How many times have we said or heard, “We can do this,” only to find out there was much more to a project than you or your team had anticipated? Regretfully, this is more common than any of us would care to admit, and certainly involves more money invested or lost than we had ever imagined. So, do you want to invest lots of time and money to learn how to successfully do digital signage, or would you like to go right to making money in this double-digit growth market?
I Know The Answer
I know the answer to this question is “go right to making money,” and I am willing to share with you from our experience at Multi-Media Solutions. I will tell you the key steps that you must embrace to successfully and profitably do a digital signage project along with the mistakes you must avoid.
Before we dive into the specifics of the right steps, let me first fuel the fire on why you should run and not walk to the digital signage opportunities. Maybe my company and I are the only ones seeing the commoditization of almost everything we do. Our customers compare our prices on screens, projectors, flatpanels, mounts, cables and just about everything we integrate with to prices from the web, box houses or the HH Greggs/Best Buys of the world. The result, in our experience, shows very small margins on equipment. Gone are the days of 25% or greater margin on products. Even the pure integration products that come from the likes of Crestron, Extron, AMX, Kramer and others, are thin margins based on the others in our market. Many times this comes from the IT perspective, where a markup of 15% is generous because they are going to make their money on the ongoing service contract.
That means we lose on both counts. We have to keep our margins slim on hardware and, although our industry is doing better, not many of us have more than a 10% to 20% success rate at putting our projects on an annual contract. This, of course, is something we should and can be doing better, but the classic AV integrator is still learning how to increase this element of the business.
Relates To Digital Signage?
What does that have to do with doing digital signage and doing it right the first time? Well, it has a lot to do with why you should embrace this digital signage market and why you should do it now.
A fact: Even though a Google search will reveal thousands of return hits if someone searches for digital signage, there are few, if any, complete solutions priced on the web. Yes, you can find small-box-oriented systems from an internet search, but people who will buy this solution from the web are not the customers you and I want, need or with whom we can make money. Yes, the distributors in our marketplace and the IT marketplace are further complicating this by advocating that they can sell you a complete solution as a package. But if that sounds too good to be true, once again, it is.
The real profit opportunities are in the digital signage projects that require digital signage integration skills. Note the emphasis on digital signage integration skills because, to integrate in the digital signage world, you have to include several more skill sets than even the most complex AV integration projects.
Although you cannot readily purchase the type of digital signage system that requires digital signage integration skills, you can still earn a reasonable margin on a digital signage integration project because the growth of the digital signage market is projected to reach $17 billion by 2017 (according to the most recent research), which means that there is an abundance of business opportunities. A lot of people have their eyes on the ROI market (from fast food to retail stores), and there is money to be made here…but there is also significant competition. That means you really have to understand how to network resources, because the very nature of this business will have you moving geographically from city to city, state to state and, in our case, country to country.
Open Your Eyes
But open your eyes to the equally exciting and profitable opportunity on the ROO side, which often comes with less travel. ROO Digital Signage opportunities abound from corporate campuses and manufacturing facilities to hospitals and community college campuses, and all types of business in between. These businesses don’t always call it digital signage. Some call it “employee communications” or “wayfinding,” but make no mistake: By any name, digital signage is being adopted rapidly in these environments.
So what are the keys to successfully “doing digital signage?”
First a look at the essential components that must be in place for a successful digital signage deployment. The accompanying graphic from my friends at Brawn Consulting presents the essentials in this very easy to understand way.
Each spoke must be examined and executed properly, or your digital signage project will fail or fail to reach its full potential. Often, the reason a digital signage project never makes it past the pilot phase is that not all of these essentials were identified and executed. These essentials focus on the mechanics of the digital signage business.
Here are my five “Ps” for doing digital signage right the first time, which focus more on the “Human Emotional Elements” that will impact the failure or success of successfully selling and implementing digital signage.
- u Passion: You and your company must have a passion for selling digital signage. It cannot just be another item on your line list, as in, “By the way, we also do digital signage.” This may sound to the integrator as a touchy feely gesture to just another product or service our industry sells, but I am dead serous that this must be part of the success strategy. The reason most integrators don’t achieve success in selling digital signage is that they lack this passion and deep commitment.
