For years, we’ve been helping companies leverage the power of digital media to drive action. Whether they’re using it to increase employee engagement, deliver a better shopping experience or promote menu specials (both of which ultimately improve sales), the primary engine is content.

However, in many organizations, content is the ugly duckling of a digital signage program. In the development and buying process, it’s often one of the last considerations. What does get attention? Hardware and software: the screens, players and software to run that equipment. Content is an afterthought, and even worse, technology decisions often end up driving content, which means it’s limited to what the chosen technology will display.

Digital Signage Content

That’s a mistake. You might not know this, but content accounts for more than 60% of the total operating cost of a digital signage solution, so it’s expensive if you don’t get it right. Even more to the point, content needs to support what you want to achieve with your program. If content is dictated by technology, the chances of meeting your objectives drops. Worse yet, the technologies you choose may not be ones that could dramatically reduce the cost of your content creation and management.

For those reasons alone, organizations need to stop putting their heads in the sand about their content. Make your content decisions before technology choices. Then look at how technology options will impact the cost of both content creation and management.

Here are a few other thoughts to keep in mind concerning digital signage content.

Gaining consensus for the purpose for your program – which determines the direction for content – is critical. It is not possible for one person in an organization to have all the knowledge and experience necessary to design and implement a digital signage solution. In fact, we work with our customers to make sure that everyone who should be involved in the solution is part of the team.

But just as unity is important on a sports team, it’s also important among those working on a digital signage implementation. Everyone needs to be clear on the “why” of the program: business objectives, desired results and expected return on investment. Having specific objectives dictates how you use digital signage, where you place it, how your employees or customers will engage with it – and what kind of content you’ll design for it.

Take a look at “Avoiding a Shipwreck” in our white paper, The Digital Media Iceberg, which talks about the steps involved in implementing a program. You’ll find that content design is number 6 and technology number 9 on the list of 12. Strategic decisions such as developing objectives and defining success come first.

A clear call to action often is neglected – and shouldn’t be. Calls to action aren’t just critical for websites and emails. For marketers using digital signage to reach customers, there must be purpose behind the solution and there must be a clear, compelling and concise call to action to help drive that action. Without a CTA, signage is just wallpaper. With one, signage can direct customers where to go to buy an item, how to take advantage of a discount, or why they want to respond to an offer as soon as possible. If beacons and cell phones are involved, CTAs can include coupons or instant social sharing.

Corporate communications professionals also need to include calls to action to engage employees. This may not come as naturally or seem as obvious as it does to their marketing colleagues. But even a basic news item on a digital sign can include a next step for employees to follow.

For example, a brief mention of the company’s year-end results can include information about how to get a print version of the annual report and learn more about the organization’s results and direction. Think creatively and every piece of content on a digital sign can include a way to deepen an employee’s involvement with it, and with the company.

Finally, digital signage is just a channel and technology is just a tool. When businesses began using social media, most talked about it as if it were an entity unto itself, separate from all other communication channels. Everyone wanted a social media strategy. Well, social media isn’t a strategy – it’s a channel for communication, just like any other – and the same holds true for digital signage. Your business, marketing and communication plans set the direction and help you figure out your content. Only then should you choose the right methods to deliver messages and market to the audiences that are important to you.

Digital signage facilitates those efforts and may well be the right choice for your organization – but that decision needs to be based on your overall goals, not because the technology is sleek and sexy. You’ll find that when it comes to digital signage, looks will only get you so far. You need substance, too – and that’s the role of carefully considered and well-designed content.