Doing Digital Signage Right… the First Time

Getting the basic networking set up right for a digital signage project is of course important. But additional thought must also be given to content and how the anticipated user base will interact with the planned set-up for a particular customer.



It is a wonder to me that some customers who know the statistics still want to implement and utilize digital signage. With more failures than successes it can be a daunting pursuit. It is fact that several digital signage networks are on their second or third implementation of a new content management software or hardware platform trying to find one that actually meets their needs (including several large retailers you and I would know). But for those who have done digital signage right the first time there are huge benefits measured in many ways—profits, communications goals, and brand recognition to name a few.

So what does it take to do digital signage right… the first time? Let’s go over some key things you can do to increase your odds for success. We are going to look at a few key areas Asking the Right Questions, Setting the Right Expectations, Gathering the Right resources, Content, and Measurement.

Ask the Right questions

Whether you’re the integrator asking the questions or you’re the end user answering them, if the right questions aren’t asked then you are surely headed for some digital  signage pitfalls. I see requests for proposals (RFPs) come out for digital signage all the time that provide the specifications for the requested hardware and software, and even the requested functionality, but most often there is no mention of the content.

It makes one wonder if those requesting proposals think that the backgrounds, layouts, and other requirements for digital signage are going to appear out of thin air. I say that in fun, but it sure seems that no one asks about content considerations. You’d think after we have been an industry with the idea that “Content is King” stressed so heavily, that things like this wouldn’t be overlooked in RFP’s. Yet many of these big picture questions are still overlooked and they can really cost you.

That’s right, content is not the only obvious element that is often overlooked. What is the intended purpose of your digital signage? This seems simple and straightforward, but I have seen more than one digital signage network deployed because they saw digital signage somewhere and thought it was cool. They had no idea if they wanted to use it to reduce perceived wait time, branding, or sales lift, to name a few worthwhile goals, because it seems that no one had asked them what they really wanted to accomplish with their investment. Examples of such diversity can be seen in Figures 1, 2 and 3.

All of these questions that should be asked fall under what are the seven main categories of digital signage that include: Hardware, Software, Connectivity, Operations, Design, Business, and of course Content. Many questions seem as though they would be obvious, but never get asked. As the industry matures and digital signage proves itself more broadly, it is incumbent upon both end users and integrators to ask better questions.

Beyond business and content, there are questions that should be asked about technical issues. When you’re looking at a new deployment opportunity, it is a fundamental necessity to ask if your customer’s IT department will require that the digital signage player be joined to the customer’s domain.

Stop and think about the repercussions of not finding this out ahead of time. Suppose you go onsite and install windows players and then find out that you can’t communicate with the web unless you are joined to their domain. At this point they haven’t created a Domain Group for you so you are forced into some general group, which may mean that a lot of general policies are forced onto your players. I know because I have been in this unfortunate situation. There is a good chance that these domain policies for content have been created with good intent in order to keep their regular domain users from staying logged in and inactive for a period of time. But now your players will auto-log themselves out and you will be stuck at a windows login screen every hour. I hope you’re not thinking “this won’t happen to me,” because it very well could, and watch out for windows updates, which can further complicate the installation.

Proxy servers, VPNs, and firewalls are all challenges for digital signage deployments as well. Does the player need access to the outside web? If it is a SaaS player, the answer is yes, and if you are asking this on the day of the deployment and you’re an integrator, you may be about to lose your shirt on all of the go-backs you will have to do.

So what could have been done differently to avoid this? You can save yourself a lot of time and frustration if the question is asked up front, “I know these players need to get out to the outside web. Are there any proxys or firewalls that would prevent this?” While the customer doesn’t always get the settings right the first time either, by asking the right question you’ve already started the process and know what the challenge will be ahead of time.

Here are just a few more example questions that help get the wheels turning—and the answers to each of these questions will have their own repercussions:

• What type of connectivity is available? (Note: Wired is always best when available)

• Does your customer have a really slow connection? With several players onsite trying to push large updates through a small pipe, it could take days for updates to hit.  Find out what the tolerance is for timing updates.

• Are they running a 24/7 operation?

• What content assets does your client have and what are they planning to use?

• Are there several windows in the same room as your screens, which might affect brightness and readability?

• If there is an audio component to the content, what is the level of ambient noise in the viewing environment? Will there be lots of background noise?

• Has ADA compliance been considered?

Setting the Right Expectations

What do expectations have to do with doing digital signage? If the integrator does his or her job right, the customer will know that just putting up some screens and slapping players behind them will not automatically achieve sales lift. Setting the correct expectations upfront allows the customer to be more comfortable with their investment and encourages longer-term support of the project.

Setting and managing client expectations requires a frank discussion about return on investment (ROI) with your customer upfront. Such a discussion will prevent common misunderstandings, friction between you and your client, and possibly even losing the project if the customer doesn’t have an idea of what to expect.

Recommending a “pilot phase” is a good way to validate expectations. If you need more information before deciding how a large roll out of digital signage will or won’t work, then you should do a pilot installation. In the case of retail make sure you don’t just do one store location, but multiple store locations. A minimum of two or three stores as part of your pilot will give you a better indication of what the installation can deliver. Expectations are very important and if you don’t meet them clients will withdraw future funding!

