Content Before Digital Signage Hardware | Freshwater Digital

Content Before Digital Signage Hardware

July 21, 2020 Alyssa Ahrens

Content Before Digital Signage Hardware

Hardware and software procurement is often either overlooked or handled by a different department for digital signage. A pain point in the industry, especially from a digital signage agency perspective, is that content isn’t the number one influence on the reasoning for a project. Content decides digital signage hardware. If the content and audience it’s being delivered to is the number one focus, the equipment would come second. Unfortunately, equipment typically comes from an IT department and is often completely disconnected from the content team, i.e. marketing or communications departments. This brings up the primary question, how do we solve this and how do we recommend our clients navigate this when it’s too late.

The question can probably be detailed in a 10-page white paper of how digital signage works and the key components of a proper system. However, for your sake, we’ll condense this into the following sections.

  • Purpose and Ownership (Who and Why)
  • Placement (Where)
  • Display features (size, brightness, etc.) (What)
  • Software features (future-proofing) (What)
  • Logistics (How)
  • Budget & ROI (Why)

Read our other blogs to learn more about digital signage.

Who and Why

First, you’re off to a good start. There’s plenty of data from reputable sources on how effective digital signage networks can be to nearly any audience, anywhere in the world. Now that you’re at least interested in digital signage, you need to evaluate why that is. To get you thinking on the right track, first identify your industry and audience. One example would be you’re a large corporate office and want to communicate with your various employees, visitors, and stakeholders. If this is the case, identify who will manage the content, even if the agency is the one making the content. In our experience, an internal communications department is the perfect team for this. You’ll want to identify this so you can manage expectations both from a budgeting standpoint and from an ongoing labor need.

However, you’ll obviously want to include IT to help with the device management – power, data, and general networking security.


Where the screens are physically placed will make or break a digital signage network. It’s far too often that we see a screen you’d have to have x-ray vision to see while pulling in PowerPoint presentations through a thumb drive. This not only is completely ineffective but quite honestly reflects poorly on how you value communications to your company, visitors, and stakeholders. You’ll want to identify where you see the most foot traffic and ideally the longest dwell time, i.e. where people hangout. Don’t forget, not all offices are suitable for digital signage and don’t let an agency convince you it’s always the right solution, that’s just not true.

Corporate office digital signage display

Now that you’ve identified where to put the screen you’ll want to consult on the actual content strategy. The strategy should at least identify if you’ll be doing longer or shorter videos and if they have large text. Every space will have a different ideal content strategy, but for budgets and labor, a compromise is needed across all your displays so that you can maximize efficiencies.

What – Display Hardware

After you’ve identified the general content size, choose a display that will show that content in a legible format. Our go-to rule of thumb is to be able to read it at least 1.5 times while in the space. That means you’ll want a display that is large enough to capture the audience’s attention but also allow them to read it without squinting for the desired amount of time. You’ll also want to consult with experts, if you haven’t already, on what brightness or NIT/Lumens you’ll need. Screen brightness is especially important in outdoor or bright areas. Finally, make sure it has the proper inputs needed to network and set up your digital signage players, if it doesn’t have a built-in media player.

What – Media Player

Media players are incredibly difficult to choose from. They all have pros and cons and there is never a one size fits all solution. For that reason, Freshwater Digital takes pride in being hardware and software agnostic. To summarize a quite complex industry, you’ll want to identify how you’ll use the content, what you need it to do, and what you may need in the future. After identifying certain features like templates, HTML5 capabilities, RSS feeds, and scheduling needs, you’ll select your software and media players. We recommend narrowing it down to two. One with a higher SaaS fee and one that’s a lower budget. This way, you can consult with your IT teams to figure out what suits their needs from a budget and security standpoint, i.e. on-prem or cloud.

Video Design

By now, you should start to realize why IT can’t be the only team involved and why the content should lead to the choice of hardware. We’ve only scratched the surface by the way.


At this point, you’ve identified your content, displays, media players, and software. You’ve also identified general budgets and costs. Digital signage is complex though and you may need to think about the overall logistics with project management teams. We recommend asking and identifying these questions:

  • Is the digital signage hardware and media player available?
  • Is the screen available?
  • Will it ship within our desired timeline?
  • Do we have installation figured out, including identifying the need for a lift or mounting to uncommon surfaces such as concrete or steel? We’ve even run across will the large display fit in the doorway/elevator?
  • Who will ensure we stay on track, i.e. manage the project?
Budgets and ROI

We always recommend evaluating your digital signage. Do you want your internal surveys to provide better responses to employee satisfaction metrics? This is a common desire for large corporate offices that need to provide transparency into the organization and keep everyone happily engaged. If that particular measurement is the case, the dollars you’re willing to spend is entirely up to you. If you’re looking to increase sales in a customer-facing capacity, you can measure that to evaluate a precise ROI model. It’s also quite common to simply elevate a space and there’s no immediate and identifiable ROI. How you measure success should be decided far before projects are approved much less implemented.

Content Marketing ROI
Final Thoughts

Digital signage hardware should always be chosen based on the content strategy. Content will influence everything from the size of the display through the ongoing SaaS fees. Identify the Who, What, Where, When, and Why before starting your digital signage project.

Authors: Jon Dodge and Ben Kaluski

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