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You’re not alone in thinking that digital signage might be just the thing your business needs. Whether they’re looking to increase sales, drive buyer engagement, or build brand identity, businesses have been buying turning to digital signage solutions more and more in recent years. But with prices ranging from free to several thousands of dollars, it’s hard to get an idea of what a digital signage network will really cost.
The cost of digital signage will vary from business to business, depending on several factors, including:
- Type of hardware, software, and media player used
- Who is providing the signage content, and how often it changes
- Size and location of the network
As you can see, various things influence how much a digital signage network will cost your business—and we haven’t even gotten into maintenance and service fees yet. This guide will break down all the components of a digital signage network and how each one affects costs. We’ll then get into how a digital signage network can help your business and things to consider when choosing the best one for your business and budget.
What Is Digital Signage?
Chances are if you’re reading this guide, you already have a pretty good idea of what digital signage is. But just in case you’ve heard the term used and have been told you need it but aren’t really sure what it means, we’ve got you covered.
Digital signage is exactly what it sounds like: signs that are digital. If you’ve ever been to a counter-service restaurant with screens displaying a menu or advertising new items, you’ve seen digital signage. The same applies if you’ve interacted with a digital map or information kiosk at an airport or museum.
There was a time when digital signage was used exclusively by large corporations and tech companies. But, as technology improves and prices go down with each passing year, more and more businesses are starting to take advantage of it.
Nowadays, even tiny mom and pop shops can afford sleek, impressive-looking signage to drive business.
Digital Signage Components
Well, “Simple enough,” you might be thinking, “so I’ll buy some signs.” However, if you’re not incredibly tech-savvy, you might not realize that to set up a digital signage network, you’ll need more than just a screen, although you’ll certainly need that, too.
Gone are the simple days when any business who wanted a sign would just send a file to the local printer’s and have one printed up.
Digital signs, of course, are a bit more complicated than that, so they take a little more planning. To make sure you’re getting exactly what you need, it helps to understand all the components that go into digital signage.
They can be broken down into four main pieces, all of which are crucial to building a display that will efficiently serve you and your business.
The first and probably most obvious thing you’ll need is a screen of some kind. When most people think of digital signs, they imagine giant standalone units, maybe in the middle of a shopping center or perched over a busy city street.
But in fact, digital signs come in all sizes and types—you can use commercial-grade hardware created especially for the purpose, or you can repurpose a consumer device.
Digital signage can be displayed on:
- Video Wall
- Interactive screens
- Menu boards
The type of screen you decide to purchase will naturally affect the cost of your signage network. Although it may be tempting to cut corners here, keep in mind the cost of replacing subpar hardware versus paying more upfront for a better unit.
When deciding on your hardware, consider:
- Whether the sign will be indoors or out: Outdoor displays need to withstand the elements and are, therefore, usually more expensive. They also tend to use more power.
- How much (natural or artificial) light will be around the signage: You’ll need a higher-quality display if you plan on running it at night or in dim locations.
You might also consider purchasing a protective case if the unit will be outdoors or otherwise unattended; this will help prevent theft, vandalism, and damage from the elements.
The media player is a small device that holds the content your sign will be displaying—essentially a tiny computer. There are countless media players to choose from, from devices designed especially for digital signs to more budget-friendly options like the Amazon Fire TV stick.
Expect a media player (or digital signage player) to cost between $35 and $1000. That wide range is a perfect example of why it’s so difficult to give a useful estimate of digital signage costs without knowing in detail what a business needs.
It’s worth noting that devices like using an Amazon Fire TV stick or Android TV box are often less expensive than buying a media player specifically for digital signage, but they don’t come with digital signage software installed. Many digital signage players come with software already installed, so you won’t have to purchase software in addition to the device.
Whichever device you decide to go with, make sure it supports the software you’ll be using and can play a variety of different media types. Another thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need one for each display, so if you’re planning on running four screens, you’ll need an equal number of players.
Digital signage software, or a content management server (CMS), can vary in price and functionality even more than the hardware can. Every business’s needs are different, so make sure to choose the software that will best do what you need it to, not just the one with the lowest price point.
There might be free software out there, but the vast majority of it is inferior to paid software, with limited updates or support. It’s not uncommon for free versions to contain hidden fees as well, often making it less expensive and less of a hassle to buy a paid version, to begin with.
Although you might not need to buy the most expensive software on the market, you do sometimes get what you pay for, unfortunately. Below are some considerations to take into account when shopping for CMS.
Content Creation and Management
The content manager server is where you’ll create and deploy the content for your signage to display. Ideally, the software you purchase will make this a straightforward process that’s easy to learn.
The last thing a business owner wants is to purchase a system that’s impossible to use, so make sure to get an idea of ease-of-use beforehand. Get a free trial, check out tutorials, and read reviews to ensure the software’s intuitive and simple to use.
Additionally, you’ll want to check out the software’s features:
- How customizable are the templates? Can you use any design or layout that you wish?
- Can you display different messages on each screen, or must they all be the same?
- Are you able to create and deploy content remotely?
- Does the software support multimedia content? What about third-party services?
