6 Growing Content Trends for Digital Signage

EPISODE 110 | Guest: Ellyce Kelly, professional services consultant for Visix

Content is anything you put on screens. Coming up with the subjects and formats for your visual communications is a daily challenge that shouldn’t be dictated by your content management software. To engage viewers, messaging needs to be driven by your audience’s interests, needs and expectations. Content trends aren’t only about what you say, but also how you say it.

In this episode, Ellyce Kelly walks us through six of the digital signage content trends we’re seeing today. Get practical tips for new and expanded content to bring your messaging in line with current tastes.

  • Understand why keeping up with content trends is important
  • Learn about purpose-led and people-first communications
  • Get tips on why and how to produce video snippets
  • Explore increased data visualizations and interactivity
  • Consider alerts as part of your content strategy

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Get more content trends and ideas in our Masterclass Guide 3: Digital Signage Content


Derek DeWitt: So, content is what we call anything that you put on your digital signage. And as we’ve said many times before, if your content, meaning the stuff you put up on your screens, is boring, irrelevant or outdated, then why are you even doing it?  ‘Cause your audience is just gonna tune out. They have screens in their pockets. So, whether you’re looking for content ideas or you need to refresh what’s on your screens, we’re gonna talk about some content trends that are happening this year and in this time period that can give you some inspiration. And to help me talk about that, I’m with Ellyce Kelly, professional services consultant for Visix. Hi, Ellyce.

Ellyce Kelly: Hi, Derek. How are you doing?

Derek DeWitt: I am doing quite well. I’m, you know, finger on the pulse, that’s you. I’m very curious to see what these modern content trends are.

Ellyce Kelly: Awesome. Me, too!

Derek DeWitt: Thank you everybody for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget you can subscribe, and you can follow along with the full transcript on the Visix website, which also has lots of helpful links. Just go to Vvisix.com, Resources, Podcasts.

All right, so, as I said at the top, content is just a catchall phrase that we use for anything that you put up on your screens. And there are lots of different kinds of content. Let’s start by talking about sort of your more, what we might call traditional content types.

Ellyce Kelly: Sure. So, obviously messages with plain text, like announcements and reminders, make up the bulk of what’s on screen. And most people show event schedules that are pulled from their calendar system.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And then, there’re, like, entertainment feeds and news feeds, which also pull in from outside sources. These are also pretty popular.

Ellyce Kelly: They are. A lot of people import slides from PowerPoints and PDFs that they’ve already created for some other purpose. And a lot of our clients show some sort of data visualization, which is pulling information from some external source like Excel, XML or JSON. And this can be as simple as a building directory or as complex as a call center dashboard.

Derek DeWitt: Right. It’s funny, isn’t it, because just some years ago we started writing, in the marketing copy and promotional copy and on the website that you know, hey, here’s this kind of new capability, and this ability to pull in from outside sources and populate your screens with all kinds of information is now sort of considered traditional content.

Ellyce Kelly: Mm-hmm. That’s true.

Derek DeWitt: Which is quite funny, you know. Things move fast in the digital world. So already it kind of sounds like that’s a pretty good content mix right there. So why would we even bother looking at content trends? What’s now, what’s wow?

Ellyce Kelly: Well, your digital signage is just like any other visual medium. So, you want to look at trends to see what audiences want and what they’re engaging with and what’s popular. We talk a lot about keeping your screens fresh, so incorporating new trends is a good way to do that.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I suppose that’s true. I mean, you look at Netflix and Amazon and streaming services, Hulu, HBO and so on, they all upgrade and, and adapt their UIs from time to time. Obviously, we’re all used to seeing websites and a variety of other digital content out there. And we see design trends, you know, like Pantone has a color of the year every year. And we start to see, you know, this year it’s trees and rocks. And this year it’s more, you know, sort of grays and clay colors and things like this. So, yeah, I guess that makes sense.

And, you know, speaking of those streaming services, you see it, Hollywood’s been doing this for ages, you know, hey, a fantasy TV series does really well, so suddenly three or four more fantasy shows are in the pipeline being green-lit. You see it in podcasts. I can’t tell you how many true crime podcasts there are out there. I think this is, and this is because Serial did so well in 2014, that a bunch of people were like, well, I like true crime stuff, and so we’re gonna make a podcast about it. And lo and behold, you know, we now have, I don’t know, I’m gonna just guesstimate 16 gajillion true crime podcasts out there.

Ellyce Kelly: Yep. And the same thing goes for communications. So, preferences to certain topics and formats we use to deliver messaging will change over time. So you have to stay on top of them to remain relevant to your viewers.

Derek DeWitt: Right. You want to feel like you’re now. I mean, it’s pretty embarrassing if your company’s still like, I don’t know, offering training programs by sending out VHS tapes, you know, via the post office. Or they’re like, hey, you know, sign up for our Adobe Flash course. It’s like, oh, where have you guys been?

