By Alan C. Brawn, CTS, DSCE, DCME, DSDE, DSNE, DSSP, ISF-C
File this under a concern about content and content creation… or more specifically the confusion and even mystery in some cases surrounding this critical element of digital signage. What brings this top of mind for me is seeing all the fabulous examples of content on the social media sites, at tradeshows, and via content creator websites (large and small). All we can say is wow! The sheer creativity of top-tier content creation is something to behold, and all practitioners of the art and science of digital signage should aspire to get as close as possible to that level of content creation relative to your application.
The problem with all the “wow” though is the tendency to think that this level is the norm and mainstream of content… and that you must play at that level or fail. For some (with appropriate budgets) it IS the norm and money well spent, but for the majority of digital signage applications it is not at this level. The fact is that working with the top level of content creation is costly, and yes you do get what you pay for, but what if you don’t have the need for the extreme “wow factor” and/or budget to invest at this level?
Rather than giving up, recoiling back to doing little to nothing, or doing the bare minimum, we suggest that there is a “sweet spot” in the middle between the extremes of wow and poor content for most applications. It is incumbent to apply best practices and learn from the people and projects at the top of the creative mountain and produce (internally or externally) creative content for sure but at a cost that responsibly balances with your resources, budget, and the attainment of a return on investment.
If you are not a content expert and aspire to learn, one place to begin your understanding of content creation is the Digital Content and Media (DCME) digital signage certification from the Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG). This journey begins by stating “content is the vehicle that delivers on the objective of digital signage”. Sometimes you will hear that content is king, but in truth the objective is king… but content is most assuredly the crown prince. They are inexorably linked. The DCME defines content and explains how content operates as an effective communication tool. It looks closely at what content can and cannot do, as well as the factors that impact/relevance play in viewer engagement and recall. The DCME demonstrates the need to create a content strategy before moving forward with a digital signage deployment. It then discusses the physical properties of content, and rules for good content design, along with discussing costs of content creation/production and the potential outsourcing.
Beyond (or inclusive of) the complexities of creativity, it is the cost of content where it gets a bit sticky or off putting. Cost correlates directly to the application. As we sort out the applications for digital signage it basically boils down to ad-based networks and information-based ones. The common denominators are the setting the objectives (i.e., the purpose), the call to action (i.e., what you want the viewer to do) and creating the content with these things in mind and in the end providing an experience (the biggest of the variables). This will guide you in the creation of content.
If the application is in retail (the largest segment of digital signage) for a big brand or promoting a huge event then the content requirement is at a high level and the cost will align with that. Shortchanging content creation will not meet expectations and provide less than stellar results to the bottom line. On the other hand, if the application is information driven (i.e., the second largest segment corporate communications, followed by education, and then healthcare) then in most cases the bar is set at a lower level of wow. I think of this as the size of the experience. Nonetheless, this does not relieve you of the need and responsibility to create excellent content. The difference comes down to the application, objectives, and resources at your disposal.
Experience over two decades teaches us that you begin by looking at outcomes and work back on ways to achieve them. As taught in the DCME certification, there are many factors to consider. There is language (KISS, BTW!), fonts, colors, size, and types of screens (landscape versus portrait), number of zones, and fixed versus mobile to name just a few variables. Suffice it to say that content is complex and good content is the holy grail for digital signage.
The devil is in the details and the Goldilocks rule applies. It is easy to do too much and just throw money at it (assuming you have it to throw) or too little with poor preparation and ignoring the rules and what works and what does not. The sweet spot of just right is where you want to be. This relates to design, refresh, initial budgeting, and on-going total cost of ownership.
Overall, the tendency for most who are new to dealing with content is to take too big a bite out of the content apple and deal with the overall program as a single entity. Rarely is content a one and done situation and the variables that alter the outcome (aka the effectiveness) of content stand in the way of a single big bite approach. Ryan Cahoy on the DSF board and one of the co-creators of the DCME speaks about an iterative approach to that sweet spot. He points out that small changes along the way will fine tune your content to meet your objectives. Rarely does content initially come out just the way you intended or wanted. With the iterative approach you will avoid knee jerk reactions and radical course alteration and get the outcome you desire sooner than a more radical approach. The bottom line is that good content is achievable via an understanding of what will and won’t do for you in your application and taking a step-by-step approach within the confines of what you have to work with.