What is Digital Signage & Why You Need It

EPISODE 1 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix

Digital signage is ubiquitous in retail, and is being adopted more and more for organizational communications. This podcast discusses the basics of what’s in a digital signage system, and why it’s a good option for anyone trying to engage employees, students or visitors.

We look at the technology, give you real-world stats that prove it works, and cover additional considerations like enterprise features and alerts to round out the case for using digital signs in any setting.

Whether you’re trying to convince your organization to adopt digital signage, or you need to convince management to augment your current system, this podcast will help.

  • Understand the various components of a digital signage system and what they do
  • Learn how digital signs are more effective and engaging than print communications
  • Explore how employee engagement can provide measurable bottom-line results
  • Appreciate the benefits of democratizing and unifying communications
  • Get an overview of the capabilities of an enterprise deployment

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 1: Digital Signage Systems Overview


Derek DeWitt: You’ve seen digital signage. It’s almost ubiquitous in retail settings now, and more and more organizations are adopting it for their communications. So we’re going to talk about the basics, sort of a one-on-one primer. What is a digital signage system? Why is it a good option?  – and things like this. And… how is organizational digital signage different from what we see in retail settings, and why should anybody care?

I’m here with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hi Sean.

Sean Matthews: Hello Derek. I appreciate you having me on and look forward to maybe dispelling some myths today.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, I like that – Mythbusters! I’d like to thank Sean for coming on today and thank everybody for listening.

The short thing is – Hey, what is digital signage?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean the short of it is, you alluded to it in the opening; you see it in quick-serve restaurants, and you typically see it in airports with flight information, display about arrivals, departures, obviously menus in quick-serve restaurants. But digital signage is basically comprised of electronic signs, right? You see them on billboards on interstates, certainly in the United States. Electronic messages versus, let’s say, printed messages. And when I say printed [I mean] your old traditional print format (posters, brochures, flyers). So this is just simply the electronic version of that. And it has some advantages and some disadvantages, but obviously we’re here to harp on the advantages today.

Derek DeWitt: What makes up a digital signage system? How complicated is it? How many parts are there?

Sean Matthews: It’s not overly complicated. At the most basic level, if somebody wanted to use a PowerPoint and put it on a USB stick, they could plug that into a display and that would, in fact, be digital signage. Now, it wouldn’t be very scalable digital signage. But when you think about real-world enterprise scalable digital signage, you’re talking about basically five main components.

So, we have a design application that creates the layouts and the way information will be displayed on the screen and what the screen looks like overall.

We have a content management system, which can be an on-premise server or one that’s hosted in the cloud with a CMS application, which is managing the scheduling and delivery of the content.

Derek DeWitt: So, that’s like the brain.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah, it’s the brain. And again, usually hosted somewhere else, and you interact with it through a browser interface. It’s the part that is the brain, but it’s typically the part that’s easiest to use because scheduling the delivery of content (when and where it’s going to play) is certainly much less complicated than coming up with creative artistic designs and artistic messages. So, it’s the brains technically, but it is often the easiest part to use.

Aside from those two components, you have a third component, which is the media player –  which can either be a device or an application that runs in the display. And it’s the thing that harnesses the several playback engines that might be used to deliver that information to the screen.

And of course, you have the display itself, which could either be a physical display or it could be a projection technology, which projects those same images on a wall or some other surface. And so, obviously video mapping is becoming a much more popular technology. You see it on the outsides of buildings and in arenas on the floor surface, that kind of stuff. But in most cases, in institutional or organizational communication, even retail, it’s typically a display or a set of displays in the form of some sort of video wall or not.

And of course, the last piece is some sort of infrastructure to provide connectivity to that engine, that media playback engine, that puts the information on screen. So it’s some sort of network connection, either wireless or wired.

Derek DeWitt: So, you’re creating content, scheduling it and then somehow that has to get to the media players and thus to the displays.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct, yeah. Because you don’t want to run around with a bunch of USB sticks and swap them out every time you want to change a message.

Derek DeWitt: That would be labor intensive. So why use it? What’s wrong with posters?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean there’s physically nothing wrong with posters, but if you want to deliver timely, relevant and ever-changing content, posters would be certainly a very costly way to do it. There’s physical labor involved, and there’s the prep process and all the byproducts of those print processes.

What we’re talking about is delivering content to displays or endpoints, which is time sensitive, relevant; it’s engaging. It can even include animation or audio if you need to do that. But the real key is that it’s live, it’s up-to-date, and it’s designed to have a more profound effect with those other elements I mentioned – movement and audio if necessary – to engage the passerby. And ultimately our goal is to affect some sort of change in their behavior. Whether they sign up for something or become more productive or participate – that’s really what we want.

Derek DeWitt: Don’t cut their hand off in the printing press or whatever.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. Yes. Days without incident. And it certainly has a new meaning when you look at that.