Ellyce Kelly: No doubt. It’s more than embarrassing, it’s a waste of time and money. So, in communications, and digital signage is a communication tool, you have to talk about what people care about, and you have to deliver information in the formats your audience prefers.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s get into some of the growing content trends we’ve seen. And this is specifically stuff for digital signage that we’re gonna talk about. We’ve got six things here. And number one is purpose-led communication. What does that mean? Purpose-led?

Ellyce Kelly: It’s just what it says. So, it’s communicating in a way that spells out and supports your overall goals or purpose. So, even if you’re already showing your mission statement on screens, that’s not enough. People expect all of your communications to relate to your defined purpose and to tie back to the overall goals they’re working toward.

Derek DeWitt: So, kind of a content and design equivalent of walk your talk.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: Ah, I guess that makes sense. I mean, younger people today, (I know I always sound like an old fuddy when I say that, but it’s true) Gen Zers, Millennials and Gen Zers especially are like, they’re serious when they say, dudes don’t lie to me. You know? They’re not kidding around. They want transparency, they want honesty, they want integrity.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, exactly.

Derek DeWitt: I would assume that all of this is coming in hierarchical systems, traditional vertical hierarchies, coming down from the top of the organization somehow, right?

Ellyce Kelly: A lot of this is at the C-suite level with messaging about the organization’s overall targets, practices and policies. But it can also be at lower levels like a business division, department or team; any group that has a defined purpose and goals. So, whatever the group is, leadership in that group has to clearly communicate their purpose and goals to all the stakeholders.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And since you have goals, you’re probably also gonna show progress towards goals as well to keep everybody sort of in the loop.

Ellyce Kelly: That’s right. This can be as simple as a countdown to a deadline, a fundraising bucket filling up on the screen or stats and gauges that update over time.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And like we were saying with the traditional, you know, content pulling in information from outside sources, it can all be automated, right? It just pulls it in and it updates the artwork automatically, without you even having to do it on your own. You just set up the conditions and it just happens.

Ellyce Kelly: That’s what I help our clients set up on their screens every day.

Derek DeWitt: And you get a lot, you get quite a few of these.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. And remember, you don’t have to just show a number on the screen. Always compare it to a previous performance, a future goal, or some other benchmark, so people have context.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Right. Of course. The cliche is always the thermometer, you know, going up for Toys for Tots or what have you. Like, people can see, oh gosh, we’ve only got three days left and we’re only halfway at our goal. I better start dumping some toys in that box.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. And it works, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, it does work. I find myself, it’s almost like, I don’t wanna say peer pressure because, you know, my peer in this instance would be a digital screen with a thermometer on it, but there is this kind of pressure to like, hey, come on, get on it.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, there is. There is. And it works. I have done it myself. I’ve been in the same boat you have many times. And next thing you know, you’re Venmoing, writing a check, giving cash, buying toys, whatever it is.

Derek DeWitt: Emptying that wallet right in the cookie jar, yeah.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. Emptying the wallet. That’s the perfect way to put it.

Derek DeWitt: So, the thing to remember here, listeners, is people expect all of your messaging to tie back into whatever your stated purpose is. And by that, I mean not just our goal is to make money. You have another purpose that you say that your organization is all about. And we actually have an episode on purpose-driven content with Maliha Aqeel that might give you some more help with that to understand what we’re talking about with purpose-driven content. So, that’s the first one: purpose-driven content.

Second content trend is people-first communications, which, okay, I kind of think about a white paper I wrote some time ago about human-centered communications, which is a suite of design techniques used by architects and so on. Is this something similar?

Ellyce Kelly: It’s in that same area. So again, it’s just what it says. It’s putting people first. So, that may sound basic, but a lot of times the corporate or communications machine can get caught up in churning things out, and they forgot to listen. So, this is about surveying your audience and staying on top of the topics that they want to hear about.

Derek DeWitt: I see. So, it’s not about distribution, it’s more about dialogue.

Ellyce Kelly: Oh, that’s a great way to phrase it. And it’s looking closely at what people need to do their jobs well, live well and be happy. So it’s about motivation, inclusion and culture reinforcement, especially with the rise of the hybrid office.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I know since 2020 we’ve been hearing, you know, that people feel the need to feel connected. And so a lot of people are sort of complaining about this work from home thing ’cause they’re like, I thought I hated my colleagues, but it turns out I kind of need ’em. So you’re getting this kind of like, stress thing.

And you know, it’s not just, I think it’s also not just for remote workers. I kind of feel like all groups, whether they’re physically in the office or not, they all need to be stimulated together, like, kind of at the same time. And I think that’s one thing that you can kind of do using digital signage and other forms of electronic communication is, so everybody kind of gets the same messaging at the same time regardless of where they are.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, that’s true. And we have another episode on communicating with a hybrid workforce that we’ll link to.

