Are you a business owner who is ready to embark on selecting a digital signage system? Or have you already invested in on-premises digital signage, but are unsure of how to get the most out of it? Believe it or not, business owners who have purchased a digital signage system might not understand its capabilities.

In order to determine which digital signage solution will be right for your business, you will need to compare various digital signage solutions that are on the market today with your business's goals, expectations, and needs. But first, what is digital signage?

Digital signage evolved from traditional signs that retailers once used to promote their products and services. Like traditional signs, the purpose of implementing digital signage at a business location is to boost sales, and otherwise engage or inform an audience.

But digital signage has the ability to far surpass what traditional signs can do. Composed of an on-site installation of TV monitors that display digital video and multimedia content, digital signage offers dynamic, eye-catching ways of promoting products, services, and sales information that can be implemented immediately. A traditional sign is static in that the content it displays is fixed and never changes. But with a single digital sign, you can display an ongoing loop of rotating ads, promotions, and information.

Digital signage isn't just for retailers, either. Nearly all types of businesses and organizations are discovering the benefits of installing digital signs to increase customer engagement and provide interactive experiences for their audiences.

Types of businesses that have upgraded to digital signage:

  • • Retailers
  • • Automotive repair shops
  • • Quick-service restaurants
  • • Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities
  • • Educational institutions
  • • Professional offices, including legal, dentistry, and mental health practitioners
  • • Convenience stores and gas stations
  • • Banks and financial institutions
  • • TV and radio stations
  • • Entertainment industry businesses, including casting and modeling agencies
  • • Municipalities and government organizations
  • • Religious organizations and houses of worship
  • • Military recruitment centers

    A fully-functional digital signage system will include one or several display screens which are categorized as "hardware", and it will also come with a media player, also categorized as hardware. Digital signage systems will come with a content management system, or CMS for short, which is "software". Do not purchase these solutions piecemeal from different providers or else you will face compatibility issues. Your digital signage system must include display(s), media player(s), and CMS software.

    In order to eliminate systems that won't serve your business's needs, ask the following questions for every digital signage system you're considering:

  • • Can the software handle all media formats and will it support HTML5 video and all modern streaming formats?
  • • Will the software allow you to deploy split-screen displays so that multiple ads will appear rotating on one side of the screen, while the other side shows a featured sale item? Will the software be able to support this kind of dynamic content?
  • • Can the software handle scaling-up to support your business as you grow? Will you be able to add extra users and additional displays, and increase the volume of content as you open more and more locations?

    Once you've asked those three questions to weed out subpar digital signage systems, you can proceed to investigate the hardware and software capabilities of each of the system providers that are left by using the information in this article as a guide. 

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MEDIA PLAYERS

Digital content is created, organized, managed, and stored using software, but that isn't its final destination. You must deploy your content to the digital screens that have been installed at your business. The device required to do this is the media player that your digital signage system comes with. Depending on how many buildings and locations you have, you may need several media players in order to display images, videos, menu boards, and other content across your screens. Be sure that your digital signage solution package includes as many media players as you will need.

Do not be enticed by so-called DIY alternatives. There is no getting around using actual media players, no matter what internet sites like Reddit might say. While these kinds of hairbrained DIY solutions might suggest using a personal laptop or desktop computer as your media player, this method is likely to cause you problems because the size and configuration of a computer simply cannot rise to meet the needs associated with properly displaying digital content.

Media players can run on the operating systems Linux, Android, and Windows. Android-based devices represent the most affordable options, whereas Windows devices will be considerably more expensive. Recently, Google "Chromeboxes" have been added to the list of digital signage operating systems.

Digital signage media player check-list:

Function--Make sure the media player is either compatible with your pre-existing CMS software or comes with its own CMS, so that the content you play will be fully supported without any resolution or loading issues.

Compatibility--Your media player also must be compatible with the digital signage software itself. Since a digital signage system includes hardware and software, be sure that every connection, communication, and relationship will be compatible, including with your AV infrastructure video matrixes. 

Reliability--Media players that are glitchy and freeze, and prove to be faulty will sabotage the ultimate goal of engaging your audience, so be sure to do your research and read consumer reviews before investing in a media player.

Cost--be realistic about your business goals, needs, and budget before you purchase a media player, the cost of which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you don't foresee needing a media player with Rolls-Royce-caliber capabilities, then you can skip the high-end ones and consider purchasing a cost-effective $300 solution.

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CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Content management software will be a component of the overall digital signage software that your solution must include. The content management system, or CMS, of your digital signage system can be described as a networked-hub that stores, customizes, schedules, monitors, and deploys all of your digital content across the on-site display screens that your audience will see. If a digital signage system does not come with CMS, do not purchase it. 

