Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: Notes on Successfully Implementing an LED Sign Program

-Scott Hofheins

A sign is a land sculpture designed by artists, a superbly fabricated structure by craftsmen, and a fundamental marketing investment for the business. But there is a relatively recent addition to this list: the sign is now a work of technology, designed by electrical engineers and made possible by the integrated circuit.

I am speaking, of course, about LED signs, electronic message centers, video boards, digital billboards, etc... This technology is the future of on-site advertising for a business, but how does a traditional sign company successfully integrate this product into their current offerings? The technology has been around long enough now that we are starting to see some common traits that make up a successful LED sign program.
Sell it, Don’t Forget It
It’s not enough to just sell an LED sign, you have to be able to support it. Not just “issues” with the sign, but software training, support, questions, installation and communication setup. These are things that are always going to need to be addressed. If you don’t have a good system for this, you will have unhappy customers unwilling to recommend you to others.

Materials that make up traditional signage tend to stick around for a while, but LED sign hardware does not. Just like the technology industry as a whole, LED signs are continuing to evolve at a relatively rapid pace. This is why choosing the right manufacturer is important. When you buy sheets of aluminum, you're going to usually get your standard aluminum, not aluminum version 6.5 with upgraded nanoparticles. However, with LED signs, you will get different hardware on a 2-5 year cycle depending on the manufacturer.

Whether or not this is a bad thing also depends on the manufacturer. Companies dealing in technology MUST innovate and change or they will be left behind. Companies that do this well, are able to support the previous technology within the warranty period and have the financial and organizational health to do so. Stocking parts, keeping solid internal documentation and skilled technicians make all the difference.

Skilled Workforce and Skilled Manufacturer
Supporting an LED sign program requires skilled team members, just like your fabrication shop requires skilled fabricators. It’s always a good idea to have someone on staff who has a “tech mind”. Someone who knows computers, familiar with networking, software, and current technology. This will make a significant difference in how much you can commit to your LED sign program. Nothing should stop you from selling as many signs as possible, knowing that you will be able to fully support the new technology and customers needs.

Your manufacture is key to this. Good manufacturers can provide their own tech staff and documentation to support your program. This includes working with your tech team, or with your customers directly on software trainings, communication setups and tech support issues. Your manufacturer should be a resource to you for both sales AND support, someone you can leverage to keep your program running lean and mean.

Providing What They Need
I’m sure there is a sales guy out there somewhere who could convince a school district to replace their buses with Ferraris, but not likely. LED signs are not a "bigger is better" product in all cases. These are custom built to size products that have a range of applications and needs. Find out what the customer needs, and be the trusted authority who is filling that need, not trying to take as much money as possible. What is the budget? How fast is the street frontage? Any stop lights? Any code restrictions on color, movement, etc…? These types of questions will help you get a good idea of what they need, and communicate to the customer that you really do care about their specific application. Be your customers “go to guy” on LED signs and develop that trust. It will pay off.

Realistic Installation and Setup
LED signs take a bit more setup than traditional signage. Take this into account when scheduling your installation and pricing your jobs. Traditional signage is completed after the sign is in the ground, and powered on. It either works, or doesn’t work. However, LED signs come with specific needs like communications and software (or cloudware). Setting this up will take a little bit of extra time for your crew. This is one of the main reasons I recommend a tech on staff to help your crew get all your LED projects 100% finished on the same trip.

This is especially important to remember if you are subcontracting an install crew. A common occurrence is for an installer to get the physical sign installed, and powered up, then leave the site only to return later (at more cost to you) to get the communications setup and established. Plan for this, and make sure your installers know that the job isn’t done, and they won’t get paid until the sign is communicating and the customer is sending messages to the sign.

Strong Internet Presence
Your website is also an important tool in your LED sign program. The number one place to research anything these days is Google or other search engines. The first thing these potential customers are going to see is your website, if you have one. Those without websites are easily overlooked and never called. A quality website is just like a quality street sign for your business, but interactive.

Your site doesn’t have to be complex, but should contain good information about who you are, what you offer, why they should buy from you, and examples of your work. Platforms like WordPress have made it easier for businesses to create good looking sites with a reasonable investment. This has fueled the the general idea that the quality of a company’s product is related to the quality of their website. It’s worth the investment.

Be a partner to your end users, and seek a partnership with your manufacturer. When you partner with your end user, you become a trusted part of their team able to provide expertise on all kinds of signage, including LED signs. There is always a need for this because LED signs are still new to many people, something they don’t purchase every day.

Additionally, you want to be a partner with your manufacturer, not just “another dealer” in the system. Manufacturers should provide you sales support , brochures, white papers, and staff time to help you close deals. Your business has specific needs and challenges depending on your local market and business model. Make sure your manufacturer supports this and can offer you the tools you need.

When you decide to sell LED signs, don’t be afraid to commit fully. Do your research and partner with good manufacturers. Invest in the support and sales staff needed to to hit the ground running and avoid cheap products. And lastly, always remember to think long term, long term, long term.


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit www.vantageled.com for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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