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How to engage a higher ed audience beyond the digital screen

Digital signs should point students to other campus resources.

In trying to create new and relevant content for digital signage screens, we sometimes forget that our audience is in motion and will not see everything they are intended to see.

As part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, digital signage can be an effective facilitator of information, but is not always treated as such.  With the wider availability of smart phones, laptops, and tablets, we need to be able to reach our audiences where they are  — namely, on the move.

In a workplace or school setting, most of the information being distributed on the screens is also being sent through other means.  Websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, eMail, text messages, RSS feeds and more are incorporated into a marketing strategy to make sure the message gets out.

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And sometimes, colleges clutter valuable screen real estate, putting the exact same message on our digital signs.

Given that the majority of our audience is on the move, we are wasting time and resources on these ads.   Think of freeway billboards.  They are huge, designed to be read as quickly as possible, and they often point to a website or radio station so the customer can learn more about the service.

Can you imagine seeing a billboard as full of text as we have seen on some digital signs on college campuses?

If we can’t highlight every single reason a person should come to our event, buy our product, or otherwise take action, what can we do?  The simple answer is to point the audience to another resource.

This can be done using a web address, a phone number, or other point of contact, or other more creative means. By sending the audience to a place where it is OK to have several paragraphs worth of information, the digital sign is less likely to be overlooked as it is passed by each day.

Pointing the audience to relevant information and adopting a minimalist approach to content can greatly increase the return on intent or investment, depending on your setting and goals. There is an added benefit to putting a call to action on a screen: analytics are easy to come by.

When your customer is sent to your website, calls a phone number, or contacts someone by eMail, there is tangible evidence that the sign accomplished its task – customers saw the information and acted on it.

Websites are particularly valuable because you can see what device was used to view the content, and can create content suitable to the device in the future. This can be in the form of a native iPhone or Android application featuring your signage content, or a website dedicated to supplementing the signs.

Finding out where and how the information is digested will help focus future marketing efforts to save resources and get the message through.

What content should be featured on a digital signage screen, then? One should always start with the basics – the who, what when, where, and sometimes, the why.

Usually the “why” constitutes the bulk of the clutter, so it is important to create a compelling reason for the viewer to digest this information elsewhere. This means that the “who, what, when, and where” are even more important.

Without paying careful attention to the way the message is displayed, you might go to the other extreme and lose the audience’s attention for lack of information. This is where strategy comes in.

As mentioned above, there are a number of alternative modes of communication available to reach your audience. It is important to think of ways to incorporate each of these features in a comprehensive campaign, in order to provide the information the audience needs, where they are, and in a manner useful to them.

This could be as detailed as creating specific mobile websites, full-sized websites, dynamic eMail, text messaging, and paper signage. It may also be as simple as offering a website that features the latest news and events related to what is displayed on the screens.

Though strategy is a huge part of this, budget may be the stronger force at play. If you have a limited budget, strategy is even more important.

Smaller budgets may require more phone number and eMail address content for the call to action. Larger budgets may allow for native mobile application development or at least dedicated web space for the digital signs.

Whatever the budget, it has to be easy and convenient for the customer to access. If your available web space is 10 folders into your website, you will need to create a short code to reduce the amount they have to type.

SMS interaction is useful as well, as a text message can contain a link to the relevant website.  Creating a web-based poll could be useful for immediate feedback, and additional measurable customer data.

Ideally, the information can be passed from the sign to a mobile phone or tablet, or made available for later reference to  a computer through a web address or eMail message. Reaching the audience where and how they want is the important thing.

Is there one sure way to reach 100 percent of the audience? Not likely.

Knowing your audience is half the battle. The rest you will learn along the way.  As you find out what works, focus your resources accordingly and you will see an improvement in engaging the audience.

People are not averse to viewing your content, you just need to put it where they are, and these days that could be anywhere.

Jared Padgett is the Manager of Web Development and Digital Media at Pepperdine University School of Law.  He has been working in Digital Signage since 2007 and holds two Digital Signage certifications.  He obtained an MBA in Information Technology in 2011.

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