Creating a Digital Signage Network (44. Return on Objective for Digital Signage in Higher Ed)

The Calculus of Digital Signage Return on Objective in Higher Education

(It ain’t brain surgery!)

Don’t lose your mind… it’s common sense!

The Basic Concept of ROI vs. ROO

I seriously doubt that any person considering installing ONE digital sign or ONE HUNDRED digital signs doesn’t quickly ask themselves an obvious question, “Is this thing gonna EVER pay for itself?”  Certainly, in higher education environments, we all have to consider funding, budgets and a reasonable return for the effort.  As I have mentioned in prior installments within this blog series “Creating A Digital Signage Network”, there are a couple models we can subscribe to:  Return on Investment (ROI) or Return on Objective (ROO).  Both models are valid but depend upon the parameters or calculus you are going to employ in your specific network management design.  It can be complex or it can be simple.  The challenge is in how you chose to quantify the results.

Some higher education entities will choose to sell “real estate” on a displayed item of content playing on their digital sign(s) such as a paid advertisement, a corporate logo or “bug”, sponsorship or commercial promotion.  Revenues generated from such advertising can offset the digital signage network expenses for equipment, software, IT network costs, payroll, costs of sales, etc.  In this scenario you need to determine to what extent or percentage you need revenues to cover those expenses and then structure your sales model and team accordingly.  Tracking “impressions” or how often the pedestrian public intercepts your messages on a daily basis would factor into how you would price your advertisements.  This would be a basic Return on Investment (ROI) model.

In other higher education institutions you will see a model that focuses on a Return on Objective (ROO) model where advertising is not sold; rather the “return” is quantified based upon meeting the objectives administrators set as goals for the digital signage network deployments on their campuses.  This is the model we have chosen to pursue at West Virginia University where we have more than 100 standard digital signs, wayfinding and video walls telling the good news of WVU to more than 45,000 students, faculty, staff and the general public every day.

Finding value doesn’t require crying over math!

The Calculus of ROO Digital Signage at Higher Education Institutions

Your digital signage network is a tremendous tool for your institution and I truly believe it has the ability to actually become quite cost effective in consideration of some of the more  traditional media costs of doing business in reaching your intended campus markets.  Let’s consider the high value of effectively communicating to those campus markets by breaking down some of the often overlooked benefits of digital signage and content creation.  (Content creation is merely creating the displayed images and the messages on the digital signs around your campus.)  

Let’s face it… every higher education institution is selling products to their campus community 24/7/365 such as an undergraduate education, a masters or doctoral education, internal college recruiting, special events, faculty events, staff events, sports events, concerts, student organizations, community events, official sponsorships, student residence halls, dining facilities, intramural opportunities, career services, visitors centers, student union events, transportation services and a myriad of other opportunities.  Getting that great message out to the community is always a challenge and you have to choose the mode of communication media you will use to do this efficiently and effectively.

When trying to place an intrinsic value on your Return on Objective you have to factor in a number of thoughts.  Some of the questions below will assist you in thinking about the TRUE value you place on your messaging options and objectives.  As you ponder each one, ask yourself about how valuable the commitment to you digital signage network each item would be and how / if it meets your objectives over time.

Does every message promote our institutional brand effectively and appropriately?  Your institutional brand is one of the most important assets you possess.  Be proud of it.  Protect it.  Promote it effectively and professionally.  Everyone that sees your messages is a potential benefactor in one way or another.  Leverage your digital signage to instill loyalty to YOUR brand by taking pride in every message that goes across your digital signage.  I tell our digital signage team that the litmus test for this part of the equation should always be, “Can our university President point to every message with pride and tell people that he supports that design and content of the message?”  If he can, then that adds a huge amount of value to the overall objective.

