It’s Time for a Digital Signage Content Refresh

EPISODE 53 | Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communication manager for Visix, Inc.

With the start of a new year, this is the perfect time to give your screens a makeover: try a new layout, pep up your message designs and get your user accounts in order. Even a limited content refresh can increase engagement.

Remember that the goal is to cut through the noise, grab people’s attention and get them to take your call to action. Since your digital signs are competing with a lot of sensory input, changing things up from time to time is an easy way to entice more viewers. However, any successful content refresh strategy has be done in a methodical, measurable way, so you can tell what is and isn’t effective.

In this episode we’ll give you some quick tips on what to refresh, how often and how easy it can be:

  • Hear about the cocktail party affect and how the brain filters information
  • Explore how to update layouts – new designs, arrangements and themes
  • Learn to reimagine and refresh evergreen message elements
  • Discover quick update ideas for time, date, weather and other feeds
  • Get tips on refreshing playlists and calls to action
  • Understand the importance of software, hardware and user updates

Subscribe to this podcast: Podbean | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | RSS

Need some content inspiration? Grab our infographic with 100 Digital Signage Message Ideas.


Derek DeWitt: So just because your system is up and running doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect, and it might be time for you to consider refreshing your screens. We’re going to talk about some tips on how to do that, and also how to test your content to make sure that your audience is always engaged. To that end, I am here with Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hi, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you for talking to me today, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: You’re welcome.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.

I’m busy, man. I got a lot of stuff to do. Why should I take the time to overhaul my digital signage content, my look and so on? Why?

Debbie DeWitt: That’s a great question because sometimes you’re like, Dude, I’ve been listening to your podcast, I’ve done everything you say, I’ve tweaked everything; it’s perfect, it’s wonderful. But you need to remember that the goal is always audience engagement (which we say all the time) and the first step of that is getting their attention. And the fact is, if your screens always look the same and run the same messages or the same videos people are going to tune out.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s, that’s very true. There’s a thing called selective filtering (it’s also sometimes called sensory gating) and this is basically the brain ignores things that seem to be static or permanent. We evolved to look for moving threats, basically. Is that a tiger in the grass, you know? If the grass is just sitting there, I don’t really have to spend much energy and time on it. So, we have a tendency to just kind of filter out and ignore things that aren’t changing. They just become part of a static background and we just kind of ignore them.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. I think it’s because… I mean, we all know we’ve got a lot going on, I mean…and this isn’t just about the technology age and we have phones, and everybody loves to talk about all the different distractions and media types, but it’s not even that. It’s really about, in any environment there’s a lot going on. The brain has to decide what’s important, what isn’t important – and you know, what you were talking about – I think I’ve also heard it called the cocktail party effect. Because if you think about it, your brain tunes out all of that. Or if you’ve been in a restaurant, you’re paying attention to whoever you’re with usually, and you just sort of ignore everything that’s going on around you because otherwise you’re completely overwhelmed.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Your brain would not be able to process it and you would not be able to act. So, the stuff that you’ve seen already, that’s usually one of the first things that your mind goes, Oh, okay, file that in the background unless it does something interesting; I don’t need that anymore. So how can we prevent the digital signs from just becoming one of those filtered-out, ignored items in our environment?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, the first thing I’d say is look at the layout. You know, that’s the overall shape of what’s on the screen. I mean our eyes, you know, our eyes don’t look up and see, Oh, there’s weather, date and time, a background image, a content zone, an RSS feed, a logo. It sees the shape, sort of that overall how everything’s laid out on the screen. So, start changing that shape of what the eye sees. Because, again, people are walking by quickly, they’re going to just glance and the best thing you can, a very quick thing you can do to gain their attention is, hey, everything moved around on screen. And the fact is you should be changing your layouts throughout the day already. If you’re not, then please start doing that. We actually recommend you change your layout every hour. And we have another episode about best practices for your layouts and playlist. I highly recommend you go listen to that. But we do say to use two or three layouts.

Derek DeWitt: Throughout one day.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, yeah. Or just to have those, I mean, you’ll have those two or three layouts; those are your layouts. And you’re going to be rotating those every one or two hours throughout the day. And for a refresh, the thing is, those three layouts that you’ve already been using, go ahead and change those designs. Try a new background or a new color. You know, move the stuff around in the layout. Maybe try a new logo or change up the weather feed.

