Saturday, November 20, 2010

Menu Labeling: Futureproof Now For The Future

Do you want your menu, menu boards and any other in-restaurant display signage to survive changes in the future and not become outdated and in need of constant revision? Would you like to get a handle on your menu and sign budget without constant charges having to be made against it due to menu labeling legislation? Wouldn’t it be better to be proactive about your brand, improve its reputation and customer visits, while also complying with any menu labeling legislation instead?

Standardized menu-labeling legislation is coming in 2011. The FDA will provide an update by the end of this year and publish final regulations by March 23, 2011. Whether it is 20+ location restaurant chains at first and does not include limited time offers, this is seen as just the tip of the iceberg. However, investing in a digital sign solution today, which can easily change and ensure compliance year after year makes smart business sense. Not only will it help you display caloric information to comply with this legislation, it is a good bet that additional legislation will be coming afterwards with regard to such things like; nutritional information, allergen information and even food origin information. No need to reprint signs, hand outs, menu boards and menus each and every time this type of new labeling legislation is passed if you already had a digital sign solution. In addition, being proactive today not only ensures return on your investment later, but used properly, a basic or full featured digital signage solution will also increase customer loyalty, their average spend and frequency of visits. So a penny spent wisely today will earn (and save) you many more tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Keynote "Good Enough Technology" for Digital Signage Content Creation?

When I originally read and posted about Good Enough Technology, I was thinking about all of the software solutions available for digital signage and how some of the inexpensive ones are "good enough". After all, you have to learn to walk before you can run, so why not learn to walk with an inexpensive digital signage solution that you can get your arms around, before you start to run and risk the possibility of falling on your face? For example, if less than $1,000 could get you a countertop digital sign complete with LCD, stand, day part playback media player, professionally designed content, and pay for itself in less than 3 months (see earlier post), that would at least be "good enough", no?

But what about Good Enough Technology for digital sgnage content creation (the reason for my post in the first place)? I have been thinking a lot lately about the content creation part of the digital signage equation, especially for merchandising and increaseing same store sales. We all know that without appropriate content programming updates, a digital signage install is not likely to succeed. However keeping all your content/messaging fresh and relevant on an hourly, daily, weekly, or even a monthly or quarterly basis can be time consuming and expensive. So is there a content creation application for digital signage for the rest of us that is good enough? I think the answer is yes, and I am going to find out by trying Keynote to see if in fact it is good enough. At first glance you might think Keynote is just Apple’s answer to PowerPoint, but it is already being used as an entry-level video application to produce some very good narrative videos. It exports to QuickTime (.mov) format and you can set timings and apply builds and motion to objects and type which should be adequate for digital signage content. Clearly applications like Flash, Final Cut Pro and others are much more powerful, but I’m interested in something that is good enough, inexpensive and easy to learn. In the next couple of weeks I’m going to find out and will be posting updates and let you know how I am doing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Digital Signage: How To Make Opportunity Knock

I wrote the following article for the International Sign Association Report that appeared in the September issue of Sign of the Times Magazine. The article focuses on how digital signage technology can help companies, especially those in the sign industry, grow their business.

Digital Signage is well suited to grow your sign business
Digital sign technology is becoming increasingly popular and the industry continues above average growth year after year, even in the current economy. Anywhere you go today you cannot avoid seeing an electronic display with information, advertising or promotional material. More and more companies in the sign industry, both large and small are learning how to offer digital signage solutions and services. Consequently, those companies are growing their businesses, adding more value, and making more money for their clients and themselves. Are you?

As a society, we have not yet stopped purchasing printed material. However, whether it is a Kindle or an iPad, electronic books of all kinds are becoming more and more popular. Printed magazine and newspaper subscription levels continue to decline and the last time you opened the Yellow Pages to search for something was when? So it stands to reason that the same dynamic is in play with printed signs as well. More information, efficiency, convenience and ease-of-use rules the day. Recent digital sign technology advancements have made digital sign solutions easier to use, more reliable and more affordable than ever before. In addition, the technology has made it easier to improve same store sales and customer experience.