Does the content displayed on our signage appear to be well designed and bring pride to the institution?  Most higher education institutions have content designers who can assist in content creation.  Take advantage of the economies of scale in re-tasking designs created by your web services department, news and information department, campus photographers, your creative arts departments or colleges, television productions, news and information department or video department.  There is no sense in recreating the wheel, plus these designers will love the opportunity to have their attractive designs seen in a broader sense and scale.  By re-tasking the current designs you save payroll by co-utilizing existing content items, thereby adding value to the objective.

Do we promote an Emergency Messaging feature that assists in protecting our campus community in the event of a crisis?  Risk management and campus safety is a paramount mission of every higher educational institution.  The value to this feature on every digital sign is truly impossible to place a tangible value upon.  If you don’t place a high value on an emergency messaging feature, a judge or jury will.  Protect your campuses with this feature as a prime directive.  Digital signage technology and campus IT networks can work hand in hand to accomplish this goal and add great value to your objective of protecting your campus in a crisis.

Is our digital signage staff focused on the current technology and take pride in the key role they play in promoting the institutional brand and message?  Your team will become truly invested in quality messaging and content.  Encourage them to use every tool available to them to create high quality content by leveraging the power of the departments listed above to assist them in content creation.  I am not a professional “designer”… I admit that I can’t even draw “stick figures”… but I know a great design when I see one!  The secret to adding value to your objective in this instance is that even if you are not a professional designer, identify where those professional designers are located within your campus and use some designs they have already created (website designs, photographic designs, print media designs, etc.) and are using in other projects.  It builds continuity in you overall campus messaging.

Do our messages provide beneficial information to our students?  Keep your students, faculty, staff and community informed and promote the pride of your brand.  These campus constituents today may be the benefactors of the institution in the years ahead.  Secure their brand loyalty at every opportunity and help them take pride in THEIR university and / or college.  This adds value to your objective for decades!

Do our messages provide beneficial information to our faculty?  Highlight faculty members who excel in their fields of expertise.  Show them that you value THEIR contributions to your institution and to your students.

Do our messages provide beneficial information to our staff?  Every institution functions as a team.  Staff are a highly valuable asset in the support of the mission of the university or college.  Look for ways to highlight their faithful contribution to the education of the leaders of tomorrow.

Do our messages also provide beneficial information to our campus visitors and community?  A mixture of general announcements, informative messages, current campus photographs, historic and nostalgic campus photographs, university sports updates, club sports opportunity, short 1-minute campus videos, arts and entertainment announcements, student government announcements, college radio station announcements, explanations of how emergency alerts work on campus, etc. all add value to your loop or playlist on your digital signage.  The content information displayed should be well design and well written.  They should also be proof-read by someone that did not design them so they can be checked for accuracy.  (NOTHING stands out more glaringly in viewer minds than something misspelled in a higher education display.)  Also, make sure old or stale messages are removed from the content loop as soon as the event date passes because the longer a stale message plays in the content loop the more viewers will sense that you don’t care about accuracy and your credibility diminishes.  Mistakes will occasionally happen… but aim for perfection!  Credibility adds value to your objective.

Do our colleges and departments gain a solid marketing value for their messages to the campus?  Every official institutional media piece that is produced and distributed to the public is ALL about your brand and marketing message.  Whether it is a brochure, a booklet, an alumni magazine, a recruiting flyer, your many web pages, a campus map, a fund raising article, a radio advertisement or a digital signage poster… it is completely about instilling a LASTING affinity in the mind of your audience for your brand.  Traditional print media magazines often takes several months to go from concept, to draft, to final review, to printing, to mailing, to arriving in the hands of your audience.  Radio advertising takes time to write copy, record and the hit the airwaves.  Web pages take a period of time to design, get client approval and to post on the web for viewing.  DIGITAL SIGNAGE MESSAGES CAN BE CREATED AND PUBLISHED TO YOUR SIGNAGE WITHIN MINUTES.  The short “time to market” advantage for a digital signage message gives you the opportunity to get the word out quickly and even to make any necessary update or change to the message that does not exist in more traditional marketing media once published.  And it is most often far less expensive to produce per message!  Again, digital signage has a great marketing value and advantage in this model and to your overall objectives.

