Select Page

This post contains affiliate links.

Attracting eyes and delivering information is a critical problem for businesses of all sizes. Digital signage is a perfect way to do that, and there are various methods to suit individual needs.

Digital signage works by using technology such as a media player to push content to a digital display. The content is then managed using management software or manual updates, depending on the setup.

No matter the size or need of your business, digital signage can be an excellent addition for advertising, delivering information, grabbing attention, and more. Read on to discover the various methods available and learn which one suits your needs.

How Digital Signage Works in a Nutshell

The basic concept of digital signage is displaying content on a screen, but that can vary greatly. Are you looking for simple pictures and text, or are videos and more interactive content your goal? Regardless of what you are looking to accomplish, the basics remain reasonably consistent.

The key points:

  • Content
  • A display and means to deliver content
  • A system or way to manage content

Take the content you wish to display, put it onto the appropriate device, and connect it to a compatible display. It can be that simple.

How Digital Signage Works for Your Business

You know the basic concept of how digital signage works up above, but before we get to the specifics of how each method comes together, let us explore the uses of digital signage. Why use it? How does it work in the context of a business?

  • Digital signage displays catch the eye, grabbing customer attention.
  • Digital signage can be used to display promotions, advertise specific items and services, or provide entertainment to customers.
  • Using digital signage can also be an effective communication tool, both out front for customers or behind the scenes to display schedules and important information to employees.

Is Digital Signage Effective?

how digital signage works

There are statistics that stand behind the effectiveness of digital signage. For starters, about 90% of the information we take in is visual. Combine that with the fact that digital displays receive quadruple the number of views as static displays, along with a superior retention rate, and it is impossible to doubt the effectiveness.

More than that, digital displays promote brand awareness and recall rate. This makes digital signage an ideal way to get information out to the customers, both promoting your business and creating a sleek, modern feel. Now it is time to discover your digital signage needs.

Digital Signage Needs

The way digital signage works can be straightforward, but the specifics largely depend on the needs of the individual. For some, a single display looping a few images is all they need. Others need videos, interactive menus, or regularly updated and easily adjustable content on many different screens.

When deciding your digital signage needs, consider these questions:

  • What kind of content do you wish to display?
  • How much are you willing to invest?
  • How often will you need to adjust the content you plan to display?
  • Will you have multiple displays or displays in different locations?

The answer to these questions will inform your decision on what method is best for you. Once you know that, you can then learn more about how that specific method of digital signage works.

The Different Methods of Digital Signage

Digital signage works on a simple basic structure, but each method has its specific features and conditions. The methods of creating digital signage detailed in this article will be:

There is a good deal to think about no matter the method, but the first step is figuring out which option suits your needs.

How Digital Signage Works Using a USB Stick

A USB stick is the best option for those with limited needs, a limited budget, or who want a simple option that takes minimal time and effort to set up. If you are just testing the waters or only want simple digital signage with little more than text and pictures, this option is a reasonable choice.

Using a USB Stick

how digital signage works

The simple formula for how digital signage works applies here. You need content, a device to deliver the content, a display to present the content, and a method to manage the content.

Using a USB stick makes the initial setup simple. The basic steps are:

  • Create a PowerPoint containing the images and text you want to display. Then, save it as a video file on the USB stick.
  • Set up a display with a USB slot and the required media software, which almost all TVs do nowadays.
  • Plug the USB stick into the USB slot on the TV or display screen and set it to play on a loop.

It is not difficult to set up digital signage using the USB stick method, nor is it expensive. A basic setup can be purchased for less than 200 dollars. However, there are pros and cons.

The Positive Aspects of the USB Stick Method

The primary advantages of using a USB stick are:

  • Inexpensive: The basic setup cost is low, it requires little investment over time, and you may have components lying around that can already do the job.
  • Straightforward: The creation of content and the setup of both the display and the USB stick are simple and easy to figure out.

The Negative Aspects of the USB Stick Method

While the advantages of using a USB stick make it ideal for those with minimal needs, it has a number of disadvantages that make it unsuitable for others. Namely:

  • Content Limitations: Using a USB stick only allows for the most basic of content to be utilized. Pictures and text are about as far as it goes, and even that can only be played on a loop. Additionally, it can be challenging to format properly and end up looking clunky or unattractive.
  • Difficult to Manage: Each display requires its individual USB stick, and in order to change the content on the USB stick, someone has to manually remove, update, and reinsert it into the display. Also, if any problem occurs with the display or content, there is no way to know unless you are there.

The USB Stick Method Overall

It is possible to create attractive and effective digital signage using this method. However, this method is better suited for those looking for an inexpensive option for small-scale use. Due to its limitations, it is not suited to those who require large-scale digital signage or are looking to present more complex content.

