Understanding Digital Signage Technology from RFP to Installation

As an end-user, sourcing a digital signage firm can often be a drawn-out and confusing process. We understand many issues can arise from ownership of the project to discussion on content types, entering the digital signage world can be like opening a modern-day Pandora’s box.

New to digital signage? You’re in luck because barrier to entry has never been lower. Essentially, digital signage is the application of installing a network of video screens inside a specific location (indoor or outdoor) to promote specific advertising, messaging, or brand visuals.

With technology advancing at its current rate, digital signage has drastically evolved over the past 20 years to include a whole sub-set of applications and potential users. Often, you’ll see digital signage inside major transportations hubs like airports, bus stations and train stations, as well as sporting venues.

Recently though, you’ll see digital signage also making an appearance inside retail brick and mortars, supermarkets and big box, universities and places of higher education, healthcare facilities, corporate centers and essentially any building or area where information needs to get communicated on a massive scale.

Creating a Digital Signage Plan

Whereas past digital signage programs were clunky and expensive, today’s digital signage programs are nimble, affordable, and extremely efficient, allowing for almost immediate installation.

What shouldn’t be immediate is the strategy of the program. By thinking through your audience personas, messaging and brand guidelines as well connecting the dots from omni-channel to your customer journey, the strategy where your digital signage program falls needs to be fully throughout and scrutinized from every angle.

When crafting your digital signage strategy, it’s best to recognize your specific needs when it comes to hardware and software requirements as well. There are many options for the different types of applications from indoor to outdoor, LED to LCD, as well as different types of CMS systems.

Do you need it on Android? iOS? Native to your internal system or open source? How many locations are you managing? What are the geographic locations? How many pieces of content?

Again, the goal of a digital signage program is going to vary from company to company, but regardless of your KPI’s, it must be managed and applied in a very smart and strategic manner. It shouldn’t be an afterthought, but weaved into the fabric of the brand and marketing strategy.

The Value of a Digital Signage System

Digital signage has countless capabilities and applications across many different verticals and industries. Before, where you might just place a screen on the wall and hope your customer glanced at the message, we now approach digital signage from a very strategic and omni-channel perspective.

The term omni-channel isn’t new, but only recently has it been fully-realized with digital touchpoints as a mainstay in every corporations’ strategy. This means that all your “digital dots” are connected and conversing with each other.

Of course, it is a lot easier than it sounds. Often, corporations understand the necessity of digital but lack a true understanding on how to implement and optimize the technology, especially digital signage.

Thinking of digital signage as more than just screens on a wall, corporations can leverage the might of the screen in many ways.

  1. Building Brand Equity – This includes having brand and lifestyle content playing while connecting with the customer on a top-funnel, non-sales way.
  2. Strategic Corporate Communications – This includes having signage to communicate core company messaging and values, updates and news, as well as showcasing the brand in a corporate setting at their HQ or corporate center.
  3. Push relevant sales messaging and advertising to customers – This includes what most people think of when they hear digital signage; advertising and promotions. When done right, and with the audience top of mind, this application can effectively get the right messaging out at the right time to the right persona, thus channeling your audience down the sales funnel into a state of conversion.
  4. Leverage as an HR / employee communications hub – Your back of house is a tremendous opportunity to engage with your employees and build company and corporate culture. From an HR perspective, utilizing digital signage allows you to message your staff in an engaging manner and bring forth important information, which ultimately trickles down to your overall customer experience.

Utilizing digital signage to do more than just push out a message will allow you to look at the investment made in a different light. It isn’t so much about advertising and promotions as it is utilizing it as a native part of your communications strategy, like a website, social media and PR announcements.

Return on Investment

For most, when deciding if digital signage is a worthy investment, questions usually arise on what the ROI is and whether it’s truly an investment or a disguised expense.

But year after year, statistics are continuing to show that companies who make use of digital signage as part of their marketing and communication strategy see steady growth and can direct their growth back to messaging, creative, and content that was relevant and efficient to leverage.

When pitching digital signage to decision makers, it’s extremely important to understand how the benefits and its importance to the organization out-weigh the costs involved. Considering that digital signage is not a one-time purchase, as there are costs involved beyond the initial cost, it’s best to look at the initial installation and cost of goods as well as the reoccurring costs and how that might be wrapped up into an SLA (service level agreement).

The true cost of digital signage doesn’t have to be astronomical nor does it have to disrupt major areas of the corporation.

The initial cost to set a strategy and install the program makes up only a small part of the greater corporate communications strategy with it becoming a much higher value to the organization in the long run because the profitable possibilities are endless.

The cost of a digital sign is a significant business investment but the possibilities to turn a profit are endless. With so much value a digital signage program can bring, it cannot simply be labeled as a mere business purchase. It is a strategic investment that pays off in the long-run, year after year.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “For businesses that choose to enhance their signage with an electronic message display, the owners typically see an increase in business of 15% to 150%.”

With statistics and testimonials clearly stating that digital signage is an investment into the future of your organization, it should not be classified as an expense, but a long-term, high return on investment.

Writing a Digital Signage Technology RFP

When looking to create an RFP for digital signage, first do your homework and identify the firms that not only have experience doing this, but also who are on top of the trends and active within the industry.

