Interview: Back end innovation key to digital success says Banner's Barry McPhillips

A lot of effort goes into the ‘front end’ when it comes to digital signage, and rightly so. But innovation on the invisible ‘back end’ is increasingly becoming key to the growth of the sector.

This is the view of Banner Managed Communication multichannel solutions director Barry McPhillips. He says: "Channel integration is going to be absolutely key. Clients who see digital signage as a single channel will find themselves with an expensive problem on their hands very quickly. Data and marketing content are the fuel to power any campaign and clients will need to think about this right across a customer’s journey."

Another thing that will grow in importance, he says, is making digital content more relevant and contextual. This means linking deparures, previous interactions and stock levels to customer preference and choice.

"Rather than talking about Christmas that is three weeks away, you talk about what’s happening this morning. Digital can enable that to happen. As marketing budgets are shrinking and every penny being spent has to be much more accountable,” says McPhillips.

This means that analytics is also becoming increasingly important, and it is an area where digital has an advantage over more traditional media. "It means that with such a powerful capability, digital signage is finally making its presence felt in board rooms," says McPhillips.

Banner highlights its work for theme park owner Merlin Entertainments. At Alton Towers the company brought in Banner to provide screens informing visitors about the queue situation on rides and other alternatives. The project won a Gold POPAI award.

"Our solution involved a lot of technical logic, clever content and some brilliant interactive screens that had built in metric monitors. Not only were we able to push people around a theme park much more efficiently by using queue time data, but we were also able to push marketing and upsell messages in real time," says McPhillips. "There’s a 90 minute queue on this ride – but hey – why not bust the queue with a Fast Track pass for a fiver. Or at 11am push the coffee and a muffin deal or remind guests that it’s lunchtime… and we can tell which content works too."

Cameras and software recognise who looks and dwells longest when content isplayed. It even helps provide a link between screen content being played and the amount of coffee sold.

Speaking about the initiative, Alton Towers customer engagement manager Richard Hepherd says there is potential to expand the screens to other attractions. “There is clear potential for Merlin to introduce this system at other attractions and for this innovative visual communications technology to become a central feature of the group’s guest experience and engagement strategy,” he says.

The biggest future challenge for the digital signage industry is a simple one. "[It's] to not be known as simply digital signage," McPhillips says. He adds that Banner believes the digital sign should be a component part of a wider solution: "It’s like asking what the future is for tiptronic gearboxes in cars. The gearbox is just one part of the entire driving experience."

The sector has taken great strides in the last decade. The cost of hardware has balanced out and more people are better educated in the channel. This has led to more clients venturing into the digital signage space, and for the right reasons.

Now, a huge shift in attitudes is helping everyone in the sector to be more innovative and creative. Limited access to technology and a lack of understanding were, previously, killers for the industry.

The problem hasn’t gone away entirely. "But the biggest change has been the acceptance and adoption of digital media in the lives of all consumers. Digital isn’t new anymore. It simply is the way of the world and consumers expect to see it as part of their experiences. In fact, generationally, the younger groups demand their media to be digital. Generation Z simply don’t look at printed posters anymore,” says McPhillips.