Seeing Screens? Welcome to the Digital Signage Revolution

Digital signage, screens, and billboards have become part of the customer experience journey. They exist in the moment as one part inspiration, one part explanation, but are 100% designed to drive a purchase.

Pop quiz: If you walk into a store today, will you be greeted first by a salesperson, or big screens running video loops showing beautiful product images and happy people loving that brand? Probably the latter. Video screens are engaging, inviting, eye-catching, and inspirational - they help shake money out of your pockets.

Digital signage, screens, and billboards have become part of the customer experience journey. They exist in the moment as one part inspiration, one part explanation, but are 100% designed to drive a purchase.

About five years ago everyone said it was the Year of Mobile. Mobile sites and apps were beginning to drive new customer interactions both for content and commerce; getting web content, quickly, onto the device your customers were carrying around — that was the big idea.

You might call 2016 the Year of Content Everywhere. Enterprises are figuring out how to deliver content and campaigns far beyond the website and mobile experience. Content isn’t only words and images; it’s data, and feeds, and triggered alerts that can deliver maximum, personalized experiences to any screen, or anything web-enabled, even if it has no screen. Amazon Echo and its capability for voice interaction is a great example of that.

Organizations are identifying diverse needs and use cases (not only selling) where delivering digital content to screens and signs in their locations is not just important, it’s critical to a complete customer experience. Examples include:

  • In-store product videos and images showing new products and offerings
  • Aspirational videos showing people using products and interacting with the brand
  • Offers aligned with the time of day, or day of week, or the profile of the customer in the store interacting with a screen or device
  • Wayfinding and information screens that improve customer experience, in locations like hospitals and airports
  • Real-time screen-based information, news and alerts in college buildings or other high-traffic locations

The demand for content everywhere has now coincided with the tools to manage and deliver it. And not just one screen at a time, but perhaps thousands of screens at a time. Digital signs and screens, networked across many locations and powered by centrally managed content, represent the next wave of customer experience. In the realm of digital transformation, major organizations are investing in new technology to harness the power of digital signage.

Two great examples showing disparate use cases point to the power of Drupal and the Acquia Platform to be a scalable digital signage solution for different types of organizations that reduces costs, speeds time to market, and builds new, engaging experiences for people seeing the screens.

Vodafone, one of the world’s largest telecom providers, is rolling out in-store screens delivering product info, images, and offers to thousands of retail locations in dozens of countries, leveraging the Acquia Platform to do it.

Aneta Rutkowska, technology program manager for retail channels at Vodafone, told marketers at a Figaro Digital conference in the UK recently that in-store screens are no longer just one silo for content delivery, they’re part of a continuous, end to end customer journey that includes web and mobile, digital campaigns, and now, in-store screens and signage showing offers, product info, and images. “From a content management perspective, we created a single platform we are moving all of our content to it… This is our ultimate goal,” she said in her presentation.

In a matter of weeks this year, Vodafone, working with Acquia, built a platform that will eventually serve Vodafone retail locations in a minimum of 26 countries and thousands of stores, she said. Content can be translated and localized for local markets; and in-store displays can present content based on which area in the store the displays are set up - promoting broadband services, or new handsets, or anything else, based on location in each store.

The University of Iowa, which already runs 600+ sites on Drupal and the Acquia Platform, has rolled out its Drupal Digital Signage Service, part of a campus-wide effort to provide new digital capabilities. Think residence halls, dining halls, academic buildings and other locations. The service leverages Drupal for content management and delivery, and Intel Compute Sticks, mini-computers which serve each screen or sign, to provide wireless connectivity to the Drupal-based content as it’s pushed out to screens in real time.

The university has reported rapid adoption of the service. As of June, 32 colleges and divisions representing 70 units within the University use the free, cost-effective, and user-friendly solution on hundreds of screens. Stakeholders use templates and drag and drop tools and widgets to customize and manage screen content. “The signs provide key information for students—like bus arrival times, menus, emergency alerts, ads for student groups, weather, news, and events,” according to an IowaNow news story.

“Because Drupal is open-source software, there are no licensing fees. Hardware costs are lower thanks to the project team's discovery that the signs could run on small, energy-efficient compute sticks. The sticks cost far less than PCs and can be maintained with existing device-management tools. Wireless connectivity eliminates the expense of data ports and cabling,” the story stated.

The push for content on screens as disparate as a Times Square billboard, to rapid transit alerts on subway platform screens (an initiative New York City’s MTA, or Metropolitan Transit Authority, are working together on) and limitless retail use cases leave one question on the table: Is your digital experience platform capable of delivering a truly end to end experience?

Some assessment questions can help you determine how far along the planning scale you are:

  • Does your organization want to deliver cross-platform, multichannel experiences?
  • Have you considered how content presented in a new context can shift your message, and help drive home a point in the right setting?
  • Are you cognizant of ways to personalize for context based on time of day, or physical location within a store, rather than, say user profile?
  • Have you considered how to track engagement from multiple channels, and use that to drive strategic and tactical improvements?

These are just a few questions on the minds of digital marketers and others who care about multichannel experiences and the rise of digital screens in stores, venues, and other physical locations.

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