Digital signage is growing at an accelerated rate, says Barry Pearman, Watchfire Signs sales director. “People are seeing that it works, especially compared to other advertising mediums,” Pearman says. “Digital signage is stealing marketing dollars from radio, television, and newspapers, where the cost per thousand impressions (CPM) can be as much as $20 dollars per impression; with digital signage, the cost is very low—an average of 74 cents CPM.”
Inwindow Outdoor, FastSigns Durango, and Watchfire Signs are major players in the digital signage sector, capitalizing on their specific areas of expertise. Inwindow Outdoor specializes in interactive, often temporary, customized installations in public spaces; FastSigns Durango integrates interactive displays with an advertising platform that gives the franchisee reoccurring advertising revenue from the installations it creates; and Watchfire manufactures and sells digital signage displays to Main Street USA, as well as the software that runs it.
Headquartered in New York City, Inwindow Outdoor has created more than 1,000 customized interactive installations for many top shelf brands in varied sectors, including entertainment, sports, consumer goods, banking, automotive and retail. Technology implementation is a key element of the company’s success—augmented reality, interactive video, motion sensor hardware and software, digital touchscreens, 3D, audio, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, and SMS—has all played a part.
Two recent installations, for retail titan Lord & Taylor and the Tampa, FL, branch of Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, featured a virtual mirror for. Both installations made use of the public’s fascination with seeing themselves on screen, as well as the prevalence of social media.
This was Lord & Taylor’s first foray into digital signage, notes Steve Birnhak, Inwindow Outdoor founder and CEO. The concept focused on having people share—via social media—their unique personal style.
The virtual mirror, part of an outside window display at the company’s flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York City, “snapped” photos of willing participants, who then took their own photo of the captured image and uploaded it to Twitter or Facebook, tagged with the hashtag #instafall. All participants were entered into a sweepstakes to win a $1,000 shopping spree.
“We took the idea that people love seeing themselves on the screens and created a virtual mirror, which was changing the typical dynamic the customer has with the retailer,” notes Birnhak. “Usually, it’s a one-way communication where the retailer is telling you what to buy. Now, the customer was showing his or her own style.”
Grow Financial’s installation added augmented reality into the mix, allowing branch customers to see themselves on a large video wall, and play a game to win discounts for typical banking services, such as a home loan, auto loan, or checking account.
Customers chose what they were playing for, tapped the start button on the screen, and, waving their arms, tried to catch the virtual money floating down. “While your playing, the system takes a snapshot of you waving your arms. When the game is over the customer has the option of entering his/her email; if the customer brings the email to the branch they would get a discount.”
Many customers, especially the tech-savvy set, logged into their email via their smartphone before leaving the branch.
“Customers were able to have fun and play a game, not things normally associated when you’re applying for an auto loan,” says Birnhak. “The experience gets people in the door.”
Both campaigns ramped up the brands’ cache with Gen-Xers, creating customer engagement with the social media component, as well as the dynamic and interactive site experience.
The social media tie-in allows the experience to be shared with other people, spreading spreads the beyond just the person who saw it in person, says Birnhak.
“Social media is the next evolution in digital signage; we recommend to most of our clients to integrate it with their campaign,” says Birnhak. “It make sense—why wouldn’t you do something that lets the user share it with countless others.”
While its known for creating outdoor public displays, Inwindow Outdoor is now creating installations for trade shows. “To a large degree, it is very similar to retail,” says Birnhak. “In both instances, we are creating an engaging experience that people can remember and enjoy. It’s much more effective than a lot of other kinds of advertising. It’s not cheap, but it creates a much more memorable experience than other types of ads. As a society, we are constantly bombarded with ads, but what Indoor Outdoor creates will be something viewers remember long after they’ve seen it.“
FastSigns Durango uses digital signage to create interactive user experiences and as the core for a new revenue producing business model, developed by franchisee owner Laurie Sigillito.
That model was in full effect for a project outfitting a new Welcome Center for the town of Durango, CO.
While hundreds of thousands pass through Durango annually—attracted by its beautiful setting and such pursuits as whitewater rafting and hiking, there wasn’t a facility downtown that supported the tourist trade. Additionally, Fort Lewis College, located nearby, didn’t have a presence in the town.
To rectify the situation, the Durango Business Improvement District, Durango Area Tourism Office, Fort Lewis College and the City of Durango joined funds and brainpower to create a Welcome Center, located in the heart of the town.
