitors, wayfinding, observances, recognition/accolades, etc.
    • Trigger/motivate mobile communications such as downloads, mobile browsing, mobile commerce and messaging (including email, text, SMS, QR Codes)
    • Increase traffic to internet-based campus information
    • Reduced costs of communications including printing, distribution, posting and disposal.
    • Improved compliance in delivering communications to the point of decision or need.
    • Align campus visuals and messaging with priorities
    • Sales lift of on-campus goods, services and events
    • Improved awareness of campus services
    • Provide a cleaner, less paper-cluttered messaging environment (i.e. green environment)
    • Improve communication of priorities
    • Reinforce campus "values" (i.e. aspiration, discipline, attainment, community, fun, diversity, cleanliness, respect, etc.)
    • Reach targeted audiences with key messages
    • Tie together geographically separate campus units with messaging that promotes the overall "college"
    • Improved awareness of policies and procedures by staff, students
    • Provide a "modern" look and feel
    • Solidify campus loyalty and affinity with students.
    • Amplify awareness of the successes of the institution
    • Leverage of connectivity infrastructure
    • Improve awareness of campus "attributes" (i.e. new faculty, team success, new patents filed, etc.
    • Improved recognition of funding sources/partners
    • Provide a cost-neutral or revenue generating visual messaging infrastructure
    • Increased use of other communications medium (website, briefing events, newsletters, etc.
    • Gain greater speed and flexibility in messaging.

    If the Value Recipient is the Students
    , the following benefits are realized:

    • Improved access to campus information
    • Access to offers and opportunities
    • Improved engagement with the campus experience
    • Improved knowledge of on or near campus services
    • Awareness of brands and employers offering student benefit

    If the Value Recipient is the Campus Visitors
    (including part time students) , the following benefits are realized:

    • Improved awareness of campus "life" and offerings
    • Improved visitor safety
    • Acknowledgement / welcome of the visitor

    If the Value Recipient is the Student's Patrons
    (Parents, Sponsors), the following benefits are realized:

    • Peace of mind through campus safety
    • Affinity for campus life
    • Appreciation of non-tuition revenues.

    If the Value Recipient is the Advertisers
    (including brands, events, services, teams, etc.), the following benefits are realized:

    • Improve marketing communications reach
    • Improve awareness and recall
    • Put the promotional message in a lifestyle context
    • Cross-sell with other products in campus context
    • Cross-referral to other marketing medium
    • Pre-sell new releases
    • Issue electronic coupons
    • Profile special or limited time offers
    • Behavioral and Lifestyle Marketing
    • Increase brand presence in lifestyle ubiquity

    If the Value Recipient is the Potential Employers and Research Partners
    , the following benefits are realized:

    • Improved outreach and branding with students
    • Increase awareness of campus visits

    If the Value Recipient is the Alumni
    , the following benefits are realized:

    • "Pride of place" through environment modernization
    • Improved communications
    • Opportunity to visibly contribute

    If the Value Recipient is the Suppliers of Digital Signage Network elements
    (external and internal), the following benefits are realized:

    • Additional revenues, margins and economies of scale
    • Advancement of their standards of practice and capacities
    • Access to attractive markets at reduced cost of sales.

    The wide range of benefits that can be achieved through dynamic place-based media allow communicators and marketers to enjoy numerous points of value to provide high Return on Investment (ROI) and Return on Objectives (ROO). Messaging should consider the primary, secondary and tertiary objectives.

    Specific ROI can be measured through viewer response and awareness analytics. Interview and observation can be used to determine the return being realized from dynamic media on less measurable objectives. The initial creation and development, and subsequent refinement of content should continuously focus on clearly defined objectives and the way in which this achievement might be measured.

    At Maryville College, Tennessee where Multi-Media Solutions has designed and supplied the dynamic signage, Multi-Media Solutions CEO Mike White says "Maryville College has started by implementing Digital Signage in the Recruiting Department. The initial success of an initiative undertaken by the VP of College Recruitment was recognized by the Treasurer of the College, who suggested expanding this investment across the campus."