So, for digital signage managers, this means more focus on motivational and inspirational messaging, wellbeing and health tips, both physical and mental, and making sure that your messaging on these topics is frequent and consistent.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Again, I say to people, remember communication, even corporate-level communication, I mean ultimately, it’s people talking to people. I know we say “the company” and companies are legal entities in and of themselves, but it really is people talking to people. And I know that maybe there might be some out there who think, oh my god, really health tips and wellbeing and motivational stuff, really, do we have to do that?

But even though some of your audience might be all cynical because they’re too cool for school, they do appreciate it. I, being a lifelong cynic, have that reaction when I see the, you know, the cat hanging in the tree hanging, “Hang in there!” and I go, oh my God, it’s so stupid, and yet I also secretly think it’s also very nice.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: So, those are kind of top level stuff. Number three on the content trends list we’re talking about is video snippets. And this is interesting. Video’s tricky when it comes to digital signage, mainly ’cause you don’t always have audio or you don’t want to use audio, and you don’t want, like, a video playing for 10 minutes. If your screens are somewhere where people are just walking by like in a corridor or something like that, that would be silly.

Ellyce Kelly: No, you definitely don’t want video playing for 10 minutes, really not really long at all. So when we say snippets, we’re actually talking about short-form video. So, think TikTok and not YouTube.

Derek DeWitt: Right, exactly. Which, you know, again, have your opinions about them as social media platforms, but the format itself is kind of perfect for a digital signage thing.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I came across some stats recently, short form video, for example, TikTok, now accounts for 80% of all mobile data traffic. And the average user, in these tiny little bite-sized bits, watches a combined 19 hours of video content every week. Each person. 19 hours of, let’s call them one-minute snippets. I don’t know, do the math on that; 19 times 60. That’s a lot of videos.

Ellyce Kelly: Wow! Are they getting paid?

Derek DeWitt: No! This is what people are doing for fun! This is the whole thing. So, if they’re already doing that in their own lives, it just kind of makes sense to transition that over to the digital signage.

Ellyce Kelly: Right. So, that right there shows you that this is a content trend, it’s a popular medium. So for digital signage, this can mean simply animating some of the messages you’re already creating. Think of it as adding animation to PowerPoint slides instead of just having everything come up at once.

Derek DeWitt: Right. However, I would caution, whenever possible, shoot your own video clips. That’s what short-form videos are all about. Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t go out and oh, I have to get a, you know, high-resolution camera. You have a high-resolution camera, it’s on your phone. If you’re one of those, you know, eight people left in the country that doesn’t have a smartphone, one of your colleagues does, borrow it and just shoot your own videos. That’s what people want to see. It doesn’t have, you’re not trying to win an award here, you know?

Ellyce Kelly: Yep. That’s true. One idea is a shout out or a thank you video. Peer-to-peer recognition is really motivating. So just have someone thank another team member on camera.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And it’s funny, isn’t it? Because there is that personal element. Like I, personally, I don’t use TikTok, but I do use YouTube, and I dislike videos of people in front of a camera talking to the camera, telling you something. I’d rather just have a voiceover and some nice visuals. But it has recently come to my attention that I am greatly in the minority, and that most people really do prefer to have that face right there.

So, you can do a shout out, the company thanks Bob Johnson for, you know, his outstanding work last week, but having a human being instead just do a real quick, smiling and going, hi Bob. And if you’re not using audio, then you just stick it in there in subtitles.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, absolutely. And hey Derek, you’re an award-winning podcast influencer. You probably didn’t even know that. But you could do your own influencer videos. So you can, and this is a great idea for our clients, you can get people from your industry, your business or teams to give short, monthly or weekly updates.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, okay.

Ellyce Kelly: Yep. You can get some client testimonials. And then whatever you create, keep it under one minute.

Derek DeWitt: Right. That’s, I mean, that’s the thing. K-I-S-S, keep it short and simple. Yeah, partly, you might make arguments about like, oh God, what’s happening to attention spans today? But that’s really beside the point. The point here is, is that digital signage is kind of a transient medium, even though it’s affixed to a surface, your audience is transient. And so, no one’s gonna stand at an elevator and oh, I’ll catch the next one, I’m busy watching this 15-minute talk on here.

Ellyce Kelly: Right, right. That’s true. And you mentioned not having audio, you can easily turn on audio where it’s appropriate, but we suggest designing your videos so that they don’t need audio.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And like I said, use close captioning or subtitles if you do have somebody talking. But, you know, try and tell the story as visually as possible. Consider it almost like a 59-second tone poem, but made only with pictures. It’s like a haiku, but for your eyes.

Ellyce Kelly: Right. I love it.