What You Will Need for the USB Stick Method

How Digital Signage Works Using a PC or Laptop

This option refers to connecting a PC or laptop to a specific display and shares many similarities with using a USB stick. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to set up and use, and comes with the added benefit of easier updates. However, it also shares many of the drawbacks associated with using a USB stick.

Using a PC or Laptop

Not only are the steps very similar to using a USB stick, but it removes a step. The main difference is with convenience, both positive and negative.

The basic steps when using a PC or laptop:

  • Create a PowerPoint, prepare a video, or choose a similar content option.
  • Connect the PC or laptop directly to the monitor.
  • Play the selected content, adjusting settings directly on the PC or laptop.

Using a PC or Laptop requires more thought, needing long cables or the clever placement of the PC or laptop. The cost of a computer, a TV or display, and the required cables and wall mount can add up as well, and it still only suits single display setups.

The Positive Aspects of Using a PC or Laptop

These are the advantages to keep in mind when considering the PC or laptop method:

  • Relatively Inexpensive: While it is more expensive than the USB stick method, it still requires minimal investment depending on the situation.
  • Easy Setup: Without the need to convert files and switch between computer and USB stick, the setup could not be easier.
  • Some Ability to Manage: Using a PC or laptop allows for an easier time changing or updating content. There is even the possibility of updating from another location with the proper setup.

The Negative Aspects of Using a PC or Laptop

Using a PC or laptop can be an awkward choice. Not only is it more expensive than the USB stick option, but the differences are not substantial. That being said, some of the negatives depend on the situation.

  • Limitations: Content is still limited, though there are a few more options, such as directly displaying what is on the computer and not just looping a video file. This removes some of the clunkiness, but it adds few features.
  • Hardware Burden: The use of a PC or laptop demands more space, and while it provides certain advantages, it also carries a burden. The PC or laptop must remain on at all times to keep the digital signage running. This not only brings electricity costs, but it also means wear and tear and breakdowns.

Using a PC or Laptop Overall

While this method adds a small increase in the ability to manage digital signage, there are new drawbacks as well. With electricity costs and the eventual problems with an overworked computer, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

What You Will Need for the PC or Laptop Method

Like the USB stick method, a TV and the optional wall mount are needed. PowerPoint can also be used, but it is not a must when using a PC or laptop. The only change is needing a computer instead of a USB stick.

A new computer is not necessary, and there are relatively inexpensive options. For instance, the HP Chromebook 14-inch FHD Laptop is around 280 dollars. However, no matter what PC or laptop you choose, keep in mind that cables to connect the computer and the display will be needed.

How a Content Management System Works

A content management system is different from the other options listed above. It is software, not hardware, that works with a number of different setups, sending content to digital signage screens. Some of what falls under the management of such software is:

  • Delivering content to screens
  • Adapting the content to fit the screens
  • Creating playlists
  • Creating complex layouts for creative displays

Additionally, content management systems allow more control and access to digital signage under its management. This means being up-to-date on what is going on with multiple displays in multiple locations without much hassle.

Types of Content Management Systems

While content management systems are diverse, including DIY options, the main question is whether to use CMS that is cloud-based or on-premise.

  • Using the Cloud: This type of CMS is done entirely using “the cloud”, servers accessed online over the internet. This means fewer hardware needs and is a ready-to-use service.
  • On-Premise: This standalone option requires the use of a server, the proper software, and proper installation and understanding.

For most, a cloud-based solution will be ideal, being both easier to use and less expensive. However, individual needs determine everything, and each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages to consider.

How Cloud-Based CMS Works

Both cloud-based and on-premise CMS requires a server to store the content being pushed to displays. However, with cloud-based CMS, the servers are stored somewhere else and accessed over the internet. Whether it is creating content, pushing it to screens, or managing it, it is all done using the CMS on the cloud.

Strengths of Cloud-Based CMS

  • Convenient: Not only can you gain instant access to cloud-based platforms, but they can be accessed from anywhere with internet access. This means content can be tweaked from anywhere at any time. Whether it is a single display or multiple spread out across several locations, it can be taken care of easily.
  • Affordable: Upfront costs are low, making it useful for trying out a single digital signage display. In addition, it avoids you needing costly servers and software licenses. There is also the fact that it is pay-as-you-go, which means you only ever pay for what you need and do not have to commit to anything long-term.
  • Hassle-free: Not having to worry about servers or licenses does not just save money, allowing you to grow without worry as well. No downtime, no additional costs, and easily managed and set up by anyone.
  • Packaged Service: Everything is managed off-site, meaning there is no need to worry about the servers or backing up content. While displays and management still require personal attention, it is perfect for those without technical expertise. This often includes support as well.

Weaknesses of Cloud-Based CMS

  • Lack of Ownership: You never own the software or the system. This means you are at the whims of the updates and changes, even if they are not something you want. This also means you pay indefinitely for as long as you choose to use the platform.
  • Fixed Customization: You get what is offered without much room for anything else. While it is still possible to meet your needs, there may be less room for innovation or a need to compromise.
  • Security: With all of the information being kept somewhere else and being accessed over the internet, security can potentially be a concern. Especially when you must rely on being connected to the internet at all times to use a cloud-based system.