    Dolphus E. Henry, Vice President of Maryville College says, "Maryville College has a story to tell that cannot be captured in mere words. It is an immersive experience providing a lifetime of memories that are rooted in a world-class education. We needed a tool, a platform, an experience to tell that story to prospective students and parents visiting our campus. It was important to Multi-Media Solutions that we first define what we wanted to achieve rather than just purchase a system. Our digital signage system has provided us the perfect tool to capture the attention of the prospective student while telling our rich story in a dynamic way that captures the imagination of every single student. It literally speaks the language of the young prospective student and has greatly added to our ability to engage more students. We are currently expanding the number of screens on campus to promote the various activities that are available to all currently enrolled students".

    Mary Hood, CEO of Digital Roads that has assisted many campuses in Digital Signage planning says, "Dynamic signage is indeed good for achieving campus communications goals. The search for meaningful and dynamic content naturally leads to enhanced interdepartmental collaboration and communications. In many instances the signage network is actually the catalyst that spurs the administrative discussions answering the question - what are our campus communication goals"?

    Doug Chase, Project Manager, Higher Education at Four Winds Interactive, which has provided dynamic display to over 350 campuses says, "The benefits of digital signage and interactive panels in educational institutions are much different than those in hospitality or other industries. Recruiting is more competitive than ever, and making the institution stand out among its rivals is critical. Having great-looking and useful digital signs - especially interactive signs, which can provide multiple apps at each location - is a way that lots of first-class institutions are setting themselves apart"

    He adds, "Dynamic signs can help save money, too. Many of the repetitive and predictable functions previously provided by an employee can be accomplished by a "virtual receptionist" or a kiosk designed to print forms or provide information".

    "The governance structures and goals of each university are very individual. Therefore," says Chase, "each project is slightly different. The first step is to work with the stakeholders on campus to assess all of the campus goals and determine what applications the signs are intended to fulfill. Then, the technical questions need to be answered - we determine which architecture and installation approach makes the most sense for that institution. Normally, we can go from zero to a complete installation within 8 to 10 weeks".

    Chase adds, "Campuses are surprised by the speed at which the devices are adopted and understood by students. Today's students expect that these screens are touch-enabled and that they'll respond in much the same way as their smartphone or tablet computer, and they pick up complex interactive interfaces very rapidly. You can squeeze a lot of functionality into a single interactive sign. Ryan Cahoy of Rise Display, Inc. has identified a movement toward the use of more niche-focused display on sub areas within the schools including such areas as Business Schools. Athletic Halls of Fame and Donor Recognition. Cahoy says that Rise Vision expects deployments in the following areas of campus:

    • Business School: 50 to 60 finance labs within universities this summer (2011) using combinations of LED tickers, world clocks, digital signs, video walls, and interactive video walls. These are being funded by alumni, donors and business partners to recreate "Wall Street" atmospheres on campus.
    • Athletic Halls of Fame, which are often filled with etched glass and wooden plaques and are running out of space, are looking to use technology to better connect with students and visitors. Dynamic signage is helping to meet this need.
    • Donor Recognition displays for alumni foundations seeking new ways to connect with younger generations are using technology. Dynamic signage operates well with web pages, mobile devices and social media to enable engagement and interaction.

    Cahoy says, "I think the real future for dynamic signage use by schools is in their turning the display into a "sign post" that displays Quick Response (QR) codes that can be used to pull or transfer information to cell phones. This allows students or visitors to take the information with them, interact with it, and share it on social networking sites with their friends".

    Dr. Lyle Bunn (Hon.), Principal and Strategy Architect, BUNN Co. - Lyle Bunn has been recognized with an Honorary Doctorate for his significant contributions to education and the development of the Dynamic Place-based Media industry. He is one of North America’s most highly regarded independent consultant, advisor, commentator and educator to investors, operators, suppliers and users of Digital Signage and Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) Media. For more information visit

    In Part II of Campus Dynamic Signage Networks, Mr. Bunn explains the benefits of campus advertising as well as how to improve campus communications and campus life.

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