what is digital signage

Digital signage is one of those fruits of technology that makes almost everything about business work better. At its most basic level, digital signage is just that–a screen that displays pictures and words for employees, customers and potential customers to see and read. But as we will discuss further on, digital signage is also a way to interact with them in previously unimaginable ways while capturing sheer terabytes of game-changing data about those interactions.

An Example to Build a Dream On

Every Starbucks store is full of signs that change fairly often. Occasionally, a whole menu panel will have to be thrown away and replaced, which one assumes is a massive undertaking–not to mention a massive waste producer–considering how many stores there are.

Last year, however, they finally began experimenting with digital menu boards. Their motive was not to reduce their environmental impact or even to cut costs–it was to increase sales.

Like all restaurants, Starbucks’ average transactions per hour drop significantly after the lunch rush. Different establishments deal with this in different ways; the angle Starbucks is trying is the promotion of specific items it thinks will draw customers back for a late-afternoon pick-me-up. And how do they promote these items? By displaying them digitally in brilliant, eye-catching color, just overhead.

Suddenly, corporate can conduct all sorts of split tests to see which products boost sales the most in which markets, and in real time. No need to ship kits of paper signage weeks or months in advance with instructions detailing when and how to change them out. Not only that, they can find out what demographics the idea works on, also in real time.

Below is a high-level introduction to the (surprisingly simple) technology Starbucks is experimenting with and how it can be used to help virtually any business.

What is Digital Signage? The Signal Flow

Working backwards, the most obvious piece of hardware associated with digital signage is the display screen. If your business is a small dental office, you may be able to get away with just one display screen. In the case of Starbucks above, a full conversion would of course entail thousands of screens, probably in many shapes and sizes.

The display screen is connected to a media player (via HDMI, Bluetooth, etc.). The media player can be a garden-variety computer or tablet, or a dedicated machine of its own. What type of media player works best depends on individual needs.

Installed on the media player will be a content management system (CMS), which is the software that tells the player what content to play and when. A CMS can be a program that gets installed on a discrete number of devices for a one-time purchase price or it can be a cloud-based subscription that can be accessed from any device with the proper credentials. It can also be a combination of the two.

The content can be created on and uploaded from any platform–PowerPoint, Photoshop, even a scanned image of a canvas painting.

That’s it–thankfully, the idea isn’t very complicated. The content is created using whatever medium suits, the content is uploaded to a CMS, the CMS tells the player to start playing, and the screen shows what the player feeds it, via whatever connection happens to be in place.

The All-Important Content

What is digital signage without beautiful, diverse digital content? Once you have your initial handle on the nuts and bolts of it–the how–most of your attention will be spent on the content–the what.

If you have marketers in-house who are proficient in visual communications, content creation will be their job. Otherwise, you’ll want to hire an outside agency and/or start a content subscription with your digital signage supplier. For a fixed monthly or yearly fee, you can keep your digital signage showing fresh, cutting-edge marketing material without having to dedicate any more time to it than a few minutes every so often to review and approve it.

What Can We Do with It?

The applications to dream about are multiplying. Even the answers to the question what is digital signage? are multiplying. This is no longer just a replacement for the white light-box at the gas station down the street. It’s a new way to do business.


Instead of old-style wall calendars, group signup sheets, corkboards, whiteboards, and overhead projectors that fade, tear, need erasing, and–worst of all–aren’t searchable, we can install an interactive, touchscreen display to consolidate all of that and more into one simple, elegant, centrally accessible place.

Video Wall

One of the most compelling trends in digital signage technology currently is the video wall. Instead of a single TV screen in the waiting room, we can create an entire wall of content, Times-Square-style, fascinating patients and giving them something to tell everyone about after they leave.

Social Media Wall

This is a way to take audience questions, hold response-based contests, gauge feedback and add an entirely new dimension to public presentations in real time, with or without moderating what appears on the screen.

Data Capture

Because it’s all digital and recordable, we can capture data and even metadata on every interaction with a digital sign–even every glance at it! Are people looking at your advertisements? What route do customers’ eyes usually travel when they read your menu? Do more women or men respond to Starbucks’ new menu boards?

Wrapping Up: What is Digital Signage?

Digital signage is a platform from which to communicate with customers, potential customers, and each other in ways that have never been possible before. It’s a screen, a connection to a media player, and some software; no matter the application, those four ultra-basic elements are all it takes to bring to life your most far-out imaginings of what to display to the world.

We can use it to make old types of sign-based marketing more effective, simplify group coordination, interact with people in any country in real time, and flabbergast whole rooms of people–all while capturing incredibly detailed and actionable data and metadata on how well our tactics are working.

Click here to talk with an expert in the field and find out how to make this life-altering technology work for you and your business.

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