Electronic Digital Sign Technology: The Future is Here
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Digital Technology: The Future is Here

With new technology providing advanced methods for attracting customers, more and more advertisers are turning to digital signage to satisfy their needs.

By Johnny Duncan

Digital signage technology, one of the newest kids on the block, seems to continue being on the cutting edge in this industry, able to change and create changes in its own dynamic segment. While traditional advertising and other business signage remains static, displayed on screens like signs and posters, dynamic digital signage involves taking static content and displaying it dynamically -- in full-motion and full-color video -- on devices such as LCD and plasma screens.

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  • According to Al Monro, CEO of NextWindow, a designer and developer of optical imaging technologies and touch-enabled business solutions, the digital market is made up of a number of segments. The key segments are: retail, indoor arena, transportation and board room/conference room. All these segments are growing, but there is a worldwide boom beginning in retail digital signage. Monro states that, “while it is a nascent market and people are feeling their way, we believe it will begin exploding over the next 12-18 months. The global market for digital displays is now worth over $400 million, and set to reach over $2 billion by 2009 according to iSuppli/Stanford Resources, the largest and most experienced market and technology research firm specialising in the electronic display industry.”

    As with every other segment of the sign industry, digital technology is creating its own path and establishing trends because of both market demand and development creativity. Monro sees the digital signage technology continuing to improve, becoming more sophisticated and more affordable - especially in relation to screen and content quality. He sees a move toward more specific in-store promotional advertising and away from in-store TV because the technology needs to affect people at the point of purchase rather than just show moving images.

    Monro thinks that “over time, we’ll see signage messages become more targeted, as advertising agencies and retailers learn more about the demographics and psychographics of their customers. This means that messages will become targeted for time of day, weather, shop location etc.” Just like what is currently happening in the street furniture section of the industry, sign designers and developers will take more of an interest in creating formats for bringing the advertisements directly to the customer.

    Even today, customers are able to get more information about the products they are interested in because of interactive digital signs. Advertisers are currently using NextWindow’s innovative technology in a display window of a car show room that can be touch-enabled. By touching the window, passers-by will be able to find out information on the latest models or special deals on offers. In addition, interactive digital signs deployed in Broadway Cinemas at the recent Spiderman 2 premiere in Hong Kong will soon be used to sell tickets, as well as promote and provide information about new movies.

    Future challenges
    The digital segment of the industry is still open territory and with plenty of room for more designers and developers with creative imaginations. Even with the invention of better ways to capture the eyes of customers, there is still some hesitancy to buy compared to traditional signage options.

    “It is still an emerging market, and retailers are rightly looking to understand the return on the investment, either in greater sales or better customer service” says Monro. “We’re asking them to make a significant investment, and there are as yet not many successful models published. The early adopters who are receiving significant benefits tend to keep quiet about their successes to maintain their new competitive advantage.”

    Of course, as with any emerging technology, the price will eventually come down, while their quality continues improving. It will take some time, probably decades, but there will come a point when dynamic signs can compete economically with almost every type of static sign.

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    “Another key challenge is the development and provision of effective, targeted content. Messages need to be a part of the entire marketing value proposition, need to be updated regularly, and need to be relevant. The customer does not look at the ceiling, and won’t see messages that are not relevant. Messages need to relate to the point-of-purchase decision.”

    Who can get involved?
    Like all other aspects of the sign industry, it is possible for some cross over to occur, but not without involving a learning curve. Monro confesses, “The advantages of digital signage are already recognized and companies are increasingly turning to this new medium to communicate and interact with customers more effectively. We have recently seen announcements from traditional billboard operators like ClearChannel that they are focusing more on the digital side of this industry. You only have to look at Times Square in New York, Shibuya in Tokyo, and the main streets in the largest Asian cities, to see the massive impact of digital signage in the traditional billboard space.”

    Monro also revealed that in the retail store, digital signage will over time reduce the need and impact of the traditional poster signage. While the cost implications of retail digital signage, and interactive digital signage, may appear high, digital signage delivers more promotional value, information or entertainment than a static sign occupying the same space. Many retailers have up to 16 ‘seasons’ in a year, each supported by new in-store merchandising. The content of digital signs can be changed almost instantly from a remote location. Instead of spending valuable time and money printing fresh signs for new campaigns or products, the content of a network of digital signs, situated in a chain of retail outlets, can be transformed quickly and simultaneously.

    Traditionally, retailers were unable to adapt to changing conditions such as a late winter storm, early spring, or the regional differences between one location and another. These factors be accommodated with digital signage, and enable the retailer to create a more relevant and meaningful dialogue with the customer. For example, in food outlets, the traditional menu board will be replaced by digital signage, and outlets will be able to update, special and segment depending on time of day or other factors.

    Obviously, the success of one type of signage is determined by the effectiveness of the medium. Sales increase because of demand. Just like the painted billboard was replaced or greatly affected by newer technology, so to will traditional static store signs be affected by digital technology.

    “Retailers utilising digital signage ensure their customer’s receive messages that are always up-to-date and always relevant. Messages can be changed depending on the time of day, the seasons or even which sports team is touring the country” notes Monro.

    “In technology and business parks for example, visitors and tenants are already appreciating the provision of up-to-date, relevant information through interactive digital directories. Most technology and business parks comprise a multitude of diverse tenants, such as start-ups, established businesses and academics, located in a host of offices and buildings dispersed over a wide area. The traditional solution is to deploy static directories and maps throughout the complex. Digital directories are now being deployed in key areas throughout business parks, allowing visitors to negotiate these massive spaces in a quick and easy manner.”

    The digital technology has been off to a sluggish start, but the future looks bright. Many studies are indicating that there is an upward trend of sales worldwide and that the new technology seems to be catching on, even if slow at first. It remains to be seen if the traditional static sign in stores will be replaced altogether, but it is certain that with the power of digital technology bringing interactive signs to the customer, advertisers will want to put more of their money into digital displays.

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