Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: How an LED Sign Manufacturer's Approach to Support Can Affect Your Reputation

-Scott Hofheins

Other Topics in this Series

When you sell a product, you are linking your organization’s good name to the quality and operation of that product. As I mentioned in my post earlier this year, it takes a host of talented people to produce a quality product.  Likewise, supporting that product before, during, and after the delivery is extremely important to a successful long term LED sign program

Your reputation as an LED sign dealer depends on quality product, with quality support. End users depend on the same to ensure their public image is maintained on the LED display. There are different approaches manufacturers can take with regards to support.  Some work well, and others don’t.

That’s Not in My Job Description
This is a hands off approach that can be very frustrating for dealers and end users alike. Calls to the manufacturer are answered by technicians who are trained to operate in limited capacity, where the goal is to pass the responsibility to the dealer as quickly as possible.
Veering from the set script and job description is not allowed, and making exceptions or going the “extra mile” is rare. This makes both the dealers and end users feel undervalued as customers; being treated as if it’s a privilege to associate with the manufacturer at all.

A good manufacturer recognizes the value that every single customer brings to the table. They are not afraid, and more importantly well equipped, to go the extra mile for their dealers and end users. They can customize their support strategy according to your organizations needs. Issues with signs are not automatically assumed to be the fault of the dealer or end user, and they have a genuine interest in the successful operation of any sign, big or small.

We Don’t Live Here
Overseas manufacturers, or “manufacturers” who ship whole units directly from overseas suppliers often have a difficult time offering quality support.  In many cases, the design and engineering is also sourced overseas. This means any real issues with the product will take a lot longer to fix, simply because they are relying on engineers who are asleep when everyone in the USA is awake.
Replacement parts, and long term part caches also suffer for the same reasons. Until someone invents a transporter, or free jet fuel, it will take time and money to move hardware across the ocean. In the mean time, dealers and end users are stuck waiting for delayed parts and non-operational signs that reflect poorly on their respective organizations.

Manufacturers who design, engineer, develop and produce in the USA are much more capable to provide timely support and knowledgeable staff. When level 1 technicians run across an unfamiliar issue, or a possible production problem they can physically walk to the engineering dept to get a solution immediately. Parts are stocked locally, and inventory for legacy product is managed correctly. Technical staff have direct access to the RMA, engineering, production and  sales teams to provide the best service possible. It is extremely important that your support staff are trained, reside in, and operate from the USA.

The Mystery of Organization
A poorly organized support structure will result in poorly organized support. Support calls are tracked with outdated systems, and RMA parts are misplaced or shipped with the wrong parts. The manufacture is slow to respond to production wide issues, continually shipping product with the same problems over and over again.

The ability to offer quality proactive support, software trainings, updates and a well organized support structure will act as a tangible confirmation that the dealer, or end user’s trust was well placed. This will greatly enhance the reputation of both, as the sign operates consistently over the long haul, and any issues that arise are dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Cheap product, quick sales, large profit margins and low quality LED signs may temporarily  increase the bottom line, but your reputation will suffer and those gains will eventually be followed by significant losses. There are great US manufacturers out there in many shapes and sizes, so do your research and make sure you get one that’s willing to be a partner in building your reputation.


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 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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Digital Signage Need to Know: Why cloud control for your LED sign is better than using localized software

"THE CLOUD" Everyone’s all excited about the recent trend where businesses and people are moving their software programs and applications to the “cloud”. Is it all being transported to an evil-looking raincloud, or a nice puffy white cloud with the shape of a swan? None of that foolishness!

The shift is definitely underway from more traditional models of software storage to using the resources of large companies via the Internet. It’s more than a trend it’s an active process underway that makes tremendous sense and is a superior choice. 

This includes the transition of LED sign software off of your desktop to the “cloud”.

Why does it make sense you ask? Simple- “less risk and fewer headaches” is the quick answer. Software can be complex and expensive to update, store, maintain and deal with over time. Most companies just want the end result of using the software, not the process of evolving it and ensuring it works on their hardware.  The cloud provides many distinct advantages over traditional storage methods. 

Let me present these allegories to amuse you and illustrate my points. 

First any resemblance of these characters to other beloved American comic strip or cartoon characters is entirely coincidental.

* “It was a dark and stormy night,” Loopy, the small Beagle, typed these words sitting in the basement of his dog house. Just as he hit “enter” on his Dell laptop his trite paragraph came to life as a lightning bolt blew a transformer off a power pole adjacent to his dog house.

The lights immediately went out but then the power surged back on and then the lights returned. Loopy looked at his laptop and realized it was now “off” despite being plugged in to the AC adapter.

“Rats,” He lamented. Loopy’s paw pressed the power button but nothing happened. Little did he know but the current spike when the lights came back on was so strong this time it damaged his computer, killing the hardware and software.

