We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, From Sneaker Net!

It seems like just yesterday we were discovering the world of dynamic signage, and loading up our content by manual transmission, ie, flash drives and DVDs, aka, using the “sneakernet.”

Sneaker Net

With a DVD or VHS network you have what is called a “SneakerNet” – can be prone to human errors. Just look back to 2009, when a “sneaker net” system was used in a WalMart department not served by WalMart TV. The porn videos that played in that Arkansas WalMart certainly received a lot of media coverage (pun intended). In case you  don’t recall the millions of tweets, two employees swapped out DVDs in a device controlling 6 TVs in the furniture department. They got caught and the term SneakerNet took on a whole new meaning…

Here’s the point: Because the system is not connected, you have no guarantee the promotion you intended is being played. Making the content in the first place is costly (burning DVDs) and you can really only afford to do this once per month. If you run weekly specials, it’s impossible to advertise those on your screens because you’re running the same loop every week for a month. With a networked system, you’ll be able to change this on the fly easily and have completely synchronized media campaigns, both in-store and in-home. So, you understand how far we’ve come, yes? But, if you are comfortable for a little while longer in sneakers, you can simplify your own process, so read on!

Turtle Content DeliveryA large number of signage deployments today are still actually done by sending around VHS tapes and DVDs by turtle mail. Sometimes this is because when talking with the IT department, someone always says “no”. So the digital sign professionals and the ad agencies serving the client think, “No problem, we’ll just use DVDs!”

If you are starting out, and the sneakernet delivery system is the simple model you or your customer wants to deploy, there are a few tips that will make the picture quality, and your costs, better all around. But remember, that’s not the way to become a well-heeled digital sign pro. Just picture ad agencies, who have high expectations of the direct-out-of-home industry to deliver campaigns as contracted. They are becoming increasingly vigilant in ensuring that they are getting value. They will want proof that the campaigns are running.

Okay, here are your important rules for sneakernet:  First of all, never, ever use a consumer model DVD or BluRay player!  These are rated for about 2000 hours maximum, and certainly not for continuous play! Invest in a commercial player – which is often what your kiosks will feature at one price point – and you won’t be replacing the unit every few months.

Next, consider the video quality. If you are driving a plasma screen with a DVD player over composite video, the picture is going to look pretty ordinary. Now, swap that composite video cable for an HDMI cable, to your commercial screen, and with your commercial DVD player, your image is “up-rezed” and voila! Vastly improved picture quality, not to mention audio is always synchronized!

Now, how about the cost to burn and ship? Here’s a baby step from sneakers to something a bit less informal. Connect with your client’s (or your) IT department and gain access to an FTP site. Upload the files (yes, this takes a little time, but so does uploading and distributing through connected digital sign systems!). Make sure there’s a  DVD or BluRay burner at the other end, and let the IT guy or gal burn the contents to it. Now, load and play! You’ve saved time and cost burning these DVDs for these smaller digital sign projects. You’ve also saved days in transit!

Another step: Some “stand alone” digital sign systems will simply play whatever is on a gig-stick and loaded to its media player. This eliminates the BluRay or DVD player. And then there’s always Apple-TV, but that is another blog for another day.

It is apparent, if you give this some thought, that a simple media player, internet-connected system will ultimately save time and energy, and sneakernets, while still an option, will give way to the need for more frequent updates, reports of play, ROO and ROI calculations, and the chance to finally through away those old tennis shoes.

Just letting you down easy…

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Sounds Like…

When it comes to digital signage and the dimension of audio in the environment, you are bound to see that sound has the ear of many, and important boundaries for others. It would be nice if we could provide a hard and fast rule when it comes to audio enhancements of your dynamic messaging. But we can’t. We can, however, give you the retail environment “rules of thumb” and bend your ear a bit on ways to implement this worthy tool.

First, it helps to think of audio as sugar in your content recipe. You may not need it, and if you add too much, it is just too much. And like sugar, it can add a great deal of appeal, and assist in delivery – the way a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… In the most delightful way!