Derek DeWitt: Right. I understand. So instead of just showing, like, today’s weather, show, hey, we’re going to try it with a five-day forecast.

Debbie DeWitt: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Between two o’clock and four o’clock

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Or vice versa. You know, whatever you’re doing now, do something a little different. And you can do the same thing with your date and time. Just changing that font, the format or where it is on screen, that’s the number one thing, I think, people do with digital signs is they look up to see what time it is. So, by changing that, they’re going to go, Oh, this is all new. Their brain’s going to kind of kick in and say pay attention. And then they’re going to see your other messages.

Derek DeWitt: What about using like seasonal themes or holiday themes? You know, our calendar is tied to the solar year and it’s not a perfect match, but it’s pretty close. What about doing springy things in spring, and Eastery things around Easter and, you know, things like that?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, I think using themes are great. I think the seasons lend themselves to it. Again, you don’t want to have too much going on, on your layouts, but you can certainly have different color palettes or different imagery in the background for the four seasons. You can also create your own theme. One great thing is if your brand includes like six colors, you know, try using one color a month or even one a week, you know, and that immediately tells people, Oh, everything has changed on the screen. We’ve gone from red to blue.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, this is the orange week! But obviously we’re doing this stuff. I mean, you have to stay within your brand guidelines if you have brand guidelines.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And I would say you do have brand guidelines. If you’re not sure what they are, ask your marketing department or your communications department, but they’re somewhere and they can give those to you. And they’re also a great source for design ideas. And why not have a cohesive look? And for example, if they’re running an internet campaign, you know, with imagery or colors or themes, you could actually maybe get artwork from them that you could incorporate into your layouts.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So that’s the look. What about content, the content that goes into those layouts?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, one of the easiest ways to refresh messages is just changing the background. You know, it’s very simply, as I keep saying, go from red to blue, go from green to blue. You were using a solid color, instead now you’re going to use an image. You know, as long as it contrasts.

Derek DeWitt: Or a gradient or something.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. As long as it still, you know, has the good contrast and the other design tips. A lot of our clients have what we call evergreen content. Those are messages that live forever. Like mute your cell phones in this area or, I don’t know, download the campus app. You know, these things never expire.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, I see. So, they’re forever content. That’s evergreen.

Debbie DeWitt: Yep. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: I would imagine those are some of the first things people start tuning out like, Oh, there’s that message again.

Debbie DeWitt: I don’t think our brain even lets us get to, Oh, there’s that message again. We literally look and look away.

Derek DeWitt: And if you’ve got that stuff up there all the time, it’s there for a reason. Like no kidding, mute your cell phone.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. You know, but just changing the background or the color can make those look different so people notice them. If you’re using images or icons in your messages, then change those out.

You know, another simple tip is just to move what’s in the message. If you had an image on the left and text on the right, then reverse that. You can change the fonts you’re using, you can change the headline, you know, alter the copy a little bit. Like I said about the layout, same thing with text. I think you know this, text blocks become shapes in our minds, and we recognize those.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Studies have shown that if you look at the word, I don’t know, “pizza”, your brain isn’t going p-i-z-z-a equals pizza. It’s not addition. It’s looking at the whole shape of the word “pizza”. That’s why we frequently misspell words that kind of have the same shape in English.

Debbie DeWitt: Form and from?

Derek DeWitt: Form and from – that’s my bugaboo. That’s just because my fingers are fat, and I’m cranked out of my mind on coffee when I’m writing.

Debbie DeWitt: Okay. Well yeah. I think the same thing that happens with a word also happens with a shape. So again, change something small. Just move things around. That way, it’s actually easier, it’s less design time. And again, you only have a couple of seconds to grab people’s attention. So, just do something that makes their brain see it as new.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. Right? Because someone will look up, their brain will go, Hey! Because I think, I don’t know that this is true, but I think probably what’s happening is when you enter into a space that you’re familiar with, your brain already sort of has a map of it, if you will, or an image of that space. And it’s just looking for the new thing. So, if you’ve just changed, even just slightly, the brain will certainly go, Oh, Hey, that’s new. And then you read it and go, Oh no, that’s not new.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. Yeah. And remember, you’re trying to get their attention. You’re trying to get them to see the message, understand the message and then do something. So, that’s where your call to action comes in. We talk about this a lot, but change up your call to action. You know, that alone could be different for the eye or if someone is sitting there in a lobby and they’re reading every message, they’re like, Oh my gosh, I’ve been to my doctor the last three years the same message has been up. Now, at least it’s like the call to action’s different. You know, change the format of that, make it bold, make it a different color. If you were using a link to a webpage, try a QR tag, something like that. Again, anything that makes it read as new to the eye.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. That’s like text messaging, text content. What about, I don’t know, like, videos and things?

