At the height of the dot-com bubble in the 1990s, the prevailing mantra was, “Content is King.” Unfortunately, too many people believed that content alone sufficed to create a viable business plan, and we know how well that turned out.
Business owners looking to deploy a digital signage network to their premises, however, should be careful not to veer in the opposite direction and ignore the importance of content. Indeed, when it comes to digital signage, content really is king. The bells and whistles that come with a digital signage package – the plasma screens, software, sophisticated media players, PCs, etc. – all exist as part of the medium. They’re not the message. Consumers may be bowled over initially by flashy, Blade Runner-type graphics and holograms, but once the novelty wears off, the message is what will sell, not the medium.
What happens when content becomes secondary to the machine whose purpose it is to deliver it? You have episodes like these that I see happen every day:
- Retail boutiques with plasma screens streaming product-related informercials that soon become merely expensive digital wallpaper after the first hundred or so days. Minus points if the volume is muted, which for some inexplicable reason it often is.
- Airports filled with television screens broadcasting the CNN Airport Network. I’ve seen this at airports from San Francisco to Seoul. Nothing against CNN, but it’s become the soundtrack of domestic and international travel around the world. One gate at Japan’s Narita International Airport once dared to switch things up a little and aired “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” I’d never seen a more riveted audience at an airport terminal in my life.
- Digital billboards along highways and byways across America that flash the wrong time, date and/or temperature. Nothing wrong with that by itself, but there is something clearly wrong when it’s not corrected within hours or at least a day.
- Electronic shelf labeling systems such as those found at Whole Foods Markets and other grocery stores. They’re popular in Europe but are getting little traction here in the U.S., partly because of lack of business confidence in their ROI. I personally find them hard to read, especially when they’re placed a foot higher than my eye-level, and that’s when they’re actually working.
Business owners dazzled by the promise of digital signage should take care not to let themselves be seduced by the bright, shiny objects at trade shows and in catalogs. Digital signage has tremendous advantages over traditional signage – namely their minimal carbon footprint, flexibility, and, yes, the gee-whiz factor – but the hardware is only part of what will draw customers and visitors to your premises. The sizzle must be accompanied by a hefty slab of steak, so to speak. Make the most use of digital signage and its numerous features. Be creative and maybe even a little adventurous in how you offer content to your audience. It doesn’t have to be “The Daily Show,” but with a little imagination, you can likely do much better than the same old infomercials that your competitors will be dishing up.