In his 1915 book Cities in Evolution, Scottish scientist and pioneering town planner Patrick Geddes said, “Local character… is attained only in course of adequate grasp and treatment of the whole environment, and in active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place concerned.” This is generally considered the origin of the notion later taken up by environmentalists and educators often stated as “Think globally, act locally”. When considering organizational communications, “local” brings to mind two different things – being relevant to the specific audience the organization wishes to reach, and integrating into the local community of which the organization is a part. The best digital signage lets you accomplish both aims at once.
Top-Out Instead of Top-Down
All too often, large organizations push out communications to employees from their central hub with little consideration for the specifics of the audience at a particular location. This can result in either bland, one-size-fits-all messages that are not especially engaging because they aren’t terribly relevant, or (even worse) have no relevance at all in the local context. In the latter case, not only do the messages fail, but the entire communications effort, such as a geographically- dispersed digital signage system, becomes suspect and mentally tagged as something to be ignored.
There’s a thing called localization in communications, which covers a broad spectrum of techniques to make communications more relevant, and so more interesting and engaging. At the one end, it comes down to something as simple as language – a company headquartered in Shanghai would be foolish to display messages on digital signs in their Pittsburgh, PA office in Mandarin. No one there would be able to understand what was being said, even if they wanted to. And they won’t want to – the digital signs would just get ignored, becoming background noise. They might even come to be resented. So obviously, messages from HQ would need to be translated into the local language.
But what about the content itself? Do the folks in Pittsburgh really need to know about upcoming office construction in Chicago? Of course they don’t – it has nothing to do with them and so, again, the message just becomes noise. And after seeing a couple of message like this, people will just start tuning out all the screens, so they won’t see the messages that are important to them (like the one about the discounted tickets for this Friday’s Pirates game).
So, some thought needs to be put into localizing messages for each specific location. What do these people need to know? What will engage and interest them? The messages in Pittsburgh need to be “in active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place”, as Mr. Geddes put it, as do the messages in Chicago.
Knitting Locations Together
That’s not to say that nothing about the parent corporation should be shown in Pittsburgh. Digital signage has a unique power to weave together disparate nodes into a cohesive whole. If HQ is in Shanghai, and the managers want to help knit the whole multinational company into a cohesive culture, then messages in Pennsylvania about Lunar New Year are completely appropriate. These messages have relevance, since everyone working there knows they work for a Chinese company, and probably have some Chinese colleagues.
But that Pittsburgh office should also have messages making note of American Independence Day on July 4, since it’s in the US. But offices in Mexico, or the Czech Republic, or back home in China certainly don’t need to know about it. So, everyone would get Lunar New Year messages, but only Americans would get ones about the Fourth of July, only Mexicans would get ones for Mexican Independence Day on September 16, and people in Prague would be the only ones to see messages noting the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17.
Even messages that are relevant in multiple locations can be localized. If there’s a company-wide scheme that everyone everywhere can participate in, creating specific webpages for different locales not only makes sifting through all the submitted forms easier, but gives corporate some built-in localized ROI – which branches are more interested? This then leads to the question “how can we get areas not very interested to participate more?”
This especially applies to gamified messages and campaigns – rewards should be something that can be used locally. A gift card for something like iTunes or Starbucks might seem to work everywhere, because iTunes is online and there are Starbucks in over 50 countries. But in Finland, for example, there is only one Starbucks at the airport, so a Starbucks card would be worthless to workers in the Helsinki branch, and not everyone is an Apple user.
Localization is really about relevance, and this can even apply to digital signs in a single geographical location. A university shouldn’t show student registration deadline messages on screens that only staff see, and third shift workers at a manufacturing plant don’t need to see messages for the first shift. So, think about which digital signs should get which messages. Also think about dayparting your playlists, so people see information that they need at the right time on the right day.
Many digital signage deployments use attractors such as weather and traffic feeds to capture people’s attention. Just like showing the weather forecast for San Francisco on screens in Charlotte would make little sense, showing night shift workers mid-day commute traffic data would also be irrelevant.
The other thing to keep in mind is that an organization is part of a community. Detroit was nicknamed “Motown” for “motor town”, because of all the car companies located there; MIT and Harvard are deeply integrated into the Boston cultural scene and identity. Communities take pride in organizations that help them thrive, that supply jobs and educate future generations. So, organizations should take pride in the communities they are part of as well.
And an organization is made up of people, and people care about where they live and work. You want your audience more than just interested – you want them actively engaged. So, give them things they can go do in their communities. There’s a free concert in Jefferson Park on Saturday – throw up a message about that. The local gym is offering discounts to your local office – show a quick video with a coupon code.
You can even turn local integration into profit, by charging a small fee to local business and events for promotional consideration. Not only do you integrate your organization with the community, but you offset the costs of your digital signage at the same time.
Sure, all this takes a little extra time. But the rewards for localizing content and promoting the local community far outweigh the extra effort. While people might go on vacation once a year, they spend most of them time near their homes and work and school – this is where they raise their families, where they shop, where their kids go to school. Getting involved in local initiatives and events helps people feel integrated, giving them a better sense of life-work balance. By paying attention to local considerations, an organization makes itself part of the fabric of people’s lives. And by using your digital signage to show localized communications, you show you care about everyone, everywhere.