Turn the clock back 25 years to the desktop publishing revolution. WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) page layouts and graphic designs displayed on screen with a computer and printed out in high resolution was a giant step forward. It was embraced not only by the computer industry, but the sign industry as well. Desktop publishing improved such things as efficiency, quality, creativity, and time to market. As a result, setting type, T-squares, stat cameras, burnishers and wax machines all became things of the past. Sign companies of all kinds welcomed the new technology as a natural progression of their business.

Fast forward 25 years to today and digital signage is the new revolution. Signs no longer are fixed. They can include moving images and can change their message multiple times throughout the day. Digital signs also use an electronic display instead of printed or dimensional material. Print is fixed and updating a printed or dimensional sign is time consuming, labor intensive and costly to install. A digital sign connected to a media player can display motion and video and change based on a schedule. It can be updated instantly and produce immediate results. While the transition to digital signage may take longer to dominate the landscape then desktop publishing did in the 80’s, the advantages are just as beneficial to the sign industry. If you have not taken advantage of it yet you still can. However, the train is leaving the station.

So what do you need to board the train?
Your business already possesses strengths that will enable it to offer digital signage and be successful. At the outset, you already have employees with strong visual communication skills. They are able to understand your client’s objectives, what their end-users are looking for, and translate that into compelling visual messages. These skills are fundamental to the successful development of any digital sign. Importantly, while IT firms are installing most digital signage systems, they typically lack the necessary visual communication skills. As a result, the experience you already have in the design, production and sales of visual communications products will enable you to easily transition into selling digital signs.

Moreover, sign companies already have a sales force and in-house designers in place that can become digital sign communication experts. Finally, most businesses only require a simple digital signage system. Therefore, an advanced understanding of information technology is not always necessary.

Once a digital sign has been sold, the need to keep the content or the message displayed on the screen fresh and effective will be paramount. Doing so will help your client to achieve a quick return on their investment and provide you with continuous revenue updating their content.

Since most of your customers will only need a simple off-the-shelf digital signage system, selecting a simple solution to sell and promote is a good way to start. It will not require a major reorganization or investment in a significant amount of new technology and will appeal to both existing and new customers. It will also allow you to become familiar with the technology and grow your business without getting in over your head. It requires a basic understanding of how the digital sign technology works, its capabilities and benefits and how to incorporate it into your product and service presentation to your clients.

A simple digital sign solution is like a digital photoframe. It consists of the same main components: a media player and a flat panel display or LCD. The difference, however is that the components of the digital sign solution can be all-in-one or separate, but more importantly they are built for extended use and offer a lot more features and capabilities.

Simple digital signage media players can be purchased for well below $1,000. They play media files like jpeg images and mpeg videos and can be programmed to play the files in any order based on any schedule. They can be updated using a removable memory device or connected to a network. They can also be programmed to divide the display screen into separate areas called zones with different media files playing in each zone.

LCDs are available in many sizes and can be used in any orientation. For example a countertop digital sign can use a 19-inch display (which is available for less than $250) in portrait (vertical) orientation, and take up minimal counter space. A digital menu board can use a 40-inch or larger display (starting at around $1,000) mounted to a wall in landscape (horizontal) mode, which can replace several printed menu boards. The countertop digital sign and the digital menu board could use the same kind of media player. The key difference between the two is the content or messaging displayed on the LCD.

Content, the key to success, and making you and your clients more money
No matter how big or small or how sophisticated or simple, the key to the success of any digital sign is having a content strategy and plan, along with a professional designer to create the message displayed on the digital sign. Like printed signs and displays, a message on a digital sign needs to be eye-catching, compelling, include a call to action and leave a lasting impression. With the ability to add full-motion graphics and daily scheduling, the content strategy should make sure the content is always kept up-to-date and achieves your clients’ objectives. With a skilled in-house designer who can design for print and motion, you will be able to offer content subscription packages for each digital sign you sell. You will then be on your way to increasing sales revenue and growing your business in digital signage.