There needs to be specific goals, benchmarks, and KPI’s associated with the project. By setting these expectations, and determining the department, not departments, with whom own the project, you can hopefully alleviate some of the on-going pain-points many brands have with installing and maintaining their digital signage program.

When determining a budget, there should be careful consideration given to the on-going maintenance of the hardware and software as well as the general upkeep on content, creative and data & analytics.

By separating it between an initial installation cost and an SLA (service level agreement), you’ll be able to successfully manage the expenditure and make accounting happy. Remember, digital signage is an investment and not an expense. In the long-run, the ROI produced by having a sound digital signage program is exponentially higher than not having one.

The goal is to give the firm handling the program the opportunity to truly optimize your program and remain efficient and effective for a longer period. Digital signage is NOT a one-off project. It’s a customer nurturing strategy that takes just that; nurturing.

As an agency, integrators should approach projects from an agnostic point of view. From the very first conversations with the end-user, they should be in a state of discovery. By presenting an extremely thorough Digital Needs Assessment (DNA), integrators are able to document all technological, networking, and physical environment insights so they can seamlessly integrate screen to place.

Ensuring you give proper time for a discovery/on-boarding process is imperative. Be careful not to fall for any of those “just slap it on the wall and it’ll be fine” type of digital signage companies. With the barrier to entry extremely low today, the only thing that separates the novice with the professional is experience.

When rounding out your RFP, ensure you are mentioning content. For a digital signage program to truly be effective, the content must speak to the customer on their terms, no matter what part of the customer or sales journey they’re in. This also includes the different types of content you have available and that you want to produce including video, photo, webpages, news/weather, static or dynamic content.

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself if you’re writing a digital signage RFP:

  • What are the overall goals of the program? Who are the customers we are targeting?
  • Opex vs Capex Financial Model? What does both look like?
  • Who owns the project? Which department? IT? Marketing? Operations? Facilities?
  • What is my installation cost versus my on-going maintenance (SLA) cost?
  • Who is creating the content? Who is responsible to maintaining the content?
  • What types of content are you anticipating (video, photography, live stream, etc.)
  • Who is responsible for the hardware/software upkeep?
  • Do you have any CMS requirements? How do we upgrade the software?
  • What is the connectivity of each individual location look like?
  • Is training involved?

The Installation Process

Installing digital signage is NOT as easy as just slapping it on the wall and plugging it in. There are many details that must be addressed and a true installation workflow and strategy should be leveraged.

It’s best to say to leave the installing for the professionals. They are just that; professional.

The first major milestone of any digital signage program should be a discovery phase where the firm and company can put together goals, KPI’s as well as conduct site surveys and do a content audit.

This will determine the strategy moving forward and is one of the most important aspects of a digital signage program. This including crafting the proper technical documentations, communications strategy, and workflows.

Depending on the size and scope of the program, the time to strategize, install and train will vary.

As an example, this is a real-life example from a 25-location retail financial brand. (Will vary based on complexity of the solution):

  • Discovery + Strategy (including site surveys) = 3-4 weeks
  • Content Development = 3-4 weeks
  • Procurement + Programming + Staging = 3-4 weeks
  • Installation = 2-3 weeks
  • Training = 1 week

This of course is considering a minor (<10%) of time being taken up by issues that are not accounted for. This can include networking and connectivity issues. Shipping delays of the hardware/software, and any gaps in time with installation, training, and development, which can derail the project.

During installation, it’s best to ensure all teams are aware of the strategy and direction and that there is signoff where it is required. Considering there are many different teams that could be involved at any time (IT, Marketing, Operations, Facilities), it is recommended the company determine one point of contact to manage and own the project.

Our Top Points to Not Overlook for Installation:

  • Always do a Site Survey – 9 out of 10 times something is uncovered that alters the original SOW. Electrical isn’t run, wall doesn’t have enough support, IT Environment is not prepped etc… All those issues are important to discover now than at the time of installation.
  • Rely on Project Management – Pay for it! Don’t think of this as an extra charge from an installation company. It’s worth every penny. With multiple teams to manage (installation team, facilities, marketing) you need someone who is watching everything from a 50,000ft perspective.
  • Training – From the client’s side, identify a qualified tech / associate who will assume hand-off once the install is complete.
  • Staging – Staging is an important step in the process as it’s better to uncover any issues with the technology prior to setting foot within the client’s facility. Always test prior to an installation.
  • Cutting Costs = TROUBLE! While we understand the client has a budget and you should respect it, but we must look out for their best interest at all costs. That might even mean asking for additional expenses. Having an authentic and transparent relationship is paramount as communication is key to any good installation. Technology is very unforgiving and issues can arise should you decide to use lesser quality cables or don’t take in account the conditions of the environment you are in. Be prepared to stand your ground if your client asks the investable question “I saw this cheaper at Best Buy” or “How much for a cable?” There is a difference in cost from commercial grade components vs consumer grade, just make it a point to communicate that to your client and the pitfalls associated with the choice.

Once the program is installed, there should be a training session schedule put together with access to a knowledge base of videos and FAQ for further documentation. This will allow local issues to be maintained effectively and efficiently without having to rely 100% on the help desk or an outside resource.

[Originally posted on MyTechDecisions 9/12/2017]