The ‘push’ style of communications is dead. We used to throw information out there in as many locations as we could, hoping people would pay attention. Then we learned that it was possible to stimulate interest with certain types of phrases, colors and images, and we built that into our messaging. Now, technology has given everyone a web-connected computer in their pocket, and social media and consumer rating systems have created a worldwide space where everyone’s opinion can influence others. If you’re still pushing out communications without paying attention to those channels, you’re not only missing a great opportunity, you may be spitting into the wind.
As the way we interact with each other and the world around us changes, so does the way communicators have to approach their audience. Pushing one-way communications is now outdated and ineffective.
Instead, when planning for digital signs, we need to create a dialogue that’s an ongoing cycle of:
- presenting information
- letting audiences respond
- reacting and adjusting based on that response
This holds true for both internal and public-facing communications. It cannot be said often enough: to effectively engage your audience when planning for digital signs, you have to have a comprehensive communications plan.
This means that every organization – companies, campuses, healthcare facilities, government offices, retail branches, even houses of worship – have to think long and hard about what they want to achieve and how they’re going to reach those goals when planning for digital signs.
Even a medium like digital signage that seems on the surface to be a push system needs to be approached differently.
The first thing to do is try to understand your audience – what they feel is important, what motivates them, what they do and don’t like, and what will engage them and get them actively involved in the message you’re trying to convey.
Part of the goal of any communication these days is to get people to spread the word on their own by sharing your message, and you can’t do that if you can’t get their attention.
With something like digital signage, you can’t really control your audience’s viewing patterns – they might we walking by screens quickly on the way to a meeting; they might be sauntering along killing time before lunch; or they might be in a waiting area for an extended period of time.
We also don’t know what’s going on in their heads – what they’re thinking about and what’s distracting them. They also have the ultimate attention-grabbing device in their pockets that gives them access more than 1.5 billion websites, plus the ability to chat with friends and family.
Your goal is to break through all of that clutter to create something that makes your digital signs more appealing than all the other stuff they could be looking at. To do that, you need to consider what we call the Six Ds of Communications:
Distill what you want to say down to its simplest form. No one is going to read a paragraph or a PDF document on a digital sign (especially if they’re walking past it quickly).
Be a merciless editor. This means stripping down your text to as few characters as possible, using basic language that everyone can understand, and then designing your message to highlight the main point. Not main points, notice – one message should have one thing to say.
If you have additional info or associated content, consider using a series of related messages designed as a campaign.
Or, make it easy for people to get more information on the web or some other external source using a QR code or short URL. Keep each message short and sweet, but not so short that it’s actually meaningless. Use just enough text to get your message across, and use an image that reinforces the message whenever you can.
Define your audience for this specific message (or campaign of messages). Let’s say the message is “Sign up for the 401(k) plan” – people who’ve already signed up are clearly not your target audience.
Narrowing down exactly who you want to reach can help inform a number of other aspects of the message, from the wording to the design, and even what time of day and which screens you display it on.
An energy dashboard that reminds people to turn off lights in the winter might be more effective earlier in the day when it gets darker outside earlier. However, that same message can be displayed fewer times on a July afternoon.
Be sure to consider geographic and cultural contexts. If you’re unsure how something might be taken by a certain segment of your target audience, find out. Different countries, cultures, genders and occupations all think differently.
And there’s also a difference between how the different generations view things. For example, younger people greatly dislike messages that are obvious marketing ploys. They also prefer language that is more inclusive and gender neutral.
Understand the demographics and interests of your viewers, and think about your message from their perspective. And you really can’t go too far with this – the narrower your audience, the more targeted your message.
When planning for digital signs, detail exactly what you want people to take away from your message, and what you want them to do.
Make sure you include a call to action, and that it’s prominent and makes sense. This could be going to a webpage, filling out a survey, taking a snapshot of the screen, capturing a coupon code – anything you want people to do, you need to tell them how to do it.
Often people will say “Well, it’s just FYI” but that’s not really true, is it?
Every message is trying to either prompt action, reinforce branding or culture, or influence behavior. A message that says “The snack bar closes at 4pm today” isn’t just delivering a fact.
It’s trying to drum up business before 4pm today. “The registration office is now on the second floor” is trying to make sure that people can find it, which may in turn increase satisfaction and decrease workload on staff who would have to redirect people who are lost .
Always think in terms of your audience doing something after they see your message. What do you want them to do, and how can you best convince them to do so? Make it simple and, if possible, make it fun.
Decide on the best method of delivery when planning for digital signs. Some messages are fine as a one-off, while others are more in-depth and require three or four or even five connected messages to get everything across.
Think about when and where the message will be most effective for your target audience. Not everything needs to go on every screen, all day long, forever.
Student-focused messages in hallways while class is in session are going to have a lot smaller audience than when students are filling the halls.
Lunch specials on Friday don’t need to be shown on Monday. And, commuter traffic won’t be as popular at 2pm as it is at 5pm.
If you’re managing communications across multiple locations, make sure the message is actually relevant for people where you show it. Nothing degrades people’s interest in your digital signs faster than putting up information that they have no attachment to.
People in the Southern California office don’t need to know the meeting schedule for the Texas office.
Also, think about how often your message should be displayed. If the info is reminding people of a deadline, show it more often in the week before that deadline to get as many views as possible. Making these scheduling decisions in advance will help streamline planning for digital signs, and help you with measuring ROI.
Deliver the message to the appropriate screens. That could be traditional LCD screens, video walls, interactive touchscreens, even desktops. You might also reinforce your message or campaign with similar designs on intranets, social media and other communications channels when planning for digital signs.
You’ll also need to prepare any supporting resources for your calls to action like webpages, forms, surveys, etc. And be sure that all stakeholders are aware that the message is going up, when and where it will publish, and when you’ll retire it.
Once you publish your message, ensure that it looks good on all of your screens, and that it can easily be seen and understood from a distance. If necessary, adjust things until they’re right (or at least the best they can be).
Determine your success by measuring the response to your call to action. Even though this step comes last in the sequence, it needs to be built into your plan from the beginning. It’s usually as simple as – if people took the action, it was a success.
But make sure to have quantifiable goals to measure against. “More people seemed to show up to the town hall meeting” is not a measurement; “We saw a 75% increase in participation after the message went on digital signs” is.
You can A/B test different messages and delivery channels, but be sure the call to action is unique for each. If you use the same URL on your digital signs, social pages, intranet and website, you won’t know where your responses came from. You can also try out different calls to action to see what your audience responds to more often.
Finally, take the ROI from your messages, and then adjust future designs according to what you discover. Throw out the bad, keep the good, and always be adjusting and improving.
Don’t just think about all this when planning for digital signs – actually write it down. In fact, it might be a good idea to create a quick form or template you can use for this purpose. Every one of these six steps need to be dealt with for every single message.
That may seem like a lot to juggle, but it becomes automatic pretty quickly. Consider how many steps are involved in driving a car, yet you can do it almost effortlessly in a very short time.
And remember, just because you’ve delivered your message and measured its success, you’re not done. Since modern communications are a dialogue, you need to analyze and respond to social mentions and shares, follow up on any questions, clarify misconceptions, and address any other feedback you’ve received.
This process may seem lengthy, but it’s the best way to ensure the success of your communications efforts. You’ve spent a lot of time and money planning for digital signs, so do everything you can to make it as effective as it can be.