By Frank Kenna
I just spent most of last week at the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, where our company was an exhibitor. While this is an important show for us to attend, I always have a vague feeling of confusion at its end. That’s because of the huge variety of digital signage products shown there… which leads me to try to define what digital signage actually is.
For us, digital signage is a means to an end, which is helping managers communicate important issues to their employees. To companies like Samsung, it’s mostly about LCD and plasma displays. To Corning, it’s about the future of glass displays as shown in this cool video which was part of the keynote address. To Casio, it’s about full-size human projection that looks astonishingly life-like.
Despite these divergent ideas, there does seem to be a direction emerging. When I first went to this, and similar shows, about seven years ago, it was all about the hardware. Flat panel displays and rapidly shrinking form-factor media players were all the rage. But new product innovation in those segments has become evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Then about three years ago, the applications seemed to become more prominent, especially with the emergence of “the cloud”, which had actually been around for a while but attained new status as other industries began to tout their offerings (e.g., Apple’s iCloud).
The Focus in 2012
And this year it was more about what end users can actually do with that hardware and software from a practical point of view, compared with the hype of past years. User interactions — gesturing and Microsoft Kinect-type technologies — were noticeable trends, as was mobile. And people trying to figure out definable analytics and ROI were everywhere, both in product displays and educational seminars.
On the Horizon
Today, “digital signage” is a loosely-based collection of all of these technologies. What will have to be decided in future months and years is what new products and technologies will be included in the definition. Should the industry define smartphones as miniature digital signs? Or how about products yet to come, like the kitchen countertop highlighted in that Corning video? It will show news, traffic and other information… will that be included in the definition? Or how about Google Display Glasses which will show data in miniature eyeglass screens? Will we see a Personal-Wear Pavilion at future expos?
I don’t think the definition of digital signage is up to any association or industry group. It’s up to hundreds — or thousands — of individual companies and brand managers who will independently decide if their products fit. It will then be up to the industry itself to remain relevant by providing expos, seminars and events that can accommodate the various constituencies while keeping a tight enough focus so as not to disintegrate into a hodgepodge of cool but uncoordinated technologies.
Frank Kenna III is CEO and president of Wallingford, Conn.-based The Marlin Co., which helps companies improve safety, employee morale, productivity and performance through its workplace digital signage products. Kenna led a seminar titled “Content Strategies for Workplace Digital Signage” at DSE 2012 and served as an instructor on the subject of content for corporate communications in the conference program’s Hands-on Content Workshop.