This week, Aberdeen Group has released a useful study titled, Digital Signage: A Path to Customer Loyalty, Brand Awareness, and Marketing Performance. I was looking forward to seeing the final product after spending time in November and December with an Aberdeen representative talking about potential sponsorship, which we ended up passing on. Aberdeen typically supports its research efforts by soliciting a limited number of sponsors. It then publishes sponsor logos and links within the document and provides some valuable marketing tools to those sponsors, ensuring wide distribution by making the reports accessible for free (with sign-in to fuel the marketing engine). While this study is not authored by the same analyst we had discussed, given the timeframe and topic, I assume it is the same report. If it is the same report, it came a long way during December.

My issues with the executive summary that I saw at the time included use of terms that did not demonstrate a deep understanding of digital signage and use of second and third tier case study deployments presented as best-in-class. To Aberdeen’s credit, those issues have been cleared up in this version. The Best-in-Class PACE Framework presented in the report is dramatically more relevant than what I had seen, and the data presented in the report is useful. The study utilized an online survey that had 138 respondents, followed up by “interviews with select survey respondents” to shed further light on responses to the survey. Of the respondents, 41% were from hardware, software, public relations and consulting firms. Only 8% were from retailers, 5% from financial services companies, and 46% classified as “other industries”. I would like to have seen more retailers and a breakout of responses from actual digital signage network operators, but sometimes you just take what you can get.

The report starts with a couple of nice and juicy observations. First, “decreasing effectiveness of traditional marketing tactics” (particularly content management and ROI challenges with traditional signage) and the “changing expectations of target audiences” are key drivers of digital signage justification. This is interesting in that the prospect of advertising revenue does not appear on the chart as a driver at all. The second observation is that best-in-class (top 20%) performers among early digital signage adopters are seeing significant upside with respect to brand awareness and cross-sell/upsell performance over the rest of the pack. This might support the ideas that location, clear objectives and execution make a big difference, and that there is a real path to ROI.

In a benchmark assessment of best-in-class performers against the rest of the respondents, it was not surprising to see markedly higher organizational dedication to digital signage tasks and functions among top performers, as well as higher usage of technology. What interestingly did not seem to click was the fact that only 17% of top performers had “the ability to link results of digital signage activities to increased revenues and other financial outcomes”, while 42% had defined digital signage performance metrics. Seems like a conflict in terms, or perhaps it makes sense given that many respondents were not measuring financial outcomes (e.g. non-retailers). Later, it is revealed that 67% of respondents plan to close that gap by working to link digital signage activities to revenue data. This would be a good thing for network owners, advertisers and investors alike, especially if the data became widely publicized.

Revealing my bias as a software solution provider, I was most heartened by a chart that showed the two greatest differentiators between leaders and laggards are the usage of content management systems and media server systems. Given the number of home-grown and non-networked “systems” still out there, it seems clear who the laggards are. The two least-adopted technologies among leaders were rules-based decision engines and mobile device integration. Want to take bets on where those go in next year’s survey? I say upward, based largely on actual availability of tested options.

Aberdeen offers good insights along with the raw data, and even offers customized steps to success for laggards, average performers and leaders. The study provides a baseline that will be of interest when trend analysis can be applied over time. It is well worth reading.