Second, you can simply destroy your employees as though using some wicked form of torture, if you play the same audio track over and over and have no way to limit the sound to a particular environment. This is a fact. And it leads to manual disengagement, as in, the volume is turned off.

Third, however, is the new research showing that comprehension, attention, and retention are improved with a good music and voiceover track. In fact, a music bed helps to deepen the experience, and depending on your system objectives, it can enhance a brand’s style.

And Fourth, audio will often reach a client before they are aware of a screen. What you have then is the power to draw eyes to your digital display that much earlier.  

So, how do you compromise between engaging the ears, and saving your employees’ sanity? You can and should give serious consideration to a sound cone which hangs over your display, and presents sound waves in a tight dimension around your system. Only when someone is within a few feet of the display can they hear the music. In addition, motion detectors can assure the sound plays only when someone is present.

We like the Cone of Silence offered by Interface Group. The patented design delivers a column of sound directly below the sphere providing crisp clear stereo sound. Outside the column, sound level drops 80% so that adjacent patrons are not bothered by the audio content.  In fact, the Library Journal supplement publication Library By Design featured this product for the library system. So if it works for a librarian, it will work great for your clients as well!

The audio component of your presentation gives you a distinct advantage when it comes to edutainment content. Without music, most material falls a bit flat. Test this yourself: play a movie trailer with and without audio. The impact of a good music score can’t be taken lightly. But if you have no way to control the audio either by motion or a “cone of silence” then you run the risk of creating a negative where there was a positive impression. In your needs analysis, look at your environment and the factors above.

That’s very sound advice 😉

Kiosk, You Ask?

We thank the Kiosk company for assisting with information on the subject of kiosks – a great product for many applications. KIOSK has many years of experience in working with customers to deploy small to medium to very large kiosk projects. They have found six factors to consider when choosing and deploying kiosks for your intended purpose. By no means is this list inclusive of everything -This is a summary of those six considerations:

1)  The Hardware Solution –

You want a kiosk that is build to ADA guidelines and UL specs. And you should choose a form and design that fits your environment, brand and size requirements. In addition, the enclosure and structure should be inviting. There is no reason in today’s market that you should sacrifice esthetics or durability. Every option imaginable is available!

2)  The Application –

Think about your experience when you check in at the airport. Your kiosk operation should be that simple! 2-3 buttons, a clear touchscreen, and simple graphic elements. Who will develop the content and application? You may be able to do that in-house, but there are several companies that do nothing but help companies develop applications, tie in with existing systems/databases and help remotely manage the kiosk.

3) Remote Monitoring/Reporting –

Without remote monitoring/reporting – how will you know what people are doing on the kiosk? Will you know if one of your 2500 screens is down? What about the screen saver- can it be updated to play store specials as they become available?

4) Service –

Think about the warranty, and who actually owns the hardware. If a service call is needed, do you need to outsource on-site maintenance where an outside tech will service the kiosk? You may want to keep spare parts on hand for common replacements.

5) The Kiosk Project –

What is the intended purpose of your kiosks? Decide on 2 or 3 priorities at least initially – you can always add on later. What does a good pilot program look like?  Number of stores? What types of stores?  What’s the budget for the pilot?  The MOST important part of the pilot is determining you success criteria.  What is the budget and who will own the kiosks? It may make sense to lease the hardware.

6) Employee Involvement –

Employees can sometimes feel intimidated or threatened by the kiosk. We’ve seen examples where a kiosk is placed in an existing environment without much employee involvement and the program will fail. 

So, in summary, a kiosk is a great tool and resource, useful for in-store surveys, product descriptions and applications, and guidance for customers. The most important moments in the life of the kiosk campaign are those before it is installed. When you think kiosk, think ASK – the questions above will help guide you to the right answers for you.

