Digital Signage explained for Everyone

What is Digital Signage?

Digital signage refers to the digital transformation of the billboard and the sign industry. In this process, screens or projectors replace printed materials. Digital Signage is mainly used in advertising, information, sales, and entertainment.


Although some claim to have invented the term digital signage as early as the 1970s, the term began to spread in the early 1990s. The analog CRT screens of that time became more cost-effective due to the PC revolution.

As a result, it started to become financially worthwhile to use them in more and more fields of application outside classic television or as computer monitors. However, this trend continued with the triumph of digital screens in the mid-2000s.

What are the advantages of Digital Signage?

Digital Signage saves time, resources, and costs due to 7 Advantages:
  1. No billboard and printing logistics
  2. Real-time changes to the content
  3. Improved advertising space utilization
  4. Different media formats
  5. Interactions
  6. Connectivity
  7. Automation

No Billboard and Printing Logistics

You no longer need paper thanks to digital screens. Printing costs and the logistics of distributing posters or flyers are eliminated. This saves money and after a short time the cost of purchasing the equipment pays for itself.

Let's go one step further: if the screens are used long enough, they are even more sustainable for the environment. They minimize your ecological footprint.

Real-time content changes


You change content at the touch of a button. Short-term changes or even errors no longer mutate into a complex and costly drama.

Improved Advertising Space Utilization


Screens enable slideshows and timed playout. Selling umbrellas while it rains was a popular mantra to sell digital signage in the early days.

Timed playouts let you target different audiences at different times of the day. You can reach commuters in the morning and evening, retirees in the morning, students in the afternoon, etc. Simply adjust your outdoor advertising accordingly.

Furthermore, there is a possibility to divide your advertising space into different zones. Show advertising and a news ticker at the same time.

Different Media Formats

Screens allow animations, movies and richer colors. Moving colorful videos, possibly with sound, increase the attention of foot traffic significantly more than posters with a static content.


Interactions allow feedback and self-service. Improve your service based on feedback. Sell tickets without staff. Interactive Digital Signage takes on an increasingly important role and merges with classic kiosk systems.

Digital Signage of the Future


We are in the age of digital transformation. Digital signage offers two, in our view, much more significant added values. Namely, connectivity and automation.

Connectivity and Automation

Connected digital signage solutions are excellent for integrating into almost any digitization concept. The primary goal of digitization is to increase efficiency while reducing costs. Digital Signage makes it possible to achieve these goals.

To make this work sensibly, various components and interfaces have to work together. Unfortunately, these are still typical weak points in our industry. Cross-application networking and automation require standards and a certain degree of transparency through open documentation.

At SmilControl, this is accurately what we are committed to. We focus on openly documented and patent-free industry standards such as SMIL.

The final result is your holistic individual solution for advertising, control, communication, and evaluation.

Typical use cases for Digital Signage

Typical use cases of digital signage are the combination of marketing with entertainment. You can achieve this with digital advertising displays, digital shop windows or video walls in stadiums or during events. Direct digital advertising represents only one possible area of application. Digital outdoor advertising is used by advertising marketers as their stand-alone business model.

However, advertising cooperations can also contribute to faster refinancing of in-store marketing even without specifically advertising marketers.

Under the topic Digital Signage Solutions, you will learn about many concrete applications, each with their own special advantages.

The 4 Pillars of Digital Signage

From our perspective, successful digital signage projects are based on four pillars:

  1. Strategy
  2. Content
  3. Software
  4. Hardware

1. The perfect Digital Signage Strategy

Unfortunately, the Olympic thought “Being there is everything” doesn't count for anything in business. To implement digital signage perfectly, you first need a plan. A plan before you get started is important, otherwise your installation will degenerate into an end in itself and will just burn money.

From the strategy, or more precisely from the target group analysis and the setting of goals, all other points become much easier to derive, and the costs can better be estimated as well. In this chapter you will learn, among other things, how to set goals and choose the right location.

Who is the Target Audience?

