Please permit me to report (and by the way, data will validate) that what we thought in the beginnings of digital signage is still true today, lo those many years ago. Digital signage is truly a standalone medium (remember the standalone part) and it is continuing to expand in its reach and influence. At its core, digital signage has always been a behavior modification tool featuring a built-in call to action. The goal, or objective, is the delivery of a resonating message via effective content delivered to a viewer who will see the message, act upon the call to action, and remember the experience and what they did in that regard. Part of what encourages and feeds its unique nature is the “burning need” in this day and age to effectively communicate anywhere, at any time, and on any device, one on one (at a minimum) with a viewer. Suffice it to say that digital signage has evolved into a full featured communication platform beyond (but still inclusive of) its origins in retail.
The first and most obvious audience was retail. The original industry trade event for that market segment was the DRE (Digital Retail Expo), certainly evidence of that early focus… but it did not take long for the DRE to become the broader DSE (Digital Signage Expo). The industry did not turn on the proverbial dime, but even in the early days it was clear that digital signage would soon impact more than retail. Those of us there in the beginning did not know or understand exactly how but we knew it would. What I can say is that early on (out of one visionary at the DSE) the Digital Signage Federation (DSF) was created as an industry organization with the mission to be the independent and agnostic voice of the industry. Early visionaries (and you know who you were) understood that the medium and how it would be presented and perceived would evolve, and there needed to be an “association or federation home” separate from the voices heard at any one event. The freedom of independence lasts till this very day.
Of course, the pandemic and its vestiges have re-defined the meaning of change for most of us. Perhaps the most omnipresent change was the need to quarantine ourselves, and work from home or a remote location. One radical change that has affected many of us at the outset of the pandemic was the demise of live events. One of the casualties of this demise was the original DSE. Accepting the necessity and the reality of the situation this did not lessen the sense of loss on the part of the digital signage community.
The tradeshow aspect of many events, with what I call the “Ooh! Shiny!” parts of the industry on display front and center, are the most obvious reasons to attend the event… and so it was with the DSE. But what some may have seen as secondary objectives (that were not so obvious) quicky became the real reasons to attend. This is what made the DSE special and to an extent unique. For those who have not been around since the DRE morphed into the DSE, you might ask what was so special. Ask and ye shall receive.
Yes, the DSE was a trade event and yes, they marketed lofty goals and philosophical aspirations… but as the kids say, to be real, exhibitors paid the bills and funded the show. There are few (if any) trade events where this is not the case. By design it is pay to play. For some attendees, simply looking at the exhibits may be enough to obtain their personal ROI… but for the DSE and the constituencies of the digital signage community this was not enough. If it had just been a tradeshow with exhibitor booths, it would never have survived as long as it did! It was so much more. As I have noted before, the tradeshow ultimately became a rationale for the constituency of the digital signage industry to gather, socialize, network, and learn. This constituency consisted of venture capitalists, real estate holders of all types, marketing and advertising folks, content creators, software providers, integrators, project managers, and network operators… to name a few. At the outset it was a new and exciting time… bringing us to today.
All of this was true back then… but of course, this is now, bringing us to the “new” DSE. Well, actually the name has changed to the Digital Signage Experience, reflecting the experiential part of our industry, not just the nature of the event as a tradeshow. The obvious question this begs is whether there is a continuing “need” for a DSE as a standalone event. After all, life is partially back to normal, and the DSE is yet another tradeshow that will be funded by the exhibitors… so what makes it different? This is certainly true, but as with the original DSE, the “need” for a standalone event remains as certainly as digital signage remains as a standalone medium. Most will agree, but perhaps some will not be so quick. Let the debate begin! Here is our thinking about the rationale for a continuing DSE… but as more than a tradeshow:
- It is an outreach focused on all the constituencies in digital signage (investors, suppliers, advertisers, creators, integrators, end users, etc.)
- It represents a place to be among likeminded and kindred spirits with fellow attendees, digital signage vendors, seminar topic providers, project managers, integrators, and end users.
- The emphasis is focused on digital signage objectives, and return on investment and objectives, and then finally technologies.
- The show is application and project driven.
- The educational curriculum is focused on applications and best practices.
- It is a digital signage networking “hotbed”.
Will the hopes and aspirations of the new DSE and many in the digital signage community come to fruition? The foundation is certainly there. What we can say is that Questex, the owners of the new DSE have a solid track record in trade show development and operations. They report that they have done their homework and researched, interviewed, and listened to a cross section of the digital signage community and they feel they understand the need and can fill the void. I also know that the DSF is doing all they can to support and promote the new DSE as a standalone event. Part of the DSF work for the new DSE is promotional, part informational, and part educational. The key concepts fall under seeing the need and providing support. Many of us are huge fans of the original DSE have high hopes for the new version realizing the promise of the new DSE.