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Vital Considerations

The importance of location and content in dynamic signage.

The old maxim about brick-and-mortar retail stores is, “location, location, location.” That same saying holds true when it comes to digital electronic signage – where and how you place dynamic signage can make or break its effectiveness.

Unlike choosing a retail site, however, dynamic signage brings another essential element to the fore: content. The components that make up the moving message – text and image – and how they’re presented can be just as important as location.
We’ll look at these two critical aspects, location and content, in this month’s column.

The importance of location and placement
Dynamic signage can be seen everywhere today, from food courts to commuter trains to retail stores. All too frequently, however, its location seems like an afterthought.

As with static graphics, dynamic signage has the same objective: to provide information that either allows people to make a decision or urges them to take some action. Understanding where to install signage and graphics, depending on the environment and purpose, is the same in many ways for dynamic work as it is for print.

Let’s consider menu boards as an example. The initial question should be all about traffic flow: How do customers order? Many times, menu boards are badly placed, which subconsciously acts as a deterrent. If the customer lacks a good visual, then he or she is less likely to be ready to order. It’s important to keep the line moving. Dynamic signage has been shown to promote a quicker decision and ordering process, which equals serving more diners in less time. But this all stalls when a restaurant has badly placed screens.

Once you determine traffic flow, the unit’s placement should be as close to average eye level as possible –55 to 60 inches from the floor (a craned neck is not the reaction you want). Think, too, about distance. How far is the screen from the person who is sixth or seventh in line? Obviously, the larger the screen, the larger the text can be and thus a customer standing some distance should still be able to see the content. But don’t mistake this as an opportunity to create a huge video wall – you’ll see a consistent return on screen size and recall only up to a certain size. A good rule of thumb: There’s typically no reason to go bigger than a 52-inch screen. After all, your customer and their diners don't want the feeling of being in the electronics department of a big box store.

When it comes to placement, you can choose myriad ways to mount screens, including wall, ceiling, and articulating mounts. Articulating mounts secure to the wall but have an adjustable arm to angle screens for a more optimal view. And don’t forget that screens can hang vertically as well as horizontally. This is not a “stick-a-TV-on-the-wall” venture; rather, it’s planning the experience for the customer from the moment he or she walks in the door. You should visit a site at its busiest time to ascertain exactly where to place screens. And keep in mind, they don't have to be all in a row; it's sometimes advantageous to have a screen at the store entry to highlight specials.

King content
One of the first questions I always ask customers in initial creative meetings is, “What do you want to sell?” Whether the customer wants to push a special of the day, up sell a dessert, promote a seasonal offer, or capture repeat business, there’s a way to manipulate the clientele – and it all ties back into content. And remember: You have about eight seconds to capture a person’s attention. How do you best use content to take advantage of those previous seconds?

For example, many retailers are utilizing dynamic signage in windows, hoping to tempt customers into their stores. Stores and brands realize that these signs should be geared toward someone who is not their current or usual customer – because the loyal customer is likely to already have this store in mind when shopping.

So what’s an important message that would bring a passerby in? Customers today certainly appreciate incentives, so the best message on that digital sign might contain an exceptional offer – say, 30-percent off an item that is high on inventory or a gift with purchase. Of course, it’s not necessarily your job to determine the offer here – but it is your job to ask the right questions of your customer to best understand what their objectives are, and how the offer’s content is going to impact their profit margin.

Images are a good starting point to any dynamic signage. To create astonishing dynamic content, begin with the lushest visuals you can get your hands on – berries that look as though you could actually reach out and pluck them from the vine, for instance – and an audience will be captivated. But whether the image depicts berries, hamburgers, or baseballs, every image needs to be flawless. The keen eye you’ve developed for color and imagery while working on wide-format prints will serve you well.

Then, consider movement. After all, what is it about dynamic signage that catches your eye? It’s usually the animation. The worst error any dynamic-signage shop can make is providing or recommending static signage. Without movement, there’s no reason to move from print to dynamic. Dynamic-signage software is extremely sophisticated, allowing for multiple images on the screen at the same time. The only part of dynamic signage that I ever recommend staying static are menu items and pricing.

Think about the screen as regions: You can create six different regions with that rectangular space – three regions might be static text areas, but the other three regions might have elements of continuous movement featuring different items for sale (those that yield the greatest profit).
How does this impact how the customer views the content? There’s engagement; interest is generated. The mind enjoys watching the transitioning images while also reading and reviewing the information provided. Using our menu-board example, having the perfect mix of static text and movement allows diners to make decisions more quickly and be ready to order, producing greater efficiencies. As an added bonus, enchanting content also creates a reduced perceived wait time – customers believe they have waited in line less time than they actually have.

Text rules to live by
The final content component is text. Rules for text are fairly easy and common sense, but they can be overlooked. So here are three important text rules to always keep in mind: be sharp, be simple, and always stand out.

• Sharpness: Determine font size by the number of words, the size of the screen, and the view (positioning of the screen relative to the customer). If it’s important for someone who is standing six feet back to be able to read the items, then you need to determine at what size the words become indistinguishable. If the wording can’t be condensed, then the size of the screen might need to be increased (or perhaps add to the number of screens being utilized). Another options is to scroll or transition text that’s less necessary.

• Simplicity: Condense and edit text whenever possible. For instance, again using our menu board example, if every combo comes with the choice of side and drink, then include the text once at the top or bottom – not under every entrée. Another simplicity example is to use verbs to promote an action rather than attempt to list all the benefits or features of an item or service.

• Standing out: When it comes to text, contrasting colors always help to draw the eye and enhance readability. White text on a black background is a significant contrast, for instance, while green text on a gray background is a poor combination. I see this rule violated constantly, and it seems so instinctual. The more pop that’s created by contrast, the more visually stimulating the message will be.

Your advantages
If you have concerns about the barriers to entry for dynamic signage – heavy competition, capital investments, and required expertise – that’s understandable. But keep in mind the particular advantages you have as well: Because of your work with wide-format digital print, you’re already familiar with many of the challenges in location and content when it comes to graphics. Placement, working with and enhancing visuals, ensuring content is both impactful and readable – these are already part of your knowledge base, so you have a step up on competitors who are coming into this market cold. This can create a significant advantage for you as you position your shop to be a full-service merchandising and signage provider. Using the power of what you already know so well can carry you to a successful path with dynamic signage.

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