Debbie DeWitt: Well for videos, unfortunately, to change a video, you have to re-edit it. And if you’ve got people who can do that, great. I mean, it is something to consider. If you’ve had a video that’s been running in your lobby for four years, it probably needs updating anyways, you know. So, if you can do that great. If you can’t, then think about where it plays. You know, again, moving it around on the layout. You know, if it was always in a content zone on the left, what about popping over to full screen and play that video? That’s it, that’s the whole thing on the screen, you know. Try that.

Derek DeWitt: What about reordering things in the playlist? Obviously, for a space that people are moving through very quickly, maybe not. But like a waiting room, a hospital or healthcare facility or something like that where people might be sitting for 20 minutes, 30 minutes and so they’re seeing your playlist repeat over and over again, even just changing the order of that from time to time?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, this happens in retail a lot. Anywhere that people visit repeatedly, they’re going to be seeing your playlists. You know, if they’re sitting there for three hours, you’re probably not going to want to try and, you know, change things to that level of I’m going to change it every hour, the playlist. That’s crazy for a manager to have to deal with.

But what you can do is, you know, if you’ve got like, we show events, then we show the cell phone message, then the app message, then the video, and you’ve been doing that order all together for two years, it’s time to change that up. You know, move them around in the playlist.

I think it’s really important we never want to put evergreen content all together because, again, the brain’s going to make that a big block and go, I’ve seen this before and I know what plays after it; I can tune out.

Derek DeWitt: And then they get their phone out and you’ve lost them.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. So, you want to sprinkle in those evergreen messages, sprinkle that into other updated data feeds or current news or things like that, you know, your other announcements that are timely, and then they’re more likely to see them and definitely rearrange the order when you can.

Derek DeWitt: You say data feeds, what do you mean? Like, how can I change those? Isn’t the information constantly changing all on its own?

Debbie DeWitt: It is. That’s kind of one of the great things about data feeds is that it’s sort of almost up to the minute.

Derek DeWitt: So what, like change the design of them somehow or the placement of them?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Again, just like, I mean, I consider those just like any other message. It is a message. You’ve actually put a data feed into a message. So yeah, if it’s your events schedule, then change the design. I would say with data feeds, you can change what you’re doing.

Like we have countdowns that you can do, that are automated in our software. And you know, we have a couple of different formats. So, you can do daily countdown, you know, this number of days left, and you can also do like hour/minute/seconds. Well, switch those up. You know, instead of it’s the same thing; you want people to sign up for 401(k) by Friday, but on Mondays and Wednesdays, you could put up one and on Tuesdays and Thursdays put up the other. It just reminds them of what you’re trying to tell them but in a different format.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Variety is the spice of life. Because here’s the thing, we’ve talked about this for ages, digital signage started out really just being a replacement for things like posters. And the reason that it was effective is because posters become ignored. Not only do they get ignored by the brain and by the eye, but they, you know, they fade in the sunlight and you know, all that stuff. So digital signs are dynamic. Why not use them to their fullest potential by mixing things up?

Debbie DeWitt: Look at each thing – whether it’s layouts, messages, videos – look at each thing and say, how can I make this look new? And you need to have some sort of schedule in mind. Like, if you just put it up last week, you don’t need to refresh it. But you need to know, hey, this has been up for six months or this has been up for a year.

Take a look at those things and just think about, is there anything I can do? It doesn’t have to be better, but different, you know. You don’t want it to be worse. Certainly, it needs to be equal or better.

Derek DeWitt: Bright orange on a yellow background!

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Stick to your goals. But, you know, can you refresh it in any way?

Derek DeWitt: Yes. Sure. However, I don’t know that I would go changing everything all the time. Like, and now I’m going to change every single message.