Derek DeWitt: Uh huh. And it’s a highly visual, highly dynamic medium.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, we as people, we process visuals like 60,000 times faster than we do text. So, we’re using these animated elements and these visual elements to really have an impact on people quickly.

Derek DeWitt: Do we know it works?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean, based on surveys, we see that digital signs have a recall rate that’s around 83%, which is much higher than the 40 to 50% that you see with traditional printed signs. 63% of people say that digital signage captures their attention. And it captures like 400% more views than printed signs or traditional signs, or posters if you want to call them that. So, it does have a profound effect in terms of recall and engagement, in terms of visual engagement. You know, 59% of people who say that they see a digital sign, say that they want to learn more about what was being conveyed on that sign.

Derek DeWitt: Simply because of the way that the message was conveyed to them?

Sean Matthews: Yep, that’s correct.

Derek DeWitt: Isn’t that interesting? I guess it’s because we’re just inundated with screens and electronics. That’s how we get information now.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct. I mean it’s almost standard protocol now when you have a kid that, by the age of three, he or she’s engaged with some kind of screen, you know?

Derek DeWitt: Well, yes, that’s very true actually. I just saw a study of children six months old intuitively – just given an iPad for the first time – intuitively pick it up and know how to use it.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, it’s crazy. It is pretty amazing. And when you really get to the ROI of this type of stuff – digital signs, again based on surveys, reduce perceived wait time by as much as 35%. But when you get to really organizational infrastructure and how it affects an enterprise, there’s some surveys out there that indicate that workplace injury is reduced by as much as 20% when you use digital signs. Because you’re reinforcing safety initiatives and safety reminders that affects the bottom line of the business. You’re talking about insurance costs, lawsuit costs, days without productivity; I mean, it has a bottom-line effect.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. And of course that makes sense. You know, you injure yourself on the factory floor, and you think “I knew that, but I forgot for a moment.” When it’s being constantly reminded, reminding you, “hey here, don’t forget this, don’t forget this,” you go, “oh yeah, of course.”

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And, particularly, if you think about a manufacturing environment where certain production activities occur at specific times. And then, people may forget – they lose sense of time during their day when they’re working on things – and that these processes occur at this point in time. It’s easy to remind people what’s going on visually when those processes are occurring.

Derek DeWitt: And of course, replacing messages. I mean digital signage can react much faster. It’s a more dynamic messaging system than printed posters and things like this. They’re easy to change. The messages drop off automatically if you schedule them to do so and things like that. So, it’s really kind of completely different than posters really.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean, and if you think about a lot of the technologies that are out there that we have and others have, they allow you to manipulate the information on screen by using data-triggered artwork or other data triggers. So, as the productivity on the factory floor changes or in the call center changes, then the messages change on screen because they’re being triggered by a data source. So that sort of data-triggered artwork or data trigger change is an incredibly powerful tool that you just can’t replicate with a printed sign. You can’t print signs fast enough.

Derek DeWitt: Well I know that Visix has talked a lot in the past about sort of democratizing communications. What does that mean? Like getting more people involved in the process or what?

Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean you’re spot on. Getting more people involved is often a key component. If we’re a big organization and we have a brand style that we want to reinforce, we may task our team with creating a look and feel that appears on screen. But we want our sales department, HR, facilities and others to contribute to the content creation process. Because if we do so, all of those folks are invested, not only in the content creation, but they have a vested interest in what’s on screen and participating and/or reading what’s on screen, because they know it’s having an effect on their department, or their team, and they want it to percolate throughout the organization and have the same effect and resonate throughout the organization.

So, by democratizing communications, we can get more people involved. It reduces the workload on a single person. And often it doesn’t require us to hire a staff of people to create content just for these digital signs. The real value to doing that, of course, is you get a lot of contributors.

But of course, you could easily run into a situation where the quality of those contributors doesn’t really match the brand style or really what we want to convey. So, there’s a lot of enterprise processes that we could talk about in terms of, how do you really manage it if you’re going to have all these people contributing to his content creation process?

Derek DeWitt: What are some of the more enterprise features for a larger organization – I don’t know – one that’s not just a building but maybe has a whole campus? Or they’ve got branches in different cities, in different states or even different countries? You can still operate it all really from one location. What are some of the advantages of these features?

Sean Matthews: Well, I mean first you need scalability if you’re going to have multiple buildings or multiple sites around the country or a state or whatever – I mean you want to have some level of scalability. But with that scalability, you also want to have some sort of organizational awareness in the software and/or its workflows or its policies. You want some organizational recognition and awareness, so that you can assign rights and roles and responsibilities to certain users.