Passion, sometimes defined as compelling enthusiasm, is something that can be acquired, but it’s important to really understand and see the true potential of digital signage to help a customer be successful. Associating with others who have been and are successful with digital signage is a great way to get educated. Pick a digital signage company that offers training on its solution and get its certification as an expert or solution provider. I promise you that, if a person owns the knowledge of what is possible with digital signage, they will catch the fire and will become passionate…or your company has the wrong person. Get passionate about selling a digital signage solution and you will separate yourself from the majority of people offering digital signage.
- u Plan: You and your company must have a plan. This plan must include an assessment of your resources to see how many of the essentials you can provide with existing resources. That means identifying who is on your team and identifying sources/partners that can provide any other components you will need. It is easy to sell screens and players, and even easy to get some digital signage content management software and say “We do digital signage,” but if you take this approach, predictably, you will end up on the list of those who have failed.
It’s A Journey
Think of it as a journey that requires you to travel to another country. You need to be adequately prepared with more than just a change of clothes and plan for all the essentials before you leave. There are levels of complexity involved in selling a successful digital signage system. Consider each essential and plan any project with the same level of attention to detail that you would when planning a trip. Then press your “passion button” for successful digital signage.
- Purpose: Your purpose has to focus on success for your customers and their needs. Avoid failure. Make a commitment upfront to yourself and vocalize it to your customer. The purpose of the project is to meet the customer’s needs and to accomplish its goals. Let your client know that the journey will be a team effort. However, that means they have to be willing to be transparent and open about what they want to accomplish and what resources they are willing to commit. Your purpose in selling them digital signage is to raise the value of their business through the investment and commitment to the digital signage system.
Ultimately, improving customer relations, increasing the number of customers, increasing revenue per customer, all while reducing costs, are the goals that make investment in digital signage worthy of time and resources.
- Presence: A digital signage project is a marathon. It requires timely support and commitment to excellence in every area of installation. If you are going to offer digital signage services, chances are that some installations will be geographically distant. That requires not only planning time to determine how you are going to do initial installation, but just as important, how you are going to support the installation in the long term. No one can afford to jump on an airplane to exchange a screen or player when your customer calls and expects it to be fixed that day. Plan ahead. Find resources and include them on your initial installation, so they will be familiar with your location when needed.
Here is how we meet these challenges and you can use this as an example of how you can formulate your own solutions. Multi-Media Solutions, Inc., is a member of the Integration Group of USAV Group, a collection of commercial AV integrators across the US and Canada. We first reach out to our fellow members in this group. When there is no USAV integrator or dealer in that town, we reach out to InfoComm and ask for members in the area.
If that fails to yield a partner, then we use the internet to look for integrators with offices in the area, oftentimes calling the local chamber or international equivalent to find a partner. Sometimes, we include an IT-centric integrator to partner with, to meet the long-term support needs of the customer. I make sure my customers are aware of this in my plan, and they are always grateful for the forward-looking approach to providing support.
Note: You should always have a mutual non-compete in place. Although that is not an iron-clad guarantee that these companies will treat your arrangement with integrity, it is a written statement of expectation and one that I have always seen respected.
- Provision: No technology is futureproof. There will always be a new model. The same can be said for the information to be presented on the screen. Content will change according to the needs of the business. Provision means providing an upfront look at what it takes to support the customer’s long-term needs. If the has a successful digital signage system, it may well lead to system expansion and further success for the integrator!
Long-term success requires focusing on the same essential elements that make up the system in the first place:
—Keep content pertinent and fresh.
—Constantly evaluate content effectiveness and the delivery strategy.
—Consider long-term maintenance of the equipment (e.g., hardware, players, flatpanels, amplifiers and transmitters). All electronic equipment has an expected lifespan, so provisions must be made for refresh and upkeep.
—Never take network connectivity for granted. Long-term provisions should always include making sure that the equipment supporting the network connectivity is properly maintained.
Note: Remember that something as simple as a change in the domain rights or allowing a player to be updated automatically can totally disable the system.
Lastly, a heads up: In the fall of 2014, US brick and mortar retailers felt the impact of online and mobile sales, which negatively impacted in-store sales events. This means that retailers are paying more attention than ever to ways they can make the in-store shopping experience better and produce more sales. Hint: Digital signage will be on many retailers’ short lists for investment this year.
Mike White will be co-presenting Seminar 1, “Doing Digital Signage Right…The First Time,” at Digital Signage Expo 2015 on Wednesday, March 11 from 9:00am-10:00am at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about DSE or to register for this or any other educational seminar or workshop and learn about digital signage, go to dse2015.com.