From menus to interactive maps, digital displays can make your customers’ experience more memorable and more likely to be shared with friends and family.
By Andrea Holved
Digital signs—once novelties, now approaching ubiquity—are possibly one of the most underutilized tech tools available to business owners.
Technologically, digital signs have advanced far past the ability to display static images and announcements. Touchscreens are a standard feature of modern high-end models, and motion sensors are a surprisingly attainable addition. In the hands of a savvy manager, these tools can make a storefront, restaurant, event space or even an office lobby feel inspired and exciting—and make patronizing your business an experience customers want to talk about. (Don’t miss our story on building brand awareness online.)
“My advice is to think content first, technology second,” says Allan Smith, director of visitor experiences at Gibson Group, a New Zealand-based creative agency that specializes in exhibition design.
Technology in the digital signage arena has advanced to the point that there are “few mysteries” left when puzzling out how to implement an idea, Smith says. “It’s knowing what you want to say to your customers and how you want to make them feel that is key to success.”
Old-school gets an update
Age-old business messaging—like special offers and store maps—are great candidates for digital translation because what you want to say to your customers is tried and true, providing clear parameters for a foray into digital signage. So are menus. Digital menu boards are popular in restaurants with seasonal or rotating menus because implementing a digital menu change is more cost-effective than printing a new menu and easier than editing a handwritten one.
They can also communicate valuable information to customers. The Bier Stein, a large restaurant and tap house in Eugene, Ore., uses digital menu boards to display their tap list, including real-time reports of how much beer is left in each keg. The data is also live on their website so customers with their hearts set on a particular pint can know in advance whether the keg’s about to blow.
The usefulness of inventory tracking can go both ways: Restaurants can use digital signs to advertise or offer specials on menu items they need to move quickly, saving them waste and giving their customers a good deal.
Gianna D’Angelo, co-owner of a trio of Dunkin’ Donut franchises in Massachusetts, recently tried this with one of her stores.
“One morning we advertised our 99-cent oatmeal on the LED sign. The next morning, the manager called to say that we had completely sold out of oatmeal,” she says. Read about connecting your SMB to the Internet of Things.
Internet connections allow real-time displays of information gathered from the web, and companies are coming up with creative applications that go well beyond displaying the weather forecast.
Chris Fasick, marketing manager at Tampa-based Premier Photo Booths, works with clients to come up with custom hashtags for their events, which he then uses to pull live Twitter and Instagram feeds for display on digital signs installed at the event.
“This increases the social exposure for the client, which they all want, and entertains the guests as they see their photos and tweets flash across the screen,” Fasick says. “We also can configure it to mix in sponsor logos during the slideshow.”
Touch- or controller-based games and opinion polls are also great ways to get a crowd involved using digital signage, whether at an event or in your store. If you customize the program to ask customers for their social-media handles or email addresses, it can also work as a digital marketing lead.
Businesses have long displayed fine art in their lobbies, but only recently has technology made the display of fine digital art a possibility. One of the most striking examples is in the Boston headquarters of Liberty Mutual Group: a 70-foot long interactive display called Flourish by artist Camille Utterback.
One of Allan Smith’s most recent digital signage successes was an installation at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso, Texas. Using the museum’s extensive collection of photographs, he and his team built an interactive 3-D map of the city that can be explored “geographically, historically or thematically, according to an individual museum-goer’s pace and preference,” Smith says. Since the exhibition opened, he says, museum attendance has doubled.
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