As CEO of Insteo, Jim Nista has seen his fair share of realistic and unrealistic digital signage ambitions. Fortunately, as the medium matures, “today we’re seeing a lot more realism,” he observed. “That’s interesting, because there is a lot of talk about cool conceptual projects with BLEs and RFID, but we’re seeing more interest in the practical logistics—the ability to quickly push out messaging in restaurants and retail. It’s functional content, which may not be as interesting, but it’s really starting to ramp up.”

Nista will be sharing his expertise at the inaugural SCN Connected Screen Conference, to be presented at the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) on March 15 in Las Vegas, NV. He’s a panelist on the “Monetizing Interactive Signage” discussion, which will provide AV integrators with new options for selling engagement with digital signage displays. The event will offer a real-world look at technologies and techniques that go beyond the display, such as how to integrate scheduling software with marketing programs, and how to use proximity technologies to prompt customer action.

Developers of a user-friendly HTML 5 content creation mechanism, Insteo makes it easier for clients large and small to go beyond slide shows and digital posters into more dynamic content. Today what tops the list of client topics is “the idea of very active, local, quick messaging.”

Not too long ago, it would have been much harder to do localized messaging, Nista explained. For a client that had 200 locations, they would have to re-render the video for every content change, where now they have a single content playlist, accessible via web browser, enabling each location to adjust a standard template for their specific messages. This makes it easier for a network of car dealerships, for example, to roll out the visual welcome mat with signage that greets special guests.

It’s all a lot easier with today’s HTML5 options, he points out. “It is CMS independent—as long as CMS supports HTML 5, we can do that,” Nista explained. “We’re not asking customers to get into a complicated CMS, just asking them to change some words on existing images in an existing playlist. They don’t have to render anything or upload.”

Images too, are easier for the layperson to edit. “We can even get into face detection on pictures, and crop images dynamically, so users don’t even have to get into Photoshop.”

To get to this level of simplicity though, Inteo is still building custom HTML5 programs for clients. “Every project we get is different, there are no pre-canned templates for these things—we theoretically could have them, but clients never want the same thing twice.”

So what is Nista seeing in digital signage right now?

The Brand Matters: There’s still a lot of digital signage out there that looks like PowerPoint, but if it’s customer facing, they want it to look more polished.

Now We’re Dealing with the Marketing Department: These projects initially originated out of IT or AV—the people focused on technology, instead of creative. Now it’s going into the hands of marketing and advertising agencies.

Just Like that 1990s Website Refresh: It’s the same way as when websites got started; it used to be handled by IT because they were the experts in the technology, and they knew how to make it work. Nobody cared what it looked like, just as long as it worked. But then it got into marketing, and the content is getting much better.

You Too, Can Sell Great Content: A lot of integrators are realizing they can partner with a creative services agency like us. We don’t outbound sell, or do installation or integration; the projects come to us through integrators. We work with clients of all sizes, and our integrator partners resell our services for a profit—they mark up our proposals. The savviest integrators realize they don’t lose money by partnering with us; they make more money. And as the point of contact for their client, they’re the ones providing the best results, the most customer satisfaction, with the added service of creative and programming.

But Call a Content Partner Early: It’s like if you’re building a house, the general contractor comes in and does the construction, and they tell a customer they can hire interior designer to make the inside look great. They mark up the interior designer’s fees, and the advantage is, if you bring in that interior designer in in the blue print phrase, you’re going to make the house look great.”

Just for Big-Bucks Clients, Though, Right? No. We can do all sizes, a single-location menu board, or multi-location support. The end-user’s budget may support only 20-30 hours of creative services, but it doesn’t matter, we can definitely work with anyone.

It’s Better for Everyone: With a small restaurant, you really don’t want to give them hardware and software and say, “Figure it out on your own.” That’s not going to help them. What we provide is all cloud-based, and it’s easy to use. In many cases, the integrator invites us to come in and talk to the customer, to help design the content and train them how to update it. Some of the most successful projects are when we work with the end-user directly. We are very mindful of what our role is on a project—we are not going to steal a customer.

What Are Clients Tired of Seeing in Digital Signage? It gets back to the website example. The older look of the websites, with the menu row across the top, that’s out, and now the much more modern look has larger photos and a very clean layout. That kind of transition is also playing into digital signage these days. Customers are saying, “We want it to be clean, to have a modern feel.”

So How do You Design “Clean and Modern?” Describing that is one thing, and making that actually happen is another. We’re focused on trying to create that very modern visual engaging signage—getting away from PowerPoint. The problem with a lot of these content management systems is that they have PowerPoint-level creative in them. But clients don’t want customer-facing work to look like that. PowerPoint is a great tool for delivering a business presentation; it’s not for engaging customers with your brand.

Why Outsource Content Design? End customers want their digital signage to have a well-designed appearance—like their website, which is usually done by outside company. Whether you’re Joe’s Pizza Place or a huge bank with hundreds of locations, you want a professional look. But you don’t want to be doing that yourself; you want to be making pizza.

Come see Joe Nista from Insteo at SCN’s new AV integrator business program, produced in conjunction with Digital Signage Expo (DSE), to be held in Las Vegas, NV March 15-18. The SCN Connected Screen Conference is an all-day seminar on March 15, the day before DSE exhibits open. Industry veteran and SCN editor-at-large Kirsten Nelson will be moderating a series of discussion panels focused on interactive digital signage, immersive branding with large-scale video displays, digital signage integration business trends, and opportunities and future trends. Sessions will be focused on how AV integrators can move beyond the screen and into more complex and profitable digital signage implementations. Guest panelists from high-end digital signage companies and the most successful AV integrators in the space will provide insights on how to build more engaging experiences for clients.