How On-Premise CMS Works

On-Premise CMS works by having a local server that you own and operate to store the needed software and the content. From there, the content is managed and sent to the displays.

Strengths of On-Premise CMS

  • Ownership: You own the licenses for the software you buy. This means no monthly payments, with updates being available as needed for a fee. It gives control to the business.
  • Customization: Allows complete customization. Since the installation and management are done entirely by you, every aspect can be changed as needed, allowing for specialization otherwise unavailable.
  • Security: How your content is secured is in your hands, with no need to worry about factors beyond your control. Also, using a local server can potentially be done offline, eliminating certain risks.

Weaknesses of On-Premise CMS

  • Time-Consuming: There is a large amount of setup required, and it demands commitment. The need for a server and high upfront costs are daunting. There is also a need for a professional who understands the ins and outs of the technology involved.
  • Cumbersome: Requires dedicated space, and if you wish to increase the scale of your digital signage operation, new equipment will need to be added. Increasing your server size and manually setting things up can require downtime otherwise avoided.
  • Lacks Support: While you may be able to get help from the software developer, all the responsibility is in your hands, from the server to backing up content and updating the system. It may require a dedicated IT team or a serious effort to maintain.

Cloud-Based or On-Premise?

The answer for most will be cloud-based. It is capable of adjusting to your needs and requires little experience or knowledge on your part. It also has lower upfront costs and has the added benefit of being commitment-free with the pay-as-you-go model.

On-premise CMS is more suited for those with specific needs that are difficult to find elsewhere. For instance, places where cloud software or internet-connected devices are a problem. Those with a strong IT department or more in-depth customization needs may also find on-premise CMS a better fit.

Both are good options, but cloud-based is likely the better option. It is suited for businesses, both big and small, and it is also accessible to those who are not sure what digital signage can do for them due to the low upfront costs.

What You Will Need When Using a Content Management System

Unlike the other options, there are more specific requirements when using a content management system. This includes software, media players, and displays with a variety of options.

In this article, we will only go into details regarding cloud-based systems. The reason for this is that on-premise systems vary greatly depending on things such as server size, the required IT staff, and individual needs. After all, this option is more suited for niche needs such as specialized customization and large installations.

Content Management System

Most cloud-based systems are easy to implement. Everything is handled online, meaning filling out a form could be the bulk of it. Just ensure that you have done your research and know which platform suits you. Each offers its own options, which are often reflected in the price. Thus, shop according to your individual needs.

The cost can vary greatly, ranging from anywhere between about 5 and 50 dollars a month per screen. This largely depends on what the platform is catering to. Expect to pay more for specialized features and those platforms targeting a specific market. That being said, the cost for most should be below 15 dollars a month.

Things to consider when deciding on a CMS:

  • Is there any feature you cannot do without?
  • Do you have a minimum number of screens and a fixed budget?
  • What type of media player or screen will you be using?

Some content management systems only work with certain media players or screens.

Media Players

Media players come in many different forms, such as:

  • Standalone media players
  • Specialized media players embedded in a screen
  • Media players that are slotted into a screen

However, what determines compatibility is different. The internal build of the media player matters more. Basically, the brand. Intel and Android are big names to consider, with certain systems only working for their players, but there are many others out there.

Here is some good news. Most players provide a CMS. The opposite can also be true, with CMS providers having their own media players. While this may not be ideal for everyone, it can take some of the hassle out of things. There are even some vendors who provide media players for free under certain circumstances, such as Yodeck.


Choosing the right display is important and depends on a few different factors:

  • Budget
  • Usage
  • Size and Quantity

We discussed using TVs as displays previously, and the option of using computer screens is similar. However, they may not be the best options. Not only are they only designed for landscape use, but they are not meant to be used for periods of time longer than around 10 hours. This could result in negative performance down the line.

Professional displays eliminate these issues. They are able to be mounted in any manner, and they can be run constantly. The warranty even covers such use. More than that, they last longer than TVs and are often adorned with features useful for digital signage.

That being said, professional displays are far more costly at potentially three times as much. However, they last longer and are more reliable, so for those serious about digital signage, it could be a worthy investment.

Using a Content Management System Overall

This is the best option for those looking to utilize digital signage. It marks a step up in technology from other methods, providing convenience, affordability, and ease-of-use that is difficult to match. The cloud-based system stands out, and not just for large-scale operations, but for small businesses and those unsure if this is the right thing for them.


Digital signage does not have to be difficult, and the benefits to your business could be immense. Overall, cloud-based CMS is likely the best choice, but there are other options, especially for someone with minimal needs or budget. Therefore, there is no reason not to attempt to add this effective method to your business.