American Marketer


How to put context into mobile with digital signage

March 7, 2011



By Steve Gurley

The explosion of consumer-centric mobile innovation is demanding a new focus on mobile context.

Mobile context is defined as the match between a consumer’s given physical environment – a venue such as a store, hotel or restaurant – and the optimal mobile experience – mobile application, ad campaign or commercial transaction – for that environment.

Before a mobile context can be established, a venue’s patrons or guests must first be made aware that one or more mobile experiences exist for the given environment.

Once the awareness is established, the consumer must then be educated on the scope of the mobile experience as well as the value of the experience.

There are several techniques for creating a context such as 2D bar codes or SMS campaigns, but the method that will be discussed in this article is called digital signage.

Sign’s on the wall

Digital signage is described as a system for centrally managing the delivery of digital messages to electronic displays installed within venues or environments for the purpose of influencing of educating, entertaining and influencing viewer behavior.

Millions of digital signage screens are in use worldwide and thousands more deployed daily. Few, however, are being used to create a mobile context.

Mobile app developers, carriers and mobile advertisers can use digital signage to set mobile context, help venues create a more engaging experience for their patrons and guests and increase their awareness and dependence on a given mobile experience.

The first step is to define the target audiences for the mobile experience and identify the venues in which the target audiences can be found.

Once the venues are identified, the next step is to find the digital signage network operators that service those venues.

When looking to identify a digital signage network operator, it is important to note that not all signage network operators are the same.

Some are venue owners who operate their own digital signage networks, some are third parties who manage networks on the behalf of client venues and others are third parties that manage the networks for their own benefit but allow venue owners to access a portion of the screen real estate.

Venue owners who manage their own networks are generally the easiest to approach about a mobile convergence.

These owners intimately understand the purpose of the digital signage and generally have a higher propensity to listen to ideas that can enhance the value of their signage network and business.

One should know that third-party network operators can be sold on mobile convergence, but it is likely to be a much more difficult and complex discussion.

Third-party network owners have a wider range of motivations for doing business.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on those venues in which the venue owners manage their own networks.

Net gain

Once the target audience and corresponding venues have been identified and it has been determined that the venues have a self-managed digital signage network, the next step is to identify and articulate how the mobile experience will benefit the venue.

Venue management will only be comfortable promoting the mobile experience via their digital signage if the experience has a direct benefit to their business.

It is therefore essential that those advocating the mobile experience be able to clearly articulate the value to the venue.

After selling the venue on the value of the mobile experience, the next step is to craft a message that defines the scope and value of the mobile experience to the venue’s patrons and guests.

Once the customer-centric message is crafted and approved by the venue, it must then be repurposed – made into graphics, videos or illustrations – so that it can be displayed on digital signage.

Many times venues that manage their own signage networks have in-house creative staff who can help you repurpose your message.

If the venue does not have an in-house staff, then they will likely have a creative agency with which you can work.

Effective digital signage messages lend themselves to be easily understood in less than 15 seconds.

It’s a snap

When designing a message for a digital signage display, one should strive to keep the old adage in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The goal is for your message to be so graphical that your value proposition can be easily understood without a lot of text or supporting audio.

The digital signage network operator will integrate the repurposed message into its network’s playlist.

The playlist defines the times and dates that the message will play, on which screens the message will play, and what priority the message will have on the screen’s layout.

The priority of the message defines whether it will play on the entire screen or concurrent with other messages as a part of multi-message screen layout.

It is important that those promoting the mobile experience understand their message’s position within the playlist and play schedule.

The mobile message must play at a time that the desired audience will be present and receptive.

Once the message is displayed on the signage and if everything is done correctly, venue patrons will then know about the mobile experience, understand the value of the mobile experience and know how to engage with the mobile experience. The mobile context will be set.

Steven L. Gurley is senior vice president of marketing and new market development at Symon Communications, Plano, TX. Reach him at