Is the content displayed attractively and with a good “call to action”?  Know your market audience.  With digital signage on a higher education campus you are predominantly marketing to a transient pedestrian who is walking or riding from Point A to Point B on your campus and will be intercepting your digital signage message for a few seconds at a time.  You must make a quick impression!  Given this model of travel, each message needs to be concise, legible and carry an obvious “call to action” so that the viewer absorbs the message clearly, quickly and understands the message.  At West Virginia University our messages tend to play about 10 seconds each and then transition to the next content message in the content loop.  We have over one hundred digital signs across our three campuses, so we are hitting the more than 45,000 students, faculty, staff and general public viewers multiple times a day with the message.   Digital signage is NOT television… people don’t park themselves in front of your digital signs to consume hours of your content each day… your message is valuable to your objectives by the shear volume of impressions per day your audience gets when intercepting your signage as they traverse your campus.

Is our digital signage network as effective, or even more effective than our social media sites?  This generation of students, faculty, staff and general public are far more astute when it comes to current technology.  Smartphones and cellphones have become daily accessories in our attire and demeanor in nearly all age groups and socio-economic cluster .  Social media outlets govern our lives more and more each semester.  Texting, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp!, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and many other social media sites tie communities of people together numerous times per day.  Again, it is all about marketing and communicating efficiently, succinctly and in a timely fashion.  Incorporating your official social media platforms into your digital signage content using RSS feeds can quickly update your audience and allow you to control your social media messaging.  INTEGRATION of all your media platforms pays untold dividends to the institution and adds easy to attain value every day to your network objectives.

Is our display content promoting our diversity efforts?  Well planned digital signage content design adds tremendous value and opportunity to highlight your diversity efforts and builds an excellent sense of community on your campus.  Diversity adds value to every objective.

Can our colleges, departments, student organizations easily create or change their own messages on the digital signage network?  Tying existing campus databases such as your campus calendar of events to your digital signage network provides excellent value to your objective model!  At West Virginia University we pull RSS feeds from all of our campus calendars to drive many of our digital signage content pages in the several individual content loops of information in various colleges or departments on our three campuses.  The value achieved is that you don’t have to re-create the wheel every day!  The information is usually already entered by someone assigned to populate a college,  departmental, or student organization calendar… we simply pull that information from the calendar database (Event title, event description, time, date and place of event) and insert it into the college, departmental, or student organization content page in our content loop and it efficiently plays by event date.  Once the date of the event passes that message automatically goes away!  Easy!  We also create simple and easy to use web forms so that colleges,  departments or student organizations can craft their own messages on the fly!  (We built in a two-level approval process so that someone in a managerial position ultimately proofs and approves the message for accuracy and appropriateness.  Once the event is submitted for approval an email is automatically sent to the manager that their approval is needed for a single message or group of messages.)

Return on Objective for digital signage in higher education is quite obvious.  Although it is challenging to place an exact dollar amount on each of the items discussed above, it nonetheless adds high value to the institution overall.  It has brought me great joy as the manager of our network to see that our highest level administrators understand the value added to the return on the objectives they have challenged us to meet as a team in the areas of campus safety, emergency messaging, brand management, campus community and marketing message.  That in itself makes it fun to come to work every day!


About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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2 Responses to Creating a Digital Signage Network (44. Return on Objective for Digital Signage in Higher Ed)

  1. Great thought provoking questions to ask. If it isn’t adding value and giving information then it’s probably not very useful.


    • swgraham2 says:

      Thanks, Kyle! Let me know if I can ever be of help! At the 2013 Digital Signage Expo they are creating an entire Higher Education Digital Signage track this year. I will be presenting some ideas there again this year and would love to meet you.



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