Thursday, September 13, 2012

McDonalds to display calories on their menus in the US starting next Monday

Starting next Monday, McDonalds to display calories in their restaurants in the US (not yet in Canada).  Check out this latest article from LaPresse (french Montreal newspaper). 

See this English article on the same subject from the Calgary Herald.

This has big implications for digital menu board acceptance in QSR restaurants.

Digital menu board tips

Digital signage is quickly becoming a common sight in quick service restaurants.  There are many reasons for this.  For example, many US states have passed legislation that require nutritional information be displayed prominently so customers can make healthier food choices.

This is great for digital signage and mobile communication technologies.  They are ideal for distributing detailed product information while providing a useful marketing platform for QSR  chains.

Large corporation with access to quasi-unlimited resources are all over this stuff.  Walk into any modern McDonalds, Burger King or other similar chain and you will see some great examples of digital signage hanging behind the counters.

By now, we all know the benefits of digital menu boards...

  • Flexibility: Instantly change the menus being displayed according to the time of day, promotion, competitive environment, etc...
  • Visual impact: Attract and retain customer's attention with bold animations or video content.
  • Immediacy: In many cases, menu board content and pricing is driven by the operator's POS system ensuring the information is always kept up to date.
  • Consistency: By updating content across every location, restaurant chain owners can ensure their messaging is kept up to date and consistent across pricing or geographic regions.  Promotions are synchronized and kept up to date without local staff's involvement.

But this is only part of the story.  Digital signage can do much more than just menus.  It's a communication platform. And what makes it great at informing customers also works for the restaurant's staff who require ongoing training, product information and guidance.

Smart operators should really consider the benefits of adding an extra screen for their common meeting/training area.  By then, the infrastructure is already in place so the cost of one more screen is easy to justify when it helps improve your company's bottom line.

So how can smaller QSR chains take advantage of this new technology without breaking the bank?

Start with a Google image search using the terms "digital signage menu boards" and see what comes up.  You may be surprised when the search engine returns hundreds of thousands of results. Take the time to explore these results and you will discover a wide range of menu applications, from static portrait layouts to fully interactive kiosks.  This will provide some really useful inspiration.

Take the time to figure out what you want to achieve before you consider any specific hardware and software solution.  Consider screen locations, layouts and orientation.  Decide if you want a lot of activity on screen or if a more static approach works better because these factors will drive your choices.

For example, video and Flash animations require a more powerful PC than static images and text.  This is even more critical if you choose to drive multiple screens from a single computing device.  Not every software product supports multi-screen and multi-channel installations so it's important to ask these questions early on, before you make your final selection.

Think of mounting options.  Do you plan to install the PCs at the rear of the screens or will you place them in a remote and secure area, away from heat and humidity from the kitchen?  These are very important questions that must be asked early on.

If at all possible, keep your options open and don't go at it alone.  The trick is to find knowledgeable  partners who can help build a solution that will meet your own specific requirements.

You don't need the resources of a McDonalds to do digital signage right but you must take the time to do your research and your planning before you get too far in the process.

photo credit: via photo pin cc

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Feeding the Beast (How to create good content!)

One of the biggest challenges facing digital signage network operators is how to keep their screens populated with a constant stream of attractive and meaningful content.

Travel to any large city around the globe and you will encounter some type of digital signage.  You may see large LED billboards, projection devices of flat panel screens hanging on a wall but more often than not the content will be irrelevant to the venue or of no real value to the viewer.

So why does this happen?

The first mistake is treating digital signage like broadcast TV.  You see, broadcast television can afford to retain a viewer's attention for 30, 60, 90 seconds or longer but digital signage only has a few seconds to make an impression.  Next time you encounter a digital signage screen in your local mall or in a public space, check out how many people actually pay attention to the screen.  See if you can figure out how long viewers have to notice and absorb the content as you walk by.  Chances are it's a lot less than you think.

Knowing how long viewers have to absorb digital signage content should be the first step in the design process.  Consider what happens when someone encounters a static (printed) poster or banner.  Digital signage impacts viewers in a similar way but you need to consider how long will it take to put the content up on screen and how long it must remain there so it's noticed and absorbed by your target audience.  If you are designing for an outdoor venue, also consider people who are biking or driving by.

So the first lesson is: Simplicity and legibility is key.  Don't cram too much content on screen at once.  Don't overuse content channels and zones because this will impact the viewer's ability to notice, absorb and retain your message. Follow good design guidelines and set your text using a bold, legible font.

If you plan to schedule content based on dayparting, don't overload your playlists with too much content and you may also find it's better to have your content cycle often to ensure more viewers are exposed to it.

Adding live news feeds and weather is also quite popular but this must be done with proper planning and care.  For example, do you really need to cover part of the screen with a permanent scrolling news ticker?  Sometimes it's better to show news items and weather forecasts as part of your playlist content instead of using a ticker permanently displayed on screen.  Remember that mixing informative content with your advertising will help attract and retain a viewer's attention.

It's very important to consider the venue as this will have a huge impact on your content and your layouts.  In some cases you can get away with a "denser" screen layout that uses scrolling tickers and multiple content feeds.  This would be the case in a hotel or convention center where you need to publish a lot of information for a very broad audience.

If you have in-house creative staff used to work with print media or the web, be sure to have them trained in motion graphics.  Your creative team should be familiar with popular tools like Adobe After Effects or Apple Motion.

Another good content creation tool is Flypaper.  It lets you create high quality digital signage content quickly and effectively.

It's best to avoid Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote for anything other than corporate or small business applications.  These tools can be extended with other third party applications but if you need to create high impact and effective content, stick with the tools of the trade.

I often tell my clients digital signage is the marriage of print media and TV so you must adapt your creative  accordingly.

If you don't have your own in-house creative staff or if you are looking for inspiration, check out some of these useful resources:

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photo pin cc