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It's Electric! (But Definitely Not Static)

Let’s start by proclaiming that printed signage is not going away. That being said, what if your customers want to explore a more integrated approach, offering the best of both electronic and ink-on-substrate worlds? After all, digital signage can be used to add dynamic, media-rich, even interactive elements to broader graphics projects. To successfully execute, however, print firm owners and managers need to know some basics, the very least of which is with whom to possibly partner. It’s either that or watch potential profit fly out the window as someone else proactively takes the project reins.

When it comes to considering digital signage, cost now can be taken out of the equation because the “it’s-too-expensive” excuse is simply no longer a viable argument. With another post-Thanksgiving Black Friday upon us, here’s an electronics trivia question: Do you remember how much a 46-inch, flat-panel television set cost in 2007? This year you can expect to pay around $600 for that TV. Five years ago, the price point for early adopters of “big screen” technology was five times higher: that’s right, around $3,000. (I remember buying my first 42-inch plasma screen in the fall of 2006, in time to watch my beloved Chicago Bears make their successful run to Super Bowl XLI. Like the final score versus Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts, the price tag I’d just as soon forget.) Like all consumer and B2B electronics, prices come down over time, applying the age-old, supply-and-demand rules of economics.

Since hardware technology is no longer cost-prohibitive, more print service providers (PSPs) are able to expand into digital signage these days. It’s a buyers’ market, and the prime time to invest may be now. The time is right, echoed Alan Brawn, principal of Brawn Consulting, who presented at the 2012 Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA) sign show last month in Las Vegas. His firm helps clients to grow their ‘AV IQ.’

“It’s more than digital retail now and more than digital advertising,” Brawn noted, adding that more people than ever can get involved in large screens and video walls as well as tablets and other mobile platforms. For Samsung, his firm constructed a distributor/dealer portal providing a dedicated space for easy access to product materials and training courses related to the Korean electronics giant’s Information Technology Division. Brawn also is chairman of the Digital Signage Federation, which manages the upcoming Digital Signage Expo later this winter.

But before shopping for hardware and corresponding software, it is wise to first know how to sell the service. It helps to identify target markets, according to contributor Erick Kristian. “Depending on what is being sold, different markets should be targeted,” Kristian wrote. “Bars, restaurants and lounges are ideal for washroom signage and behind-the-bar signage. Property owners who currently have traditional billboards are good candidates for digital signage. If the digital signage is already in place and ad space is being sold, then consider where the equipment is located and approach complimentary businesses. For example, if digital signage is in a bar, a natural partnership would be with a beer company,” he added.

There is some technical knowledge to be gleaned, too. More than 500 vendors exhibited at SGIA this year -- and more than a few were digital signage suppliers. The show’s Digital Signage Innovation Zone offered interested attendees (there were some 22,000 registered overall) behind-the-screen knowledge and insights for seizing digital opportunities. The education-only area on the show floor taught show-goers how digital signage can be used to convey messages and present variable or scheduled information. Participating companies included Black Box Network Services, Ingram Micro, NEC Display, TSI Touch, and Variable Display.

Dancing for drinks

Digital signs have numerous forms. They can be a flat-screen TVs in bars that loop sponsored advertisements; projected images of ads on the sides of buildings; or massive screens the size of billboards in public spaces. The electronic medium offers greater depth for advertisers, as they can show full ads, sometimes with sound.

If you are a printer deciding to take the leap into digital signage, one key is communicating the new product and service offerings to your existing customer base. In a prime example of form following content, Pittsburgh-based Black Box won its 17th consecutive Multichannel Merchant Award this year for a campaign showcasing the firm’s audio-visual multimedia products, including its proprietary iCOMPEL digital signage line. The truly integrated project consisted of multiple components, including a print catalog, an e-catalog, end-user and reseller e-mails, videos, case studies, trade shows, social media, print ads, and articles.

A fact of modern marketing is that media is getting increasingly interactive, from QR (quick response) codes and snap tags to augmented reality (AR). (For more on AR, see “Turbo-charged, Reality Print”) In a more extreme example, as part of Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign in South Korea, Canadian firm Eyelook Media helped to create a new, interactive dance vending machine that merges digital signage with Kinect, Microsoft’s controller-less technology for its popular Xbox video-gaming system. 

Technology behind the message

LPS Output Technologies is a print partner of HP, Linksys, Lexmark, and Xerox, customizing support, services, and solutions to complement and enhance workflow with existing facilities management, IT infrastructure, and/or Help Desk support. The Addison, TX firm is a PSP that also offers digital signage solutions such as software installation and hardware, including kiosks and other display options, as well as content design and cloud services.

Sometimes a very large display area with a high pixel count is the best method to communicate a message, but a very large budget is not part of a customer’s plan. Video walls still are viable answers, LPS advises its clients, because they enable customization of display size and layout with higher pixel density at a smaller unit cost. Consisting of multiple computer displays specifically designed for this application, tiled together to form one large screen, a video wall system allows the content to be controlled as a single display or as independent displays. Video walls are nothing new and have been around for more than two decades. (I led a 16-panel wall installation project in RR Donnelley’s HQ lobby back in 1992.) But 21st-century technology has made the monitors and resolution better than ever.

(Also read “Digital Signage Deployment" from September’s Wide Format Imaging)

Using Digital Signage to Sell High-end Real Estate

In October, digital marketing agency Provis Media Group launched its InTouch Table digital signage technology for TidalWalk, a southeast North Carolina waterfront community. The large-format, high-definition touchscreen unit was unveiled in TidalWalk’s 3,700-square-foot Residents Club to provide prospective home buyers with a multi-sensory experience and easy access to community information, interactive site maps, and videos.

“Today’s home buyers are savvy and have high expectations,” said Ric Rojas, partner at L-Star Management, the project manager and partner for the TidalWalk development. “InTouch improves the home buyer’s access to information and elegantly showcases all of the amenities of this beautiful waterfront community and effectively translates the experience and essence of premier coastal living.”

The InTouch Table is part of a family of touchscreen products that include the InTouch Wall and InTouch Stand. The solutions are available in a variety of screen sizes and integrate with existing digital signage, in-wall audio, and presentation systems, the company said.

“InTouch is not about technology, it’s about engaging users and improving brand experience,” Matthew Summers, chief creative officer at Provis Media, told Digital Signage Today. “It’s great to watch our clients’ gears turn when they explore the InTouch and its potential. But, the best part is watching individuals use the final product; we see them quickly switch from curious to excited, to engaged ... and that's the point.”