Advertising has been a major force in capitalist economies since the early 1900s, when mass media in the form of newspapers and periodicals created a direct channel of communication between those selling products and those buying them. With the advent of digital communication over the past few decades, the way that advertisers communicate with audiences has changed dramatically, and businesses need to adapt or resign themselves to being ignored.

As a managing director of Electrosonic SA, a leading distributor of professional digital signage technology in South Africa, Bruce Genricks has a unique insight into the benefits and challenges that adopting digital signage solutions holds for end-users in the South African marketplace.

What in your opinion is driving the demand for digital signage solutions?

Digital signage is a market that has shown explosive growth over the past few years. The trend is supported by the fact that people are bombarded with visual content on a never before seen scale, and therefore static billboards are no longer an effective way to capture the attention of potential customers. Businesses are looking for more dynamic advertising solutions, and digital signage answers this challenge.

How can businesses use digital signage to their advantage?

The applications for digital signage are varied and highly scalable. The benefit of digital signage over conventional print-based billboards is that a single display in a well-positioned area can host an array of advertising, it is easy and cost-effective to update content, and content can be scheduled to run at strategic times.

Digital signage can be used in-house by a stand-alone store to display products and special offers, or larger retail chains can deploy digital signage across their stores and manage content from a single point using Cloud-based technology. In shopping centres, digital displays can be deployed in public areas, and advertising space can be shared.

Another application which is rapidly gaining popularity is way-finding. Many professional display panels are able to support interactive overlays, which means that you can create touch panels so that people are able to interact with them using their fingers. We see many shopping centres taking advantage of this technology to provide store directories while hosting third-party advertising when the display is not in use.

We have also seen digital signage solutions being used to great effect in motor showrooms, with interactive displays allowing customers to design their own vehicles, choosing the colour, the type of wheels and special paint effects for example. This level of interaction is also gaining popularity in retail fashion, with interactive displays allowing customers to approach a panel displaying a life-size model and being able to change the colour or size of an outfit on offer at the store.

What are some of the challenges of deploying digital signage?

The digital signage market is fairly new and, as such, business owners and investors do not always understand the factors that need to be taken into consideration when deploying a digital signage solution.

When deciding to invest in a digital signage solution for your business, one needs to take into account your available budget, the complexity of the installation and the level of professional support that you will need.

It may seem like a more affordable solution to purchase a standard LCD panel from a retailer. However, residential displays are not designed for commercial applications, and as a result, you may compromise the warranty on the product. This has implications on the cost of ownership because while the capital outlay for a professional display solution may be larger, the cost of maintaining your system over a five year period will be much lower if you invest in the appropriate technology from the get-go.

In most instances, it is best that you contract a professional systems integrator to assist in designing and installing your digital signage solution, to ensure that you deploy a system that is best suited to your needs, is reliable and is eligible for aftersales support.

“One of the things that you want to avoid at all costs is “the dreaded blue screen of death” – when things fail, and you end up with a DOS screen or the panel reverts to Windows because it looks extremely unprofessional.”

Bruce Genricks

MD Electrosonic SA

What are some of the factors that need to be considered before investing in digital signage?

One of the most important factors that need to be considered is your product choice. Professional displays are specifically designed for commercial use and come with an array of inbuilt features that support the deployment of digital signage.

The ProSpectre range, distributed by Electrosonic, is an example of a professional display that is designed with the commercial market in mind. ProSpectre panels come with an extremely thin bezel, to ensure that the display looks the part. The manufacturer uses higher-grade components than are used in residential displays to ensure that the screen can be operated 24/7. In addition, commercial displays by ProSpectre come with the digital scheduling software that makes managing your content simple and efficient.

Another factor that needs to be taken into account before investing in a digital signage solution is how your content will be distributed to your screens. It is important that you have the means to distribute different signals to different areas or panels as the need arises, and there are various methods that one can use. In the past, it could have been as simple as inserting a flash drive loaded with your content directly into your panel. However, as technology evolves, content needs to be more dynamic and, as with the vast majority of modern technology, we need to start connecting panels to the internet.

One of the major advantages of the ProSpectre displays is that they have a built-in media player, hosted on an OPS PC, and you can slot in either an i5 windows-based processor or – if you don’t need the speed and functionality of a Windows-based system – an Android processor. This means that you do not need to connect a PC to the panel to run your content. Also, ProSpectre panels can be connected to your source using traditional HDMI cables, HDBaseT technology, a LAN connection or wireless technology, depending on the infrastructure and design of your digital signage solution.

Another advantage is that ProSpectre panels are equipped with a fail-over system, which means that you will never be stuck with a ‘blue screen’. One simply loads content onto a flash drive that is inserted into the panel. If the internet connectivity or the media server fails, the panel will default to the flash drive, and the screen will continue playing content until you can resolve the problem.

What are the benefits of investing in a professional digital signage installation?

The power of first impressions is something that has come up often in popular culture, and a customer’s first impression of your business offering is often defined by your advertising campaign.

Poorly executed digital signage is unlikely to portray an image that will attract customers. By installing an amateurish digital display for an in-house installation, you are placing your own advertising at risk. If the display is in a public space, nine times out of ten, the display will be used to host advertising by third parties. Advertisers want to know that their adverts are flighting at the right time because they are paying for the service. Reliable operation is not the only factor that you need to consider; it is just as important that the LCD panel can display all of the colours as they should be displayed, at the right resolution to enhance the product offering.

While the quality of your digital signage is of paramount importance for an effective digital signage solution, so is managing the cost of ownership. ProSpectre screens come with a two year warranty, which can be upgrades to a five-year warranty, which is supported by Electrosonic SA. If your professional display fails during the warranty period, Electrosonic will ensure that repairs are carried out locally, using spares that we keep onsite by certified technicians. If the screen cannot be repaired immediately, the end-user will be offered a loan unit while repairs are carried out to ensure that they suffer no downtime.

As the certified distributor of ProSpectre screens in South Africa, Electrosonic only sells ProSpectre displays to reputable integrators, and we pride ourselves on supporting the professionals that install our products. As a result, investing in a professional digital signage solution, using commercial-grade products that are supported locally and installed by professionals will ensure an effective advertising solution for your business that is guaranteed to offer a long-term return on investment.