Derek DeWitt: Number four is something I know is close to your heart, which is more data. And I’m not just talking about Star Trek: The Next Generation here folks. Lots of clients already show data visualizations on their screens. So you’re saying, show more?

Ellyce Kelly: Derek, some people aren’t doing this at all, so they should start. And if you’re already showing data, then look around for what other information you could be sharing. Can you show a progress to goals? Can you show a dashboard of your support tickets? Can you show a countdown to the big college football game? That’s one of my favorites, by the way.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. That makes sense. It doesn’t even have to be specifically about, you know, work tasks.

Ellyce Kelly: Right. I mean, and of course then you also have, what about directories, menu boards for restaurants on site, queuing systems, donor boards, another of my favorites.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And as I said before, a lot of stakeholders today, they really do want transparency. And that means employees, it means customers, it means students, it means even visitors. You need to bridge what you say with what you actually do in order to build that trust. And I think this is why coming up with as many ways of turning something into a progress towards goals is just such a great way to do that. ‘Cause look, here’s the data. We’re not lying. There it is.

Ellyce Kelly: Yep. That’s very true. And basically anything that’s of interest to your audience that you update in a database or spreadsheet can be a cool visualization on your screens. And there’s also automation tools, and APIs keep coming out that let more business systems integrate with digital signage software. So more data can be fed into your digital signage system.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s something I’ve noticed lately is that there are just more and more, because digital signage has…. We knew this was gonna happen. In the early days of digital signage, not so much, but now digital signage really is becoming, if it hasn’t already become, ubiquitous. And so it just makes sense that there are gonna be other companies out there who are like, okay, how can we supply content to these, sometimes quite extensive, systems and deployments. So, you know, it’s just, we knew this was gonna come one day and that day has come.

Okay, so number five on the content trends is another multiplier, more interactivity.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. And again, some people are doing this, but some aren’t, and those that aren’t really should consider it. So, touchscreens have come down in price. So think about switching out some of your displays. And if you can’t do that, you can still build interactive experiences using a voice user interface where people can talk to the screen.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And voice interfaces don’t require a special display, right? I can use the displays I have now.

Ellyce Kelly: You can with our product, it’s built into the hardware we use. So you just need to add a microphone and build the voice interactivity into your screen layout.

Derek DeWitt: Again, talking about links, we have an episode all about voice-activated signage that you can listen to for details. And the episode notes will have a link to that.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. But even if you can’t do any of that, you can use something as simple as a QR code in a message, so people can scan and continue interacting with your content on their phone.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And I think everybody agrees. All, really, all content needs to be mobile-friendly now. So keep in that in mind when you’re designing things is that, hey, there’s gonna be a version of this, that’s mobile friendly.

Ellyce Kelly: Absolutely.

Derek DeWitt: The sixth and last item on our content trends list is alerts. Again, I imagine quite a few people are doing this.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. And if you’re not using your digital signage as part of your emergency alerting system, you really should consider it. So, most platforms integrate with alerting suites you’re already using like Alertus, Everbridge or Rave Mobile Safety. And severe weather is becoming the norm, unfortunately, so being able to show warnings and instructions is more important than ever.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And obviously security alerts as well are always on people’s minds. You just, you need to be prepared because you can stop people getting injured.

Ellyce Kelly: Exactly. And this is part of a people-first movement. There’s nothing more basic than keeping your people safe.

Derek DeWitt: That’s very true. Now, okay, we don’t wanna end on a bummer. I know. Yes. Alerts are always very important, but you got any quick trends or tips you can lay down before us

Ellyce Kelly: I’ll just say that people consume a lot of media and communications now, so they expect quality content on your screens.

Derek DeWitt: Yes.

Ellyce Kelly: Yep. And there are also many tools available now to make it really easy to create quality stuff.

Derek DeWitt: If your image is pixelated as you’ve made a mistake.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes, absolutely. And remember to scrap the formality and go for a more empathetic, engaging strategy. And it’s all about the experience. So, whether that’s employee experience, customer experience, or visitor experience, make it memorable.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely so. So, paying attention to content trends and wrapping all of these up into your digital signage strategy can help better engage and connect your viewers to your organization and maybe even to each other, which is ultimately the reason that you bought the screens in the first place.

Interesting stuff, our six content trends. It’ll be interesting to see, Ellyce, how many of these hold for the next couple of years and what comes down the pipeline in the future.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes. We should do a recap and then what’s next.

Derek DeWitt: Exactly. Perhaps next spring.

Ellyce Kelly: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: I’d like to thank Ellyce Kelly, professional services consultant for Visix, for talking to me today. Thanks, Ellyce.

Ellyce Kelly: Thank you, Derek. Always a pleasure to talk to you.

Derek DeWitt: All right. And don’t forget, again, you can subscribe, as I said before at the top, and check out that transcript on the Visix website for tons and tons of links that are just gonna be outrageously helpful to you. Thank you again for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right.