Depending on how often you plan on changing your display’s content, you (or your employees) will be spending a lot of time with the software, so make sure it does what you need it to as simply and efficiently as possible.
Some content management servers have a built-in analytics feature that monitors and measures how consumers interact with your signage; this is done using cameras, so your device does need a camera for it to work.
The software can give you an idea of:
- In-store conversion rates: By counting the number of visitors versus the number of sales
- Product interest: By determining what part of the sign people most often focus on
- Audience demographic: By breaking down who interacts with your signage the most
The more you know about your audience and how they interact with your digital signage, the better able you’ll be to provide them with what they’re looking for. Knowing how effective different displays are will help you hone your content to be more effective.
On the other hand, if you’re not particularly interested in monitoring your customers’ behavior, forgoing the analytics feature might save you a little money.
Security is something that many people fail to consider when shopping for and installing digital signage networks for their business. But unfortunately, digital displays, like just about any digital product, is capable of being hacked.
The results can be as basic as a hacker displaying embarrassing imagery on your digital displays, which has happened in New York’s Union Station. Or it can be as severe as putting your business’s (and your customers’) data at risk.
The first step of any signage security protocol is making sure unauthorized people can’t gain physical access to your devices, by gluing USB ports or purchasing a locking protective case, for example. You can also restrict who has access to software login info to prevent the wrong person from gaining access.
But it’s also essential to find out what security measures the software company takes with their product and what protections they offer. This is an instance where it’s definitely a good idea to pay a little more for added security since a network breach might easily cost you tenfold in the long run.
Updates and Support
Also, be sure to find out what your software license will get you—is it a one-time purchase, and that’s it? Or will you receive regular software updates and bug fixes? Does the company offer support, or will you be on your own after purchasing?
These things are essential to find out before deciding, as the answers will vary widely depending on the company you choose to work with.
Naturally, the free and inexpensive services do tend to have the least amount (if any) support, so you’ll mostly be on your own when navigating them or troubleshooting any problems that may arise.
It’s easy to get swept up by the excitement of shiny new digital displays to show off your branding. But have you given any thought about where the content on the screen will be coming from? After all, someone has to write it.
Usually, business owners choose one of the following:
- Self-written content: You know your business better than anyone, but are you skilled in marketing?
- Current marketing department: Creating digital signage content should be right up their alley, plus they already know your brand and products.
- Freelance copywriter: The copywriter may understand marketing, but they’ll need to nail your brand’s voice.
- Whichever employee they see first: Probably the most inefficient, least effective, and most common choice!
- Signage solution provider: This is more convenient but will add to the cost.
Whichever route you decide to take, remember to factor in the cost of the content itself when you’re pricing signage options. Good content costs money, and it makes sense to invest in it. After all, what’s the point of purchasing an impressive new display to show off shoddy content?
Besides, inferior content might cost less upfront, but it won’t win you any more business and might even have the opposite effect.
Costs of Setting Up a Digital Signage Network
There are two types of costs associated with a digital signage network:
- The initial costs to set it up
- The maintenance costs
Let’s start at the beginning, with the costs of setting the system up. As we mentioned earlier, there are a couple of things that will decide how affordable or costly your network is, regardless of which hardware or software you choose:
- Size of the network: As the number of displays increases, so does the cost
- Location of the network: Displays located outdoors require robust hardware, and depending on where they’re located, they may require routing electricity to them or obtaining permits
Once you’ve decided the above two things, you’re ready to purchase your system:
- Display(s): Can range from inexpensive consumer tablets to costly interactive kiosks
- Media player(s): Dedicated signage players or budget-friendly smart TV devices
- Software: Decide based on features and support offered, not price
- Installation: Will you be able to set it up on your own for free, or will you need to hire a technician? Does the signage service provide assistance (and is it free or an additional cost?
- Cables and mounting brackets
- Protective case (optional)
- Content: It’s a good idea to have your first batch of content ready by the time the signage arrives so you’re not struggling to throw something together at the last minute.
While each of the items listed provides you with a chance to purchase the least expensive version and save money, make sure that anything you get will do your signage justice and stand the test of time. The last thing you want to do is buy inferior hardware or software and have to pay to replace it with something better in a year or two.
Costs of Maintaining a Digital Signage Network
As we mentioned in the previous section, the signage network’s setup is only half of the cost involved. Many people forget to consider the cost of running the system once it’s up and running.
Maintenance costs may include:
- Content Creation: You’ll have to pay for new content every time you want to update your sign (except for small changes like menu items).
- Software license renewals: Often happens annually
- Service fees: Make sure you understand any service fees before signing a contract.
- IT admin costs: Hiring an IT professional or adding to your current IT team’s workload
- Hardware maintenance, repairs, and replacements: It might be more frequent if you purchase cheap hardware.
- Electrical costs: Will often be exceptionally high for outdoor signage
- Hardware and software upgrades: Will be required over time
Most business owners consider these just the cost of doing business, but they’re worth thinking about when planning your digital signage budget.
