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Content marketing with digital signage

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Wouldn't it be great if people didn’t have to think so hard about what to buy, where to go, or what to do when they show up somewhere? Many of your potential customers think so, which is why they’re embracing personalization as the next eye-catching phase of digital signage.

They have good reason, according to Alan Brawn, principal at Brawn Consulting. Use of personalized and data-driven digital signage can significantly impact ROI, he says.

The range of implementation is wide, from display content based on trends found among shoppers’ receipts to individually targeted messages based on data captured via mobile phone apps. The display content might run on a loop that shifts based on the time of day, or it could change the moment a person comes near the display.

The hardware varies as well, and can include wall-mounted displays, kiosks, tablets, and smaller displays placed at strategic points where people might need information or be more susceptible to—ahem—suggestions.

“The holy grail of personalized signage is to replicate the shift consumers began to experience on the web a decade ago—with the attendant increase in profits,” says Bart DeCanne, CEO of Sophatar, a provider of personalized proximity-aware digital signage, analytics, and location-based services headquartered in San Jose, Calif. “Most people are now used to suggestions based on their online browsing and purchase history in nearly every digital interaction from shopping to using apps.”

Data and Other Drivers

The single most influential technology in the adoption and success of personalized signage is arguably data capture. Suggestions based on individual or aggregate data can be powerful influences on customer behavior, and are now almost expected in the e-commerce experience. For example, “consumers who bought this also bought that” suggestions can increase item views by 25 percent and increase the number of items purchased by a mouthwatering 35 percent, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.

Individualization is also being boosted by beacon technology. By 2014, half of the top 100 retailers in the nation were already using beacon technology, according to business intelligence firm Accenture. Increasingly, on-site visitors who have downloaded a company’s app can receive tailored notifications on their devices based on their location. Beacons also work in reverse, gathering real-time information that can trigger a change in what individuals see on in-store displays.

“As we move forward, content will still be shown on larger screens but with beacon technologies [it will] also [be] displayed on mobile devices,” says Brawn. “Consumers download a store’s app and receive notifications directly from digital signage beacons during or after a visit.”

Technologies that allow for further individualization without opt-ins like apps can offer even more precise triggers, albeit under the looming specter of privacy concerns. One important example is artificial intelligence (AI). Brawn predicts that as the cost of AI drops, it will become integral to helping SMBs track and target customers with influential suggestions at key points in their journey through a space.

Another example is the Internet of Things (IoT), big data’s high-speed handmaid. IoT makes it easier to send data-driven content to any type of display, from an entryway kiosk to a hand-sized panel nestled among products on a shelf. In practice, that includes using cameras to gather demographic data such as a person’s apparent age or gender, ensuring they see in-store ads near the products that are likely to appeal.

Alongside these enabling technologies, a larger societal trend toward personalization is also at play. Personalized medicine can tailor treatments for an individual’s unique DNA, while personalized viewing lets people create media channels with the entertainment they prefer, expecting suggestions for more of the same.

“People’s technology habits and expectations throughout their lives impact their expectations from digital signage,” says Sean Matthews, CEO of Visix, a digital signage solution provider in Peachtree Corners, Ga. “The experiences you’re having as a consumer very quickly impact your expectation in the B2B or other business spaces.”

Variety of Verticals

Software as a service has enabled VARs to generate recurring revenue from personalized signage solutions. App management, subscription renewals, implementation, training, support, and monitoring are all potentially necessary as part of a package or an add-on.

“There’s a ton [VARs] could wrap into the overall deployment,” says Matthews.

Surprisingly, DeCanne says business users might be better targets for personalized signage than consumers. Settings such as trade shows or anywhere employees need to call up information are ideal use cases. Exhibit areas could be customized to allow people to tour and experience information in their preferred language.

In business settings, adds Matthews, touchscreens are trending. Corporate campuses and similar spaces often need on-demand content, and “adding interactivity allows me to personalize that experience.” And the fact that such locations rely more heavily on touchscreen inputs, or might be impractical for app use, doesn’t necessarily mean the personalization is less data-driven.

What’s Next

The future of interactive digital signage might look something like the Georgia State University cafeteria, where during peak hours, survey results, comments, and other content comes directly from patrons and is curated in real time, influencing behaviors in a whole new way.

Employee-facing personalization is also on the rise. Organizations will use personalized signage to educate sales teams, or to encourage (or discourage) certain behaviors among specific groups of employees at ideal times. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) in the back of the house might be used to track and influence employee behaviors on a more individual level, but so far, there’s too much discomfort for the practice to take hold.

In fact, anyone excited about jumping on the latest personalized signage opportunity should be cautious about the shifting privacy landscape. “Don’t do something today that could prove to be a problem in two years,” DeCanne advises. If the internet-based experiences personal signage hopes to imitate are any indication, public and legal notions of privacy can change very quickly. Facebook is only the most prominent cautionary tale.

Learning Curve

Matthews, who warns that personalization technologies are rarely easy to replicate, sees a lot of misunderstanding and underestimation of what it takes to create personalized signage solutions unique to each customer. As is often the case with new offerings, channel pros who want to capitalize on digital signage will have to master a new kind of conversation.

“[Integrators] typically find it challenging to engage in a really in-depth, robust conversation about the type of content, what it should look like, [and] how it should influence behavior, which is often very abstract,” says Matthews. “Truly understanding what they want to display and how they want to display it can be challenging.”

Still, according to DeCanne, the effort required to tackle challenges like that is worth it. “If solutions are truly useful—and above board—personalized signage represents a great opportunity in several industries and settings,” he says.

(A version of this piece appeared in ChannelPro Magazine.)

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