Debbie DeWitt: So yes, you’re right. Actually, the first thing I’d ask myself is, Do I need to refresh this? You know, first of all, do we even still need this? You know, some people schedule things forever and then they forget about it. And if you’ve forgotten it, then your audience probably has, too.

So, like I said, look through your playlists at least monthly I’d say, hopefully. I mean, if you could, if you could do it monthly, it’d be ideal. If you need to do it quarterly or every six months or year, do it. But put it on your schedule somehow.

Derek DeWitt: And of course, software gets updates. Hardware wears out. Drivers need updating. Like, you need a systems refresh also, right? From time to time, not monthly, but from time to time.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I think if you’re the system administrator for your digital signs, you should periodically clean up your user accounts. You know, look at your playlists. That’s not just the messages in them, but you know, the actual playlist; Do I need this playlist? Oh, that’s for a room that doesn’t exist anymore or that screen’s gone.

Derek DeWitt: Or we changed the name of that room.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, that happens. So, take a look at that. Take a look at the scheduling. You know, that’s a lot of it is have you been dayparting, where you’re putting things at certain times of days on certain days, can you mix that up? The whole playlist, for example, not just a message? And obviously, like you said, check for software updates.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, because very often there are going to be some new features. Something that’s been maybe difficult or cumbersome suddenly becomes much easier because they knew, the people who made the software, and now they have a fix for it.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. And some new features might affect your content. You know, they might give you new options that make refreshing your designs easier. You know, where you had to build something by hand or in Photoshop before, now there’s a little widget, you just drag and drop. So that’s good.

If you’ve got content subscriptions, maybe try something new. You know, you’ve had the sports feed up and you’ve decided, Oh, let’s go with community events and see how that does. Or add one in. You don’t have to get rid of one.

One of the new features we actually have in our software lets you send messages to websites like intranets and to a webpage, that would play on any screen size. And you can even embed it in things like Microsoft Teams. So, you might need to refresh your messages to make sure they look good on those new platforms.

Derek DeWitt: Right. The HTML5 thing, which can scale to different screen sizes.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. And really, like, anytime you add a new screen, you need to look at your content anyways, because if you were…

Derek DeWitt: That’s true, things change over time. This new TV or this new screen is different than your old one.

Debbie DeWitt: It’s 4K.

Derek DeWitt: It’s 4K now, yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. So, you’ve been designing your content for something smaller and now it’s all blown up.

Derek DeWitt: Now it looks like garbage.

Debbie DeWitt: Or, with the HTML thing, if you’re going to feed it into Teams, it’s the other way around. Well, we’ve been designing for a video wall and now I want to put that content on a little, you know, three-inch wide block. I need to…

Derek DeWitt: Now it looks ridiculous!

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I need to pare down the info on that. So, that’s another thing to refresh. Think about your endpoints, where it’s going and who’s seeing it.

Derek DeWitt: And in all the different ways that your audience might be viewing your content, make sure that the resolution or the aspect ratio works, that it isn’t getting smashed or scrunched or squashed or stretched.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, always.

Derek DeWitt: How often should I do it? You’re saying maybe once a month, is that a good rule of thumb? What if I don’t have that kind of time?

Debbie DeWitt: Once a month is a dream. I think that it’s much more likely you’re going to do it quarterly, maybe twice a year. Don’t do it any less than once a year, for sure.

But ideally you wouldn’t just schedule, like, this one day, you know, every six months; it should be an organic, ongoing process. I mean, that’s a luxury. I understand a lot of digital signage managers, that’s not their only job, so they may have other things. And it is just putting a day on the calendar.

But if you can do it, then why not just constantly, you know, if this is your full-time job, you can constantly be monitoring. You know, what’s getting old, what evergreen things need to be refreshed? You know, should I just add in one new layout, I can’t do all of them, but maybe another one? So, you know, put that in your everyday flow as the manager of the signs,

Derek DeWitt: Just bake it into your system, into your workflow.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Well, there you have it. That’s quite a bit of advice on how to keep your screens looking fresh so they can keep grabbing attention, so people will keep taking that call to action, which allows you to measure how much they’re engaged. I mean, after all, that is the entire point of having the digital signage in the first place.

Debbie DeWitt: It is.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you for talking to me today, Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Thank you for having me.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.