Part 4: CLEVR Readability for Dynamic Digital Signs

If you are following this series, you know we are talking about the science behind good sign design, and how this applies to digital sign content as well. In our first post, we reviewed content considerations as  a whole. This brought us to Part 1, CLEVR acronym for Conspicuity, Legibility, Visibility and Readability. We reviewed Conspicuity and what it means in the application called Dynamic Signage. Part 2 discussed Legibility, and how this relates to dynamic content for digital sign systems. Visibility and a great tip for improved dynamic signage was presented in Part 3. If you haven’t read up on the premise, do so with the links above.

And now, to complete the series, Readability is our subject today!

A readable display allows people to quickly and accurately recognize and understand information, in particular, alphanumeric characters. The message should be clear and unambiguous. In traditional sign design, a few words to convey important information is all that is required. The same can be applied to dynamic signage. Again, these displays are not television. It is not a seated audience, for the most part, watching the screen with no other distractions. In an ideal world, there would be nothing but the screen. In reality, there is likely to be other signage, noise, people milling around, and multiple distractions. The dynamic display message, therefore, should be built much like static signage.

This means the concept of readability takes on great importance. If you have only a few minutes to engage your viewer, you should make certain your message is readable – that the message is conveyed quickly and clearly. While we love our HD content, LobbyPOP always includes on-screen text and clear voice-over in bite-sized chunks to assure no part of the message is obscured or lost. Text is often white with a pin-line outline, to assure it shows clearly on any motion background.

Dynamic Signage displays are alphanumeric displays, using letters and numbers, along with graphic images and sound, to convey messages. The contrast ratio for the characters is an important element in readabiliy and legibility.

ReadabilityIn their book, Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems, Robert W. Proctor, Trisha Van Zandt explain that under optimal conditions, for black text on a white background, the font stock width-to-height ratio is ideally 1:6 to 1:8. For white characters on a black field, the optimal ratio is 1:8 to 1:10. Thinner lines for white on black images are required because of a phenomenon called radiation or sparkle. This is where the light color “bleeds” together due to the contrast -the eye’s reaction.

Keeping the core message concise, and the entire message in a ten to fifteen second clip, is a good rule of thumb. This does not mean that a 30-second spot is not desirable. On the contrary, the core message can be emphasized and repeated in ways that assure readability and recognition. This is the heart of all advertising: Repetition. So whereas traditional static signs can be read several times over in the space of a few seconds, thereby assuring a point is communicated, a dynamic sign can enhance this and “force” repetition upon the viewer by repeating the same points in slightly different ways, with supporting information in concert, much like bullet points in a presentation. 

How many words? How much information per minute? We have validated that seven words or less for the core messaging, and up to eight supporting messages within a 60-second spot can be read and comprehended.  So go forth and multiply your advertising!

Next post: The Power of Imagery – why this is in the wheelhouse of dynamic digital signage!

Part 3: CLEVR Visibility for Digital Content Design

If you are following this series, you know we are talking about the science behind good sign design, and how this applies to digital sign content as well. In our first post, we reviewed content considerations as  a whole. This brought us to Part 1, CLEVR acronym for Conspicuity, Legibility, Visibility and Readability. We reviewed Conspicuity and what it means in the application called Dynamic Signage. Part 2 discussed Legibility, and how this relates to dynamic content for digital sign systems. If you haven’t read up on the premise, do so with the links above.

Today we are examining Visibility, one of the key elements guiding good sign placement and design. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked factors in digital sign system development. As we create stunning graphics, clever messaging, and build meaningful news and live feeds into our dynamic signage, then make sure our sign is conspicuously placed in its new location, we are not looking at visibility the way that traditional sign professionals do.

Visibility is characterized much as you would expect: It is the aspect of “being visible” period. When a sign first becomes visible, you may not yet be able to read or hear the content. You can see the screen flickering in that bright blue fashion indicating an exciting message. With on-premise signage, you can see the illuminated beacon of the Golden Arches in time to cut across three lanes and safely grab a burger. Back a block or two, you couldn’t read the daily specials – all that mattered at that distance was that the sign was visible.