Things to Consider Before Investing in Digital Signage
Just because everyone else is getting swept up in the digital signage craze doesn’t mean that you have to. Even if you’re sure that you want signage for your business, it’s good to think about things like budget and timing and hold off until everything lines up.
Here are a few questions that might be good to ask yourself before shopping for digital signage services.
What Are You Trying to Achieve?
When deciding whether digital signage will be a good investment, it might help to think about what, specifically, you’re trying to achieve with it. Digital displays can be used for anything from displaying important information to influencing customer behavior.
These are just some of the common ways that businesses use digital signage:
- Advertising and promotion: Promoting specific services or products in-house or general advertising anywhere
- Building brand identity: In-house displays promote your brand to encourage brand loyalty
- Customer behavior: Increase customer engagement and influence buying decisions
- Information: Interpretive signage, wayfinding, times, local weather, estimated wait time, and much more
- Internal information: Training, knowledge sharing, meeting room booking, staff announcements, meeting schedule
- Menu information: Prices, ingredients, nutritional info, allergens, add-ons
- Product information: Photos, pricing, color and size options, specifications
- Self-service: Digital menus, pricing, self-check-out
- Trade shows or other events: Brand-building, customer engagement, product promotion, event times, wayfinding, local weather
There are countless ways to use digital signage for your business. And let’s be honest—if you just want digital displays to look cool and give your business a modern vibe, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
Who’s Going to Set It Up?
When business owners get excited about new software or hardware, they often forget to consider who will be in charge of setting it up.
Will you be setting it up, or will you have an employee do it? Or will you hire a technician? Will the setup take place during business hours, and if so, will it get in the way of business?
These details seem trivial, but they’re important to iron out ahead of time if you want the setup to go smoothly.
Who’s Going to Manage It?
Once the system’s set up, who’s going to manage it? Managing it will entail:
- Adding and changing content
- Deciding which units display which content and when
- Updating software and hardware as needed
- Troubleshooting any issues
If you or your staff aren’t tech-savvy, you might want to consider contracting an IT professional to help you learn the system and be on call if you have issues. Of course, if you’ve sprung for one of the pricier systems, they may offer phone or online support as well.
How to Reduce Digital Signage Costs
Each section in this guide aims to explain the real costs of digital signage, from the apparent hardware costs to things people might not think about, like hidden service fees.
But if you’re looking for a quick-scan list of ways to cut costs when putting together your digital signage network, we’ve got you covered. Here are some ways you can reduce that final price tag:
- Repurpose a consumer display: Like a tablet or television
- Repurpose a smart TV device: Like an Amazon Fire TV stick
- Use a free or inexpensive software: Make sure to research it first
- Start small: One display is much cheaper than ten
- Keep displays indoors: Outdoor displays are subject to the elements, vandalism, and theft, plus higher energy bills
- Use in-house content creation: As long as it’s high-quality
- Watch out for fees and service costs: Read the fine print before signing
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that cutting corners during the initial purchasing of your digital signage might come back to haunt you later if you aren’t careful since having to replace everything later can be costly.
On the other hand, if you go with the least expensive options you can find, it might make digital displays a more viable option if you’re on a budget. There’s nothing wrong with starting off with what you can afford now and slowly replacing the system with upgraded components as you’re able to.
What’s important is that you do it purposefully, knowing that it’s a temporary solution. Less expensive equipment might not last that long and inexpensive software might be bug-ridden. Intentionally planning to start with low-budget options and replace them with better technology is a much different situation than being caught by surprise when the budget-friendly system breaks down.
Digital Signage Return on Investment
Something that can be hard to calculate, especially before you have a digital signage network set up, is the signage’s return on investment. It’s definitely something worth thinking about when you’re deciding whether to invest in one.
There’s a reason that we see more and more digital signage everywhere we go: because it works. It helps draw consumers’ attention, alerts them about our company, and converts interest into sales. Although you might not see the money back right away, a skilled digital signage campaign can grow your profits enough that it more than pays for itself over time.
As we’ve mentioned, though, even the most impressive displays in the world aren’t going to grow your business if the content they display isn’t top-notch. Make sure that you’re investing in a good marketing team or copywriter to provide you with content that will win customers and boost sales.
The Future of Digital Signage
Digital signage is becoming more and more common as technology improves, and hardware and software prices go down. What was once state-of-the-art technology is now ubiquitous, and it’s likely going to become the norm, so it makes sense for business owners to want to hop on the train.
Fortunately, that means that it’s likely to get cheaper over time, too, so if you’re still not sure whether you can justify the expense of digital signage, all you need to do is wait until prices drop even further.
That being said, if you feel like it’s really something your business can benefit from, use some of the money-saving tips from this guide and see if you can find the budget for it.
As you can see, the possibilities for digital signage networks are endless, with every individual element affecting the total cost. Digital signage doesn’t need to break the bank, but it’s good to know where you can cut corners and where it makes sense to spend a little more.
Remember to consider ongoing costs such as service fees and hardware replacements in addition to the initial startup costs, and be clear on what you’ll be paying for before signing anything, so you’re not surprised with hidden fees. A quick online review search of any company you’re considering might give you a better idea of whether they’ll be a fit for your business or not.