Digital signage future is sustainable, accessible, metaverse-poweredDigital Signage Today
Michelle Montazeri discusses how digital signage is evolving away from mere screens on walls thanks to mobile interactivity and the metaverse, where platforms and influencers wield powerful influence. Customers press for sustainability and accessibility. In the end, success comes from connecting with consumers on a human level.
Michelle Montazeri, provided.
Michelle Montazeri manages digital signage at Legrand, where her background in pro AV helps inform consulting work around the globe. She sat down with Digital Signage Today to discuss the state of digital signage, including rapid evolution after COVID-19, the rising metaverse and increasing consumer demand for sustainability and accessibility.
While pro A/V is a larger, more mature industry, where “there’s a lot of rinse and repeat” and “a conference room is a conference room at the end of the day,” Montazeri explained, digital signage is different. There’s more room for customization, trial and error and there are a whole lot more players involved, from hardware to software — hence, consumers value unbiased guidance from consultants like Montazeri, in a field that is small but growing fast. “When something’s in a high growth category, like signage, it means a lot of change is going to happen,” Montazeri said.
In the wake of the pandemic, digital signage is moving quickly into spaces previously ignored by pro AV. “If we think about who is most desperate in the employee space right now, where they’re really struggling with getting good employees is retail and food and beverage,” Montazeri said, along with convenience stores and transportation. Before the pandemic, many businesses considered digital signage optional, even a frill.
“Now that it’s required, you’ve got decision makers and investors from an organization that are much different than they were in the past. It’s not really about marketing, but it’s about operations,” Montazeri added, bringing a focus on advertising and hardware leasing (hardware as a service).
Amid this turmoil, content is still king. “Content gets stale almost within 30 seconds,” Montazeri said. “We’re so used to being overstimulated with our devices, with our computer, our TV on in the background, social media… We’re used to fresh new content every second. So, if you’ve got an ad that even circulates every 30 seconds, people are checked out.”
“Use (the consumers’) own people, who already have a platform, who already have an audience and who are already trusted – and you’ve got a winning combination,” Michelle Montazeri said. Image provided by iStock.
One solution comes with the so-called “metaverse,” an area where emerging technologies overlap with social media platforms and other aspects of the Internet, where platforms and influencers wield immense power.
For example, Estée Lauder, a classic beauty products brand, collaborated with Instagram influencers to rebrand and reach an entirely new generation. “Use (the consumers’) own people, who already have a platform, who already have an audience, and who are already trusted — and you’ve got a winning combination,” Montazeri explained.
Also, acting on customers’ social media feedback is essential. “They feel like, ‘Whoa, this brand just heard me, I have a voice now,'” Montazeri said. “I’m really, really invested in them and have a customer for life.” Star ratings or mobile polls also have a place; the point is, interaction should be quick and easy.
Digital signage is more interactive than ever thanks to the metaverse and ad-targeting serves relevant content to consumers while boosting ROI and providing robust analytics; however, consumer anxiety about privacy and security grows in the face of fear-based media coverage.
Influencers and platforms wield powerful influence over consumers in the emerging metaverse, where interaction and responsiveness by brands are essential. Image provided by iStock.
“I think it’s up to us to educate consumers about what is possible… and then take it to the next step and say, ‘We can make your life a lot easier,'” Montazeri said. “We can make it a more comfortable experience for everyone. And I think if we educate consumers on what’s possible, it becomes a lot less scary.”
In communication and projects alike, Montazeri takes lessons from Design Thinking, a popular method created at Stanford. The first step, “empathy,” requires discarding assumptions. “Let’s take a pause and go figure out what our audience wants,” Montazeri said. “Sometimes it’s even, ‘Who is our audience?’… I feel like many brands are still confused. Because they want the biggest audience… but that may not be your targeted audience. So, you might be directing your campaigns towards the completely wrong group.”
Constant, ongoing user feedback is essential. “Your staff and your consumers should be equally diverse,” Montazeri said. “If you don’t have somebody on staff who can speak about an audience in a way that mirrors their needs, you’ve done them a disservice.”
“This is where we feel most comfortable,” Montazeri said. “This is where we feel at home.” Image provided by iStock.
So: is digital signage evolving away from mere “screens on a wall?”
“It’s my experience!” Montazeri said. “If I walk past a display at my favorite store, and I get a popup on my phone (via NFC) that says: ‘Hey, would you like to interact with Zara…’ and now I didn’t have to scan a QR code, I didn’t even have to stop, but now I’ve got an ad from Zara with an outfit that I’m like, ‘I might like that,’ order it, (and) send it to my house.”
Consumers see mobile as a safe space. “This is where we’re most comfortable,” Montazeri said, holding up her phone. “This is where we feel at home.”
That’s part of why accessibility undergirds the whole experience. “Make it quick, make it easy, but what’s quick and easy to me might be very different from what you find quick and easy, might be different than what my mom finds quick and easy,” Montazeri added. “Equity in technology is really important. We can’t go down one path and assume it’s going to fit the needs of everybody.”
There’s progress, but also room to grow. “I think the myriad of options that exist today is a start,” Montazeri said. “Where we struggle is, we’re replacing rather than adding,” such as replacing QR codes with the newer NFC technology, instead of offering both.
Another challenge is inward focus. “‘Let’s fix our house before we fix everybody else’s house.’ It’s kind of an attitude right now, which I’m sensitive to and appreciate. But we have to do both,” Montazeri said. “I still think talking about it is No. 1, and I think this next generation of consumers will be the catalyst to make it happen because they don’t tolerate any equality in any world, which I think is awesome. It gives me hope.”
Along with inclusive, diverse creative content, audio is an easy starting point. “I think audio integration into everything we do,” Montazeri said. “It should just be a requirement. We have the technology to do it.”
For various tools, automatic opt-in is catching on. “We’d much rather be at a point where we’re opting out rather than forcing folks to opt in when they don’t know (a tool) exists,” Montazeri said. “Also, I think of it from a diversity perspective: if it constantly feels like I need to opt into something, don’t I feel excluded? Why not make me feel included and then I can choose… That’s a much more comfortable approach.”
Sustainability and mental health are informing building standards like LEED and WELL. Provided by iStock.
As with accessibility, consumers are driving interest in sustainability, though digital signage lags behind pro AV. “We have a long way to go,” Montazeri said, with most change driven by the few companies of sufficient size to sway entire industries. It’s harder for smaller players. “There’s a cost in order for us to make a change,” Montazeri observed. “We have to be willing to have that conversation.”
Building standards, like LEED and WELL, show promise in shaping the industry to be more green, along with prioritizing human factors; while one grading system may penalize digital signage for high energy use, the other may grant it points for mental health. “So that’s the direction we need to see people going,” Montazeri said. “Is that going to impact our carbon footprint? No. Our energy efficiency? No. But it’s going to really help on the mental health side, which is equally important.”
“People are more adamant about the way they work,” Montazeri added. Also, companies are willing to spend more for sustainability in their projects, and peer pressure from sustainable competitors is a real thing, though much supply chain work remains. “We should be pushing and saying, hey, in order to work with us, here are the guidelines,” Montazeri said.
True to her roots as a consultant, Montazeri sees education and communication at the center of digital signage, and success comes from connecting with consumers on a human level. “I think one of the things we can all do in the signage space is demystify digital signage,” she said. “It’s not rocket science at the end of the day.”
Daniel Brown is the editor of Digital Signage Today. He is an accomplished technology writer whose experience includes creating knowledge base content for a major university’s computing services department. His previous experience also includes IT project management, technical support and education. He can usually be found in a coffee shop near a large pile of books.