When asked why their organization has a digital signage system, most people say something like “to inform people about things.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but we might want to take a page out of English philosopher Herbert Spencer’s notebook when he said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Just like information that sits in an unread book is useless, a message that’s read and forgotten doesn’t achieve anything. And, the things people learn need to make some sort of impact in the world if they’re to have any tangible value at all. Digital signage can vastly increase the reach of a message, but if that message lacks a clear call to action, then one has to ask – what’s the point?
Digital signage is another form of digital advertising, like a website or social network, and follows many of the same trends. Often people look at how many “likes” or “clicks” a post gets, but that isn’t actually that valuable. The name of the game in digital advertising is conversions – the audience interacting with the ad and taking some sort of action. An organization might decide, for example, that the main purpose of their Facebook page is to drive traffic to their website, so a conversion on a post happens when someone clicks through. Every digital signage message also needs a conversion goal that is clear to the audience and measurable for the communicator.
“Action expresses priorities,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. Crafting a good call to action helps you focus your message and really drill down to the essence of what you are trying to accomplish. Instead of thinking “what do I want to say?”, think “what do I want them to do?” With few exceptions, every message should have some sort of call to action. Only attractors like news and weather feeds should stand on their own. (Their purpose is to draw attention to the screens.)
A call to action should be as specific as possible. It should also seem to be personally targeted to the individual reading it. Calls to action that are personalized have a 42% higher conversion rate than generic ones. This is just language – using imperative verbs forms, and forms of the word “you” can make a big difference. The sentence “Sign up for your free gift” is a lot stronger than “Free gift for signing up”.
When designing digital signage messages, people often choose weaker wording because it’s shorter (24 characters in the example above, compared to 26 characters for the stronger sentence). But don’t skimp on your call to action – it’s the main point of the entire message. If you need to cut down on text, do it elsewhere in the message.
Verbs are key.
Verbs immediately create a sense of action or motion, and people respond to them differently than other words. In fact, verbs activate a different part of the brain (the part that deals with the motor cortex and the controlling mechanism of the physical creation of speech) than nouns do (the part that processes recognition of color, faces, words and categories). Statements with imperative verb forms are shorter than those with a stated subject, and create a sense of urgency. For example, the statement “Contact admin today” is shorter and much stronger than “You should contact admin today”.
Obviously, you’ll need nouns as well, and some adjectives from time to time. But use adjectives sparingly. There was a study done by the king of advertising, Leo Burnet, in which he found that ads with a lower adjective-to-verb ratio were more successful than adjective-heavy ones. He also compiled a list of what he thought were the 108 most persuasive verbs in English for copywriters to focus on. There are many other lists of persuasive words available online, but many of them focus on the same few – you, free, because, instantly and new. Other words that have been proven to be highly effective include easy, save, guarantee, money, health, and discovery. Words that target common needs work very well.
Just keep your audience in mind when choosing your wording – use vocabulary at an appropriate level for your audience. For example, you wouldn’t want to use college-level vocabulary for an audience of elementary school students. Your focus should be on wording that is direct and clear to your target audience.
Benefits over features.
In recent years, marketing copy has focused more on benefits than on features; it’s more “you” focused. So, a phrase like “Our apples are delicious” is out, to be replaced by “You’ll love our healthy, delicious apples”, which focuses on a direct benefit to the reader.
Phrases such as limited time or today only create a sense of urgency, a feeling that acting sooner rather than later is in the reader’s best interest. Creating limited time offers or prompts can also help you measure ROI. Though you may have an initiative to get employees to sign up to the company newsletter all year, creating a series of “limited time” messages can let you measure which ones had the greatest response, so you can duplicate what you did in the future.
Focus on outcomes.
Some messages more obviously lend themselves to calls to action than others. A message trying to get people to register for benefits is pretty clear, but other types of messages can also be massaged into having a call to action. A welcome notice can suggest employees greet the guests when they’re on site, or a QR code can take them to a website with more information about the group. A message about an upcoming event can include a short URL to register or get tickets. An interactive screen lets people take action right there at the kiosk – simply include the link, form, survey or media link you want them to interact with.
You can cross promote as well. A message about a meeting next week can also promote your scheduling app, or an email subscription list. If you show social media posts on digital signs, encourage people to interact with your social pages on the web. Offering small rewards for taking the call to action can also increase participation, even if it’s just something small.
You really need to think about who the target audience is for each message and what is most likely to get them to do what you want them to. Also think about the time of day the message is being displayed – a message that directs people to “talk to HR today” after the department is closed for the day isn’t terribly effective.