One of the first steps should be to define your target audience and understand them. To achieve this, get to know their interests, habits, and intentions.

Thanks to so-called personas, you can model your ideal audience as realistically as possible. This includes interests, motivations, desires, goals, hobbies and more. The better you understand your target audience, the better you can tailor your digital signage to them.

Don't think too academically: it's not necessarily about modeling the perfect customer for all time at the drop of a hat, but about engaging with the characteristics of the potential target group.

What should be achieved with Digital Signage?

The next step is to define what you want to achieve with digital signage. It is important to define the goals measurably as so-called KPIs.

We cannot emphasize this often enough:

Targets and audiences are the two most important strategic components!

From these, you derive most of the other factors, such as location, display type, content, and devices.

The following questions have proven helpful in this process:

  • What message do we want to communicate?
  • Whose attention do we want to attract?
  • What needs to happen after we get the attention?

What do you need at the beginning?

To start a digital signage project, you need three components:

  1. Digital Signage CMS
    Software that lets you create, distribute content, and remotely maintain your devices.
  2. Advertising monitor
    Screen, which displays the visual content.
  3. Digital Signage Player
    Media player that is connected to a screen. This is basically a small computer.

The proper Location

As trivial as it may sound, the proper location is one of the factors that determines the success of the project. Here, it depends individually on the project. If you have defined the target group and goals mentioned above, it simplifies your choice.

Generally, heavily frequented places or waiting areas have turned out to be most suitable. Also think about the free view of the monitor. A screen at the supermarket checkout is only useful if there are no goods piled up in front of it.

For shelves and digital storefronts, viewing height also plays a role. Sales-boosting zones are usually at eye level.

Consider the following questions:

  • What are people doing at that moment? Are they moving or waiting for something?
  • Why are people at this location?
  • Are there visual barriers, such as stairs, monuments, shelves, or anything else that might obstruct the view?

2. The right Content

Another elementary component of successful digital signage is the content marketing strategy. It enables the efficient communication of important information. Here, too, a thorough target group analysis helps, along with a formulation of the goals from the first chapter.

What content do customers want to see?

Of course, this varies individually depending on the target group. While loud music and flashy colors go down well in a fashion boutique for younger people, this could be more off-putting for an older target group.

As a general guiding principle: Don't get on your audience's nerves!

Typical clumsy boring advertising with narcissistic self-praise in possibly high penetration is not very attractive. You need to find the right mix of entertainment and information in which you can skillfully weave advertising. This is far from easy. For this reason, carry out regular tests to determine the ideal ratio for your business. So-called A/B tests also help to optimize advertising content.

Cleverly set KPIs help to continuously improve your digital signage

What are the appropriate Formats?

According to market research company Retailsolutionsonline, animated content increases attention by up to 400%. Digital Signage Marketing, however, should not only rely on videos. Resting images, news or generally texts with sufficient reading time also generate interest.

When designing content for your digital signage, think about things like clarity, thoughtful designs, and a clear call to action. When it comes to design, less is often more. Hire professional designers for the design. With ready-made templates, your employees can create individual content on the fly.

In the article on Digital Signage Content, you will find many ideas for workable content.

3. The suitable Digital Signage Software

To operate screens in distributed locations, as mentioned above, you need two different types of digital signage software working together: Media Players and CMS. Many people also refer to the latter as digital signage cloud software. If the software components are not SMIL compatible, you will need to purchase them from the same vendor.

If you value a measure of independence, be sure to check for SMIL compatibility. SMIL is a standardized format for transferring multimedia playlists. Digital Signage Software, which is SMIL compliant, works together across different manufacturers.

Media Player Software

Playersoftware usually runs on a microcomputer running Windows, Linux, or Android. Advanced media player software allows remote administration, control, monitoring, and playback reports. It plays images and videos automatically and supports interactions on websites and digital signage widgets.

Widgets, by the way, are an elegant way to run interactive applications in a platform-independent way. It doesn't matter whether the player runs on Linux, Windows, macOS, or Windows.

What is the best Digital Signage Software?