So, let’s say, in this particular case, I work for you. I’m the young intern, and I’ve been hired for the summer, and you walk in and say, “Hey Sean, you’re going to be tasked with putting welcome messages on the screen.” Every day we have visitors, and we have a published list of visitors, but it’s my responsibility to put that information on the screen. So day one, I kind of poke around and I get the first little piece of info up there. Well, I don’t think you really want me publishing to the big lobby display or the video wall welcoming our number one client without you approving it. So what you do is, you assign rights to me in terms of what I can and can’t do. So, I can create content all day long, but it doesn’t get published until you approve it.

Derek DeWitt: You spelled his name wrong…

Sean Matthews: Yeah, correct. He’s our number one customer. Right.

So, you want to build in that sort of structure. And, of course you may, as an organization – we talked about building a brand feel – and so, you may not want me messing with that brand feel. You may want only marketing or MarCom to mess with that – that look and feel. So, they have certain rights that everyone else does not have.

And we talked about earlier, this whole idea of data triggers or data information triggering artwork or changes on screen: you really have to have an enterprise system that has interoperability with other systems, because if you can’t connect to those systems then we can’t change the output that appears on screen. So, that’s obviously a key component to an enterprise product.

Security and reporting. You can imagine that in the world of security, that’s a top priority. And, whether you’re doing sort of single sign-on authentication or AD authentication, or whatever it may be that you’re doing, the security pieces are a big component. You don’t want any intrusion. You don’t want any information on screen that’s false or derogatory or something that really shouldn’t be there.

Derek DeWitt: Or libelous.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, we certainly don’t want that.

And you know, a lot of people talk about reporting and having enterprise reporting, and we have that functionality built into our products. But we’re still early in that. People aren’t using information coming out of the CMS yet to populate dashboards and things like Power BI and that kind of stuff. So, reporting is a key component, particularly if you’re looking for failures in the product and the transmission of information to endpoints. But the real piece is obviously security.

We talk about people wanting to do on-premise deployments versus stuff in the cloud. And you can imagine the cloud has its own security issues, particularly when you have to have connectivity between infrastructure technologies that are on-premise versus the cloud device and it’s going back and forth. So, that certainly fits into the puzzle.

Cloud technologies are becoming more and more ubiquitous. But we all know that there are companies, like…we have a client that’s the Federal Reserve Bank. They’re not going to ever do the sort of cloud stuff when security is a big deal.

Derek DeWitt: “We’ll just host it out there someplace….”

Sean Matthews: Nevermind what the current fed decision is this week because you’ve been completely…

Derek DeWitt: “Where are all these leaks coming from to the press?”

Sean Matthews: So, the last one that is an enterprise feature that’s unfortunately applicable to colleges and universities in the United States is alert notification. The most common way to alert people on campus of some kind of problem or something that’s going on is through text messaging and sirens. And there are multiple layers of security announcements and notices on college campuses. But digital signs, once installed and saturated on a college campus, become a great endpoint for providing instructions for panic situations – students in the hallway and that kind of stuff, guidance on where to go.

And even if it’s simple, it’s as simple as a fire. You know, we’ve grown up [with]…, we know what the fire alarm means – It means leave the building, right? But digital signs become a great endpoint for directing you where to go – arrows pointing to the stairwells, for example. That’s a great use of this technology. And most of the people that are doing this at the enterprise level are utilizing technologies like, and standards like, common alerting protocol, so it can be triggered by other platforms. So, the interoperability still becomes relevant to the alert notification piece.

Derek DeWitt: That sort of thing always reminds me of whenever you fly. The joke, many comedians make light of it, is… There you are. They’ve asked you to buckle in. You’re buckled into your seat. Then they show you how the seat belt works. But I found out there’s a reason for this.

And the reason is, because first off, airplane seat belts don’t work the way most car seat belts do, right? How do you undo your seat belt in your car? You push a little button. But that’s not how these work. And they have done these sorts of simulations of crashes and people freak out and panic. Of course you would. And they start pushing the button that isn’t there, and they don’t free themselves from their seat belts. So they remind you of this.

So, it seems to me that having the – yeah, I think it’s great to have the text messages. But again, what if somebody dropped their phone? What if they forgot it? What if it ran out of juice? It would be a shame for them to not know, “Hey, you know the building you’re trying to get to so fast? It’s on fire!”

Sean Matthews: Right. [There are] certainly a lot of misconceptions like you just described about how a seat belt works, and [it’s the] same thing with this. We have misconceptions about how this technology works, what it’s best used for. And there’s a lot of that.

Derek DeWitt: So, digital signage is a very comprehensive and very versatile communications medium. It can be used at all levels for all sizes of organizations for all kinds of purposes, both [for)]internal employees and external facing, public-facing, visitors and so on. And obviously, throughout this podcast series, we’re going to be talking about lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of different aspects of this, and how you can best use it.

So, I’d like to thank Sean Matthews for talking to me today. Thank you, Sean.

Sean Matthews: Thanks Derek, and I look forward to getting back together here soon.

Derek DeWitt: All right. And thank all of you for listening.