If you like, you can view my article along with photos as it as it appeared in the ISA report here, or if you prefer, the entire 8 page ISA September report here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Even When Its Hot, Digital Signage Refreshes

With most of the country in the middle of a heat wave and what looks like a record breaking hot summer, isn’t it a good time to educate your customers about heat exhaustion while selling more cold drinks with a digital sign? At any age, rule #1 when the heat index goes well above 100 degrees, drink plenty of fluids, regardless of your activity level and before you get thirsty, to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration. So if you offer cold beverages and you’re not promoting their benefit during the dog days of summer, it is not too late to start. A customer facing digital sign can promote iced coffee selections in the morning, cold refreshing drinks in the afternoon, and even a public service message on the benefits of staying hydrated when it gets so hot outside. Signs at point of sale can increase your customer average spend and educate them too, so you increase revenue and improve customer experience. A digital sign can be programmed to change based on time of day or even the weather, and can display your message with beautiful HD imagery and video. You can get started with little investment, along with a return that takes weeks not years. Ice cold digital sign anybody? Contact me here if you would like to learn how.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The A-Team: There Is No Plan B, Even With Digital Signage

You would think as a digital signage consultant that I wouldn't think twice when passing the ever increasing amount of LED billboards along the highways of New Jersey. But Thursday, June 10th I did. Thanks to network distribution a new release of anything, or a special event for that matter no longer becomes dated and can be promoted differently depending on when it occurs. For example, when the A-Team opened in theaters last Friday, June 11th and I drove by an A-Team billboard on June 10th, the billboard said, Opening Tomorrow. I just thought that was such a simple testimonial to one of the many benefits of network digital signage, not just being relevant and location aware, but time aware too. Now only if it could help box office sales of the A-Team movie. That might be something even digital signage cannot improve.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Standardize Touch Gestures For Digital Signage Kiosks

With touch screen shipments going way up year over year and the touch interface made popular by the iPhone since its launch in 2007 now mainstream, more and more people are becoming comfortable with and know how to operate a touch screen enabled device. So rather than reinventing the wheel, when it comes time to develop your interactive touch screen digital signage kiosk why not use touch gestures that have already been popularized by the successful products responsible for this trend (and that are already familiar with the end-user)? From basic gestures to more complex navigation actions The Touch Gesture Reference Guide by Craig Villamor, Dan Willis, and Luke Wroblewski aims to do just that, to help standardize touch screen interface gestures across all types of devices. It is a well designed and easy to understand document. I highly recommend to anyone developing a touch enabled device or kiosk to become familiar with it in advance. Although it cannot guarantee success, it will help you save time developing the operation specifications for your product and make it easier to use.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Do The Math: Digital Signage 101 Simple ROI Using Foodservice

I have given many presentations about the benefits of digital signage and while costs continue to come down and technology advance, given the current state of the economy it still remains a difficult pill to swallow when it comes to making the investment to put the plan into action. Simply put, the biggest hurdle to clear often is a budgetary one. With that in mind I hope the following inexpensive digital sign solution and simple ROI calculation helps put cost issues aside and makes getting going a priority instead. The inexpensive entry-level solution costs only $1,000. It is a countertop solution that uses a desktop size display in portrait or vertical orientation. You may think this display size is too small and reduces impact, but I don’t think so. It’s more about location then size. Not only does the smaller size allow you to place the display in more strategic locations, it also saves you a lot of money compared to a large flat panel display and its associated install costs. Ideally you want this display to face your customer at point of sale. Where the transaction is made is the best time to cross sell and promote a little something extra to buy with their purchase. The other parts of the $1,000 investment includes a media player that plays promotional content for you based on the time of day, a professionally designed content template that can be used to create your digital sign promotions and other miscellaneous mounting equipment and cables.

Now for the simple ROI calculation…using foodservice as an example, the following assumptions can be made and is based on an investment of $1,000 for the solution mentioned above. The assumptions needed to start are average spend per customer before and after installing the digital sign. Let’s assume then that $5 is the average spend before and that a lift of 3% is achieved with the digital sign. This makes the average spend after $5.15 or an increase of 15 cents per order. At 15 cents per order the digital sign would pay for itself in 6,666 orders. If you do an average 100 orders per day that’s a 66 day payback, or about 2 months. If you do an average 1,000 orders per day that’s a one week payback. If you deduct your prime cost, typically 65% of each dollar for cost of goods and payroll, your net revenue per order would be just over 5 cents and the digital sign would then pay for itself in about 19,000 orders. If you do an average 100 orders per day that’s a 190 day payback, or about 6 months. If you do an average 1,000 orders per day that’s about a 19 day payback, or less than 3 weeks. Assuming you get 3 years out of your digital sign and use these conservative assumptions the ROI would be worthwhile wouldn’t it?