The partners reached out to FastSigns, who had completed a project for the airport, creating wall displays that are advertising platforms, explains Sigillito. The displays incorporate digital signs along with static wall murals. “For the airport, we created a cool esthetic feel that wasn’t there,” she explains. “The ad space on the walls brought in advertising revenue that we share with the airport.”
FastSigns provides the complete package, creating the content, putting in the equipment free of charge, and selling the advertising space. The company also oversees installation and keeps it running.
The ad revenue platform is a win-win for all involved. The barrier of entry for businesses looking to advertising is reduced, FastSigns has a reoccurring revenue stream, and the owner of the space—the airport for example—also receives revenue. Visitors to the space experience an interactive and fun dynamic.
“We developed the same business model with the Welcome Center,” says Sigillito. “We put together a whole advertising program, that included wall murals, digital signage, and min-brochures that are printed.”
The Welcome Center incorporates digital signage that is interactive, static, or backlit. Complementing the digital displays are oversized printed black and white prints. All the visuals entertain and inform visitors of the myriad of experiences available in Durango and La Plata County. Additionally, large screen televisions and computer monitors placed throughout the center give visitors access to information and enhanced video experiences of activities and attractions in and around the Durango area.
"We tried to make a webpage come to life, showing all the fun things you can do in Durango, says Sigillito. “We knew to create an exciting user experience, we had to make it digital and interactive, and also provide information.”
As much as everyone loves the screens, infrastructure is the key to make it roll out easily and run, adds Sigillito. The interactive wall display is created with a total of 16 Christie MicroTiles, arranged in a 4x4 display, spanning 5.3’ across and 4’ high. Scala software—a middle content management piece—allows FastSigns to remotely control content on the digital displays. FastSigns uploads the content to the Scala server, and an HP media player broadcasts the content.
The project’s success is notably in several ways, winning a Governor’s Award for best use of a historical sight. It also gives businesses of all sizes the opportunity to participate in the advertising program. “We make it so that anyone can afford to be a part of it, no matter how small the venue,” says Sigillito.
Most telling, however, is that in its first year, more than 100,000 tourists used the facility. It is now a go-to location for tickets, updates on attractions and events, plus comprehensive information regarding educational opportunities at Fort Lewis College.
Watchfire Signs has been in business since 1932, producing time and temperature signs. “As the industry has transformed, so have we,” notes Barry Pearman, sales director.
Located in a brand new 200,000 sqft facility in Danville, IL, Watchfire manufactures electronic/digital signage for single-unit, regional, and national businesses, from retail to automotive, to sandwich shops. Our signs help the operation to communicate what is going on inside that store, explains Pearman.
These signs, says Pearman, help generate revenue for the business. One Subway franchise owner added a Watchfire sign to a new store opening, reporting record sales in its first nine days. Gurney’s Automotive Repair in Nashua, N.H., reports Pearman, attracted 259 new customers, worth $90,000 in revenue, within one year of the sign being installed. Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee owner Ken Blum states that Watchfire ‘s digital signs have improved communication with the neighboring community, in addition to the time and convenience benefits. “We misjudged production one day, and had a lot had a lot of donuts left over,” he says. “At 6 p.m. we changed the sign to read, ‘Tonight only: all donuts 25 cents.’ Within an hour, they were all gone. Clearly, the sign works. They read it, and they react to it. It’s eye- catching.”
Those kinds of numbers don’t surprise Pearman, who reports digital signage brings in a 50 percent increase in customers, generating a 53 percent increase in dollars spent. “They are advertising as traffic comes by; advertising what is going on inside that shop right now,” explains Pearman. “The auto guy with static ads doesn’t advertise the $29 tire rotation special happening ‘today only’, bringing customers in.”
Watchfire builds, designs, and sells the displays and proprietary software. With Ignite software, customers are able to change their message as little or as often as they like.
“Our software sits on any computer; it is loaded one time and good forever. It comes with 1,000 rebuilt images, says Pearman. “It’s not just a blank slate; after customers receive the software they can start to work with it and have a message up in minutes. The software lets the business create site-specific messages that will even override artwork that is part of the software.“
To manufacture its signs, Watchfire buys thousands of types of LEDs to test in its labs before including in a digital sign. “We put the LED through big stress situations—99 percent humidity, free chambers, salt spray—over a period of weeks and months,” says Pearman. “The LEDs we use last over 100,000 hours; they can go 10 to 12 years before they start to dim.”