Too often, digital sign screens are placed where you can’t see them until you enter the immediate zone in which they are displayed. This may be appropriate where a touchscreen is used, for instance, to determine the right mattress to purchase, as you stand in the bedding department of the box store. But when signs are to be used for creating awareness of products, guiding shoppers through your facility, or for advising of coming events, these displays are often a few feet lower than they should be. This is likely a phenomenon that comes from the deep hold that our living room television has on society. It is hard to separate digital signage from television, at least in our minds. We are conditioned to expect the screen to be at eye level.

Making Signs VisibleWhat eye-level means for a digital display is that the dress racks, or the cubicle walls, or simply masses of people are blocking visibility of the screens. By installing the screens overhead, instead of at eye level, we achieve maximum reach, better engagement, and more attention. This is the Visibility Factor that LobbyPOP classes address.

For a good example, think of airport signs that show your gate, and your luggage carousels.  These are overhead, visible from far down the corridor.  Want to do a better job with dynamic digital signage? Consider installing more of these screens six feet or higher. Might mean a larger screen is in order, but is that really such a bad thing?

Next and final post in this series: Readability! CLEVR!

Media Creatives

By now you must be rolling your eyes as much as we do, whenever you hear things like “digital delivery ecosystem” “multi-screen, multi-zone” “no technical know-how required” “digital signage platform” “up-rez” “integrated hardware and software” “IP-based remote updates” and “place based media buys.”

Spend as much time deeply immersed in the electronic signage arena as we have, and you will be as certain about the following as you are about anything: That the two most important elements of electronic digital signage are the two aspects that are mentioned the least:

  1. Content. Real, quality, beautiful, targeted, creative content.
  2. Support. Real, quality, friendly, knowledgable, support.

This post is about Content. It won’t be long before business owners and marketing managers turn their noses up at pixelated footage, bad color, and poor sound quality. The kind of content provided by content providers like LobbyPOP is media house quality. Ninety-one percent of media companies report they supply agency-like services to marketers today, with campaign development, ideation and targeting creative to the right audiences topping the list. Creative development and custom content, cross-platform integration and execution come next. Surprisingly, supplying consumer insights is seventh on that list — and might be the area of most opportunity.  LobbyPOP places vertical market insights and solid research first, when creating new content for businesses.

This is a multimedia journey from static content, marketing silos, and disconnect between ad space and buying place, to instant delivery of targeted messages within engaging, “movie-like” content at the point of purchase – the last three feet of marketing.

Seek out media creatives, partner with them. Here’s a quote to note:

“Media companies are the most underleveraged resource for insights that exist,” said Kim Kadlec, chief media officer-worldwide VP at Johnson & Johnson, which owns a major online media property in BabyCenter. “They’re making the content that people are paying to see, they’re not paying to get away from it. We’d like to learn a little more about that.”

Focusing on new business models will be important for digital print sign companies. This “on the ground, at the front line” spot held by sign companies can be an invaluable asset when it comes to client expectations for their dynamic media delivery.

Next post: Custom, Relevant Content.

Waiting Room Opportunities

We estimate that 8,000,000 businesses are prime candidates today for lobby signage. The application of dynamic sign technology will improve customer satisfaction, lift sales, and build credibility. Here is a partial list of markets that can be well-served with signs of this type:

  • Dental Office
  • Local hospitals
  • Health Spas
  • Pediatricians
  • CPA/Financial Planners
  • Lube & Tire Service Centers
  • Restaurants
  • Train Stations
  • Veterinarian Clinics
  • Doctor’s Offices
  • Medical Labs
  • Health Clubs
  • Beauty Salons
  • Community Centers
  • Assisted Living Centers
  • Post Offices
  • DMV
  • RX Pick-Up Sites
  • Banks

😉 Not necessarily in that order!