7. Is content really King or is it the Emperor who has no clothes?
Most of the industry insiders are tired of the ubiquitous “Content is king” mantra. Nobody argues with it, but, ironically, very few networks follow it. Lack of winning content strategies has caused many networks to fail and cast a negative shadow on the medium as a whole. Industry analysts struggle when they have to find examples of commercially successful ad-based digital signage networks.**
The vast majority of existing networks were deployed with a “technology first” mindset, despite the fact that their goal was to break into the media business. By contrast, successful networks build their business by first finding the right content strategy, then selecting the appropriate technology.
I think this problem is partially rooted in the fact that most network operators come from a technology background, not media. Fortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of media professionals flocking into digital signage/DOOH from other, slower-growing media segments. The danger here, however, is that some of them might be still bringing the traditional broadcast CPM mentality to a completely different medium.
As some of my colleagues and I had been predicting since 2003, content mistakes obvious to a media specialist proved to have caused the demise of a considerable number of networks. Content is subject to the immutable laws of viewer perception, whereas technology is just the enabler.
Here are some of the typical basic mistakes to avoid when building a content strategy:
Digital signage is NOT TV. The behavior modes of a person sitting on a couch and of the same person walking or waiting in line at an out-of-home location are polar opposites. Blasting a shopper or a commuter with a re-purposed TV commercial may seem convenient but it inevitably produces the opposite result. In most cases you only have 1-2 seconds to grab consumers’ attention. Hence the content should be mercilessly simplified and adjusted to viewer dwell time, behavior, line of sight and attention span. This may mean that your content spot duration can be anywhere from 2 seconds to a few minutes, depending on what exactly the customer is doing in front of the screen and for how long. This may also mean that there should only be 3 words in a bold font on a plain background to achieve the desired result. In any case, it is customer behavior that dictates how the content should be created, and not the convenience of the network operator.
Split screen or full screen? Split screens and tickers may look cool to techies, but advertisers strongly prefer a full screen for their ads.
Audio or no audio? Audio can only be effective in a very limited number of environments. Most OOH locations are not suitable for content with sound. Do not use videos that are supposed to have sound in a silent mode.
Filler content. The so-called “attract loop” content such as news and weather or spectacular visuals may be an easy way to fill your screen time, but it’s undermining the very reason for your network’s existence. Modern consumers have more than enough of this infotainment at home and on their mobile devices, where it is customized to their tastes. If you are playing such content on your screens between ads, you are falling into the trap of the obsolete broadcast TV model: attract them with content and blast them with ads.
Your screens have to either play location-specific useful information and well-made narrowly-targeted ads or they should not be there in the first place. Wasting precious customer attention on filler content on expensive screens will not attract consumers and will not make any money for your network. On the other hand, spending time and money on straightforward, informative and compelling ads that help consumers achieve what they want at your location faster will pay off big time by bringing in ROI and repeat business.
Content loop and content slot duration. Very few networks have figured it out. Those who have, succeed. It’s part art, part science. Do site surveys, study customer behavior and dwell time. Experiment with loop and slot durations, test, change, test again, change again. Hire a good consultant to help you.
DailyDOOH and my colleague Dave Haynes (sixteen-nine.net) have written a lot about digital signage content mishaps and I highly recommend reading those articles. Also, see the “Content” section of digitalsignagepulse.com.