The Art and Science of Visual Communications

When one hears the term ‘digital signage,’ the first thing that comes to mind is the technology—or, more specifically, the hardware—behind such mainstream applications as menu boards and video walls. Technology, however, is just the means to an experience; it is not an experience in itself. This is an important distinction because, increasingly, experiences matter. Gartner, a prominent market research and advisory company, surveyed businesses in 2014 about their marketing budgets and found 89 percent (compared to just 36 percent in 2010) expected to compete with each other primarily on the basis of customer experience (CX) by 2016. For their brands to continue to grow today, they need to deliver an unforgettable CX journey. The first step is for this journey to be designed, which requires a focus on the customer’s needs and a willingness to challenge the established norms, so the brand will stand out from its competition. All of this is possible with the flexibility of digital signage as a communications medium.

“Projects that start with a focus on the hardware or software often fail,” says James Fine, founder and owner of Telecine, a Montreal-based media company that specializes in digital signage, “while projects that start and stay focused on goals and objectives almost always succeed.”


In a store, content should make digital signage feel like part of the shopping experience, not just an added fixture or feature.


The art

When seeking to create an immersive and memorable experience through digital signage, the first question to answer is, “Why?” That is to say, what is the client’s objective for the project? It may be to increase brand awareness, sales revenue or simply competitiveness within the marketplace. To not only answer but fully appreciate this question, it is important for digital signage providers to understand their clients inside and out, including their hopes, worries, strengths and needs.

This leads to the second priority: content. In all digital signage deployments, it is content that informs an audience, establishes a style, spans various touchpoints and ultimately creates the overall experience. Indeed, many professionals in the industry say the experience starts with the content.

This is when creative agencies and designers get involved in a project. It is important for them not to take the audience for granted. Research into what customers want and need will help them deliver authentic, valuable messaging. Context is what gives content its true value.

There are several building blocks for creating an immersive experience with content:


Stories form people’s memories. So, the way content is designed to deliver a narrative will, to a large degree, dictate how memorable the viewing experience will be for the audience. Again, for the client, this is a matter of putting the customer first.

“Stories are how we connect with each other,” says entrepreneur and author Alan Webber. “They provide context. They provide community.”

Multi-sensory elements

The added value of digital signage over other public-facing media is how it can deliver not just static content, but also light, sound, movement and interactivity. Appealing to the various senses at the same time is important in creating an overall experience, as it will earn deeper engagement from the audience.


Another tool for increasing engagement with digital signage content is integrated within the surrounding environment. In a store, for example, the content should make the medium feel like part of the shopping experience, not just an added fixture or feature.


Similarly, the way the story should be communicated depends on the various opportunities to engage the audience, e.g. from when a customer walks into a store, through the shopping experience, to the moment he/she exits. This is key in making the experience feel more personalized. It is also worthwhile to realize how content can expand the audience’s experience beyond the physical space by continuing the journey online. A more complicated story can be told in its entirety, for a richer experience, by ensuring consistency across all communications channels.

In all digital signage deployments, content informs the audience, establishes a style, spans various touchpoints and ultimately creates the overall experience.


The science

While some digital signage professionals claim ‘content is king,’ others save that title for data. This notion is supported by such resources as a 2017 report by International Data Corporation (IDC), which predicted the worldwide market for big data and business analytics will grow to $130 billion by the end of 2018 and $203 billion by 2020.

As the terminology suggests, ‘big data’ analytics involves examining large quantities of information to uncover any hidden patterns, correlations and other insights. And a very high degree of insight is possible using today’s technologies, for the purposes of everything from geo-targeted marketing to measuring return on investment (ROI).

Most importantly, collected data can be used to improve CX, adding value to the viewer engagement process. If a marketing campaign can serve as a ‘trusted advisor’ and solve a problem for a retail customer as soon as he/she walks in the door of a store, for example, then he/she is all the more likely to become a loyal, repeat shopper.

One example of this is ‘lift and learn’ interactivity, where a customer picks up a tethered product, which triggers digital signage content specifically focusing on that product and comparing it to others. This technology has been used with everything from mobile phones to baseball gloves.


The bridge

The art and science of visual communications for the medium of digital signage are connected by the ‘bridge’ of marketing, the goal of which provides a unique, exciting CX based on an understanding of customers’ needs and tastes.

Marketing has, of course, changed greatly over the years. Just as static signs mounted on walls have now led to the movement, sound and bright illumination of digital signage, so too have marketers needed to develop new ways to reach out effectively to extremely savvy consumers if they are to expand awareness of their brands.

One example is the integration of social media with marketing campaigns. Today’s brand owners can hear directly from their customers through such interactive means and display their thoughts via digital signage.

As author, speaker and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi put it, in a recent interview for the CreativeMornings lecture series, “People want to feel like you have invested in them in some way and then they will, in turn, invest in you.”


See article in the magazine here