What can CMS software accomplish? When you work within the CMS dashboard, you can do everything from creating your digital content to designing your deployment strategies, including dayparting and other customized options. By customizing the exact content for your on-premises displays, you can increase audience engagement. Plus, because the CMS dashboard stores all of your content and campaigns, you can easily browse through your history to adjust, modify, update, and tailor previously-created content.

Content management system check-list:

Easy-to-Use Dashboard--An overwhelming percentage of content management systems have cluttered, confusing, and disorganized dashboards. Consider it a red flag if a CMS solution recommends over 20 hours of training in order to understand how to use its dashboard. Many reputable CMS solutions, or the larger digital signage system solution that comes with it, will offer free demos or free trial periods. Taking a potential provider up on their offer of a free demo is the best way to assess if their dashboard will be easy for you to use.

User Control--This feature is critical for anyone who owns, operates, and manages multiple locations. Businesses with a chain of locations, including educational institutions and healthcare facilities that have numerous buildings, will require a lot of content customization per location and the ability to easily scale-up as they continue to grow. The User Control feature should also enable you to add as many user accounts as you need, and adjust your staff's levels of access to your stored content.

Automated Software Updates--Thanks to advances in technology, in 2021 you should not have to conduct, schedule, and manage your own software updates. All software updates should be automatic, but you'll need to make sure this is the case by reading the fine print of whatever CMS software you're considering. Will the provider require you to pay for each software update or upgrades? If so, this is a red flag, and it's advisable that you choose another provider. Also, be sure that the timing of the actual updates will not interrupt your work. Ideally, software updates should occur in the middle of the night between 1am and 3am.

Security--While your digital signage software and CMS system do not store personal customer information, keeping the data that is stored secure is still very important. Do not overlook this feature and make sure the security measures in place offer the highest level of data encryption and protection.

Accessible Technical Support--No matter how user-friendly and intuitive a digital signage solution seems, or how straightforward CMS dashboard software appears, chances are that sooner or later you will need technical support, customer service, or some combination of the two. For this reason, be certain that the digital signage system that you're about to invest in will include free and immediate technical support. It's also a good sign if the provider has a library of online resources, how-to guides, video tutorials, and other helpful documents that you can reference.  

Depending on your digital signage solution provider, you can access your CMS using one of the following ways:

Via the Web / Cloud--Web-based and cloud-based CMS will be hosted on your provider's website, where all of your digital content data will be saved and stored in the cloud. The downside is that you must have a reliable internet connection and be hypervigilant about saving your graphic design progress as you go if you're working offline.

Via Your Desktop Computer--This on-premises option isn't reliant upon an internet connection, but rather your CMS is stored on your computer's desktop and runs locally. You will need a secure, reliable data backup and recovery system in place if you choose to host your CMS on your computer.

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GRAPHIC DESIGN & CONTENT CREATION

While the best CMS software on the market today should include the necessary add-ons, apps, and extensions to adequately create your actual content, not all of them do, and this can be highly problematic. After you've invested in media players and CMS to accommodate your digital signage system, the last thing you want to discover is that you have no way to create professional-looking graphic designs.

Be sure to select a digital signage system that comes with compatible and user-friendly graphic design software, like FTx AdPro. You don't have to have a degree in graphic design to create quality graphics when you use FTx AdPro. This software was engineered to deliver professional results and comes with a full library of industry-specific templates to get you started. Using foolproof drag-and-drop tools, you can create customized graphics. Simply change the text, photos, or background, and drop in your company logo and your other unique brand identifiers.

Once you've created and stored your digital content using design software like FTx AdPro, you'll then be able to curate "playlists" of your content, and also deploy "scripted programming" if need be. These are defined as:

Playlists--Place the digital content you designed into an ordered sequence, otherwise known as a playlist. This playlist can consist of videos, images, short tutorials, social media-like graphics, and other informative content, which is played as a loop on your displays. You can also loop your menu board items as a slideshow to draw attention and further engage your customers.

Scripted Programming--Scripted programming is more complex than playlists because it involves pre-programming your displayed content based on conditions or rules that you establish using the software dashboard. Look for features such as "dayparting" if you want to take the difficulty out of programming your slides or sets of slides. With dayparting, you can display pre-chosen content on certain days of the week or times of day, which means that the dayparting tool itself is handling the actual programming for you.

From there, you can create sophisticated content loops based on the responses you observe from your audience, and you won't have to learn C++ or program precise coding. Just be sure the digital signage solution you're about to buy offers this level of machine learning technology.

If you don't yet have digital signage at your business and would like to take the first step in upgrading from traditional to digital signs, FTx Digital Signage Solutions is a one-stop-shop that can have you up-and-running in no time. Our digital signage system comes with AdPro at no additional cost. Contact us today to find out what FTx Solutions can do for you!