Gathering the Right Resources

There are a variety of ways in which integrators and clients set themselves up to fail. If you don’t put the right resources in place then you most assuredly will have a failure. We worked with a bank interested in deploying digital signage at many branches. As the project started we were put in touch with the person charged with managing their content. We had already discussed the role this person was to play, but soon discovered that a short attention span and lack of technical aptitude resulted in client calls about content challenges. These discrepancies arose because the in-house person assigned to manage the network continually missed some of the straightforward steps to publishing the content. This individual was a valued employee and good at a lot of things, but managing a digital signage network was not one of them.

The skill sets that an individual who is to publish and create content for an in-house digital signage network should include attention to detail and patience (we’re working with technology here!). Most in-house personnel have not come from a content creation firm nor have most had prior experience managing a large digital signage network. But a person in your internal marketing or advertising departments will likely have a working knowledge of programs more complicated than Microsoft Word and they may even know how to create some basic content when they need to. If such a person or department doesn’t exist, perhaps someone from, who is used to creating bulletins and will have a general understanding of the basics of content design.

After you have chosen the best fit available for managing your network you have the task of training this person to make sure they understand some basic digital signage rules. Note: in smaller organizations this person will likely be multi-tasking. This person will be your first line of defense for troubleshooting challenges and your last line of defense for content review. But the most important thing – and I cannot stress this enough – is this person must have some skin in the game. This means that their performance reviews, raises, bonuses, (however you choose to do it) must be tied to how well this person manages the digital signage network.

Keeping Content Fresh

Content is probably the most important piece of your digital signage network, or at least statistically one of the most likely places to fail. There are many more examples on how to do this wrong then how to do this right. So let’s look at some ground rules for getting started on the right foot.

The very first place to start is content guidelines. These guidelines don’t refer to whether you can put ESPN on the screen in your lobby. You should already know the answer to that. We are talking about considerations such as deciding whether or not you will allow political advertising. Because once you accept one political ad you’ve got to accept them all.  What about religious-affiliated ads, will you allow those? Do you have to comply with FCC regulations?

The idea here is to come up with some basic guidelines and write them down. So at least if one of the guidelines is broken you have recourse as to why you can’t run that content again. Other guidelines might include approved backgrounds, logos, or even who should have access. There are some great free articles out there to get you started on this process. Please take this planning seriously because it can save you a lot of trouble down the road. Ask similar businesses how they did theirs as well!

With guidelines in place you can consider content strategy. This consideration goes hand-in-hand with the purpose of this digital signage solution. Let’s say the answer was to boost profits in a gas station. Then you should be thinking about what your most  profitable items are and how to showcase them. There is generally a multi-faceted strategy here with other goals for brand loyalty and brand recognition. There are a lot of directions to go with your goals. Now the dreaded content rules come into play. Is there enough time play an “M&M’s on Sale” ad before for your customer leaves? To know the answer you need to know what your average dwell time is. Before you ask—yes, it does matter what colors you use, and it does matter how consistent you are with the look of your ads.

Keeping your content fresh is a big deal. If someone walks into that same gas station two or three times a week and the same content is always playing they’re likely going to ignore it! Probably more important than any of the content rules keeping your content fresh will at least keep customers looking at your screens. This is where having the right internal resources discussed above will make the difference in whether your content stays fresh or gets stale.

Measuring Success

Why is it harder to sell advertising on your screens to an advertiser the second time around? It normally has to do with how well you measured (audience) success and how well you were able to prove it. Measuring success is measuring the culmination of all of the work put forth above. But the key is to start planning how you are going to measure this in the early stages before you hang your first screen. Now the metrics you track may change or even evolve, b

ut you as the end user, possibly assisted by the integrator, should start out with a plan. You should discuss which metrics will prove that your digital signage was effective.

Technologies and methods for measuring effectiveness are more available than they have ever been, and more cost effective. So if these technologies are more readily available why are so few end users choosing to use them? This goes back to asking the right questions—and few integrators are asking their clients if they would like to use them.

Measurement devices include the plethora of camera-based systems with specialized software that count viewers, identify sex and age and in some cases count the number of viewers of a specific ad. There are also mats that count the amount of foot traffic near a screen, or products like cell phones attached to sensors that record how many times they were picked up. You can also offer an app that when downloaded will track each time a user comes in the store, or offer an incentive to users who scan the QR code with their smart phone and to track those users.

With these measurement technologies an advertiser will know with certainty at which location 30 males and 25 females saw the add for scarves and 75% of them watched it until it was over. That data can be correlated that with how many scarves were bought that day providing a strong case for digital signage by showing a trend of sales uplift.

Remember always to start by asking the right questions. In many cases these are learned from experience – this is where an experienced integrator comes in – and with those answers, you’ll be able to start setting the right expectations, find the correct resources and measure for success. Don’t become apart of the failed implementation statistic become one of the rising number of successes!

Author Robert White will be presenting Seminar 1 entitled, “Doing Digital Signage Right…The First Time,” at Digital Signage Expo 2015 on Wednesday, March 11 from 9:00-10:00am at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  For more information about DSE or to register for this or any other educational seminar or workshop and learn about digital signage go to


Multi-Media Solutions
Alcoa, TN
(865) 681-2575