The question of the so-called best digital signage software often comes up. In our opinion, there is no such thing as a Shmoo or an “all-in-one device suitable for every purpose”. Make sure that the software meets your requirements. It should be flexible, extensible and attractively priced. Furthermore, make sure that you get proper support and that you are not stuck in a gagging contract for years.

You can find tips to recognize good support in our article about the Digital Signage cloud disadvantages.

On-site based Infrastructure vs. Cloud-based Software

Two ways exist to create digital signage playlists with authoring software. On-site based (local) or cloud-based software.

On-site based Infrastructure

This is comparable to PowerPoint. On the playback device, a digital signage software is installed, which is both the creation and playback program in one. Indeed, many low-cost installations in the 1990s were based on a presentation program such as PowerPoint.

The downside of this solution is that the playlist must be managed in each device individually and manually. This is practicable for small setups only. Or if the same advertising program is running on every screen of a property.

Cloud-based Software

Only the separation of Digital Signage Player and authoring software into two separate components allows a central administration and thus even huge digital signage networks. A management system in its incarnation as Cloud Digital Signage System represents the usual use case here.

Modern management systems control and monitor the devices, update their software and generate statistics from the playback reports. They are multi-user capable and have a sophisticated user management system to map authorization hierarchies. They also integrate a central media pool and additional channels for weather and news. As content management, they help to create and organize content into so-called playlists. Finally, they distribute the playlists to the relevant player devices.

SmilControl's Digital Signage CMS of course fulfills these requirements.

4. The right Digital Signage Hardware

A touchscreen in a pharmacy is suboptimal. A monitor wall for back shelf selection, on the other hand, makes sense. As you recognize, hardware selection or proper display size depends on the specific use case. When we talk about digital signage hardware, we mean screen and media player with the associated software.

The player connects to a monitor like a PC. Due to the price, size and low-power consumption, fanless Android devices are mostly used recently.

All-In-One, Tablets or Signboards

There are also screens with an integrated media player. These are called All-In-One or Signboards.

Advantage: Less cable clutter and space consumption.
Disadvantage: A malfunction affects both components.

Hardware for digital signage exists in many shapes and forms. Whether as a simple monitor on the shelf, hanging on the wall, as a weatherproof outdoor screen or as a robust public display.

Outdoor devices are typically a pretty good bit more expensive because they need to be weather resistant. Big totems for outdoor use even have an integrated air conditioner.

Different display sizes

The application determines the display size. In a small bookshelf or merchandise shelf, 12-inch (approx. 30 cm) signboards are sufficient. When the distance to the viewer increases, other screen diagonals make sense. You can find out more about this topic in our guides for advertising monitors and video walls.

Interactive vs. passive Digital Signage

Passive digital signage is the classic use case. Signs and posters are replaced by screens. Recently, the trend is towards interactive systems to get customer feedback and promote self-service. As mentioned at the beginning, digital signage industry now includes the market of kiosk systems.

Interactive terminals benefit from the flexible remote maintenance techniques that digital signage has adopted. Through digital signage widgets, applications such as videos and images can be distributed, updated and launched on a scheduled basis.

To operate interactive digital signage, you need a touchscreen. State-of-the-art devices offer large multitouch-capable surfaces that also have an antibacterial coating to provide a certain level of protection.

In our article about Interactive Digital Signage, we go into greater detail about the techniques and capabilities.


Digital signage, regardless of the industry, is a highly complex matter that requires intelligent planning to master. It offers many advantages and supports the digital transformation to 100 %. It is important to rely on standardized software and avoid isolated solutions. Remember that setting up an installation is only a fraction of the work. The real complexity and most of the costs reside in the ongoing operation.

We hope this article has been helpful to you. Contact us if you have any questions.


Do you have further questions?

Our contact data

SmilControl GmbH
Niederaue 1a
D-30419 Hanover


☎ +49 (0) 511 - 96 499 560

Local court Hanover
HRB 221981
VAT-Id: DE 281 780 194

Authorized to represent:
Nikolaos Sagiadinos