* The WWI Flying Ace, Loopy’s alter-ego, and Woodstick, his trusted bird friend, stumbled down the street towards the dog house. Woodstick was ready for the comfort of his fluffy rooftop nest and Loopy, aka the “The WWI Flying Ace” was looking forward to a restful sleep in his waterbed on the 2nd floor bedroom of his dog house. Loopy and Woodstick had slugged down far too many root beers that evening to be comfortable and both were eager to arrive home. 

Loopy reached out to unlock the front door and was shocked to find it not only unlocked but slightly ajar. They both stepped into the crime scene and inspected their belongings. All was present and accounted for except the Dell Laptop, and the programs he had invested in. Loopy had lost his computer but more importantly his top secret data and it was probably in the hands of the German army!

* Loopy looked at the watch on his wrist and mentally calculated how many hours he’d spent that week working on his computer, filing, updating, refreshing, backing up, revision enhancements, and deleting old software. This week he’d also had to do a fix a fragment problem on his hard drive for the new update to run. “I wonder just how many hours I spend maintaining this stuff and making sure it all works?” he thought taking a big bite of his banana split ice cream treat. “I think maybe I should use someone else's computer department! After all, I just want to use these programs I don’t want to memorize them! That will also give me more time to fly my dog house!”

What business is a typical sign company in? Well, selling and installing signs and advertisement products is the best answer! So, does it make sense for a sign company to have to deal with storing, updating and maintaining software products? Why not make it the responsibility of some trusted software vendor since that’s what they do?

What about the sign companies customer- the user of the sign or the advertising products? Does it make sense for them to waste time with the same issues? Usually it does not.

With cloud-based software you pay for only what you use, upgrades are automatic, scaling up or down is easy and all you have to do is open your browser, log in and get to work! Many cloud-based programs will unchain you from your desk and allow access on a mobile device like an iPhone, android, tablet or a smart phone. Money is made out in the field working with customers not riding the desk like some office jockey! Why not change the message your LED sign on the way home from work?

Businesses are specialized these days. Software companies don’t make their own LED displays and LED sign retailers really are not in the business of dealing with software. The end result of using the software- the new LED sign message, the CAD drawing, the spreadsheet, the image file, the animation, or whatever the software creates, is what the sign company wants. This is efficiency.

Consider sourcing your LED sign software in the cloud- that’s where the future is! Check out the market, do your research and see which LED display manufacturers have migrated their software to the cloud and allows for remote control of the programming. No more discs sent to you to lose, no more missed updates, no more lost data. 

This is the way to fly! Even the WWI flying ace would agree.

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at    

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: What makes a good LED Sign?

-Deacon Wardlow
Technology is somewhat similar to a puzzle, you need all the right pieces in the right places to get things completed properly. The problem with Digital Signage (DS) technology is a lot of people are given a blank puzzle and it's REALLY difficult to get the full picture of what's going on.

A majority of people I speak with have a simple breakdown on their "wish list" for DS. Quality, price, and performance. A good DS system should look great, have few/no problems over the lifetime of its use, be easy to operate, and be cost effective. No objections there right? Are people looking deep enough to qualify a good system? I often hear people use cars as an analogy for the sign industry... "This is the luxury car of signage and what you want is more along the lines of a economy car..."

Using the car analogy, what do people want out of a car? Four wheels, an engine, steering wheel, and brakes. Using that line of thought, a golf cart would be fine for use right? That is until you get out on the road... The problem with LED Signs (and DS in general) is people don't really understand everything that goes into a "good" or "great" system. You could have a sign that looks decent from the outside, the company has a long standing reputation and name in the business so they must be building a great system right? Surprises ensue when you crack open the system and take a really close look at what's inside driving and running that system. The luxury car you thought you were getting is a bit of a lemon and it's all because you didn't have the right questions to be sure you were getting the best for your investment (or your client's investment).

To rectify this, we're giving you three quick questions (with links to previous articles) to dig deeper and make sure you're getting what you expect...

1. How many types of LED Sign do you manufacture and are they all the same? Check Scott's article on Design & Engineering - Followup question, if they aren't the same, what's the difference?
*Not all LED Signs are the same. Some manufacturers cut corners on the build and design, sometimes different (often cheaper) power supplies or other components are used; some "features" which are touted aren't always built-in to the system you're getting, they're only available on the "higher-end" models.

2. If a manufacturer offers different models, what components are different?
In an article I wrote earlier (Sign System Components), I pointed out to be wary of a bait-and-switch. If a company offers different models (and some models are cheaper than others) you can be VERY sure the cheaper models have cheaper components or designs. Find out what is different and why the pricing varies.

3. Is the controller an IPC (industrial computer with a hard drive of 50+ gigabytes running a Microsoft/Linux Embedded operating system) or an Embedded Control Card (simple ARM-based control system running off of a 1-2 gigabyte flash card)?
You should know what's under the hood because the controller will determine how well your system performs over all and if it's capable of being upgraded down the line should some new technology become available. You should make sure your system is "future-proofed" as much as possible or it's going to become old technology faster than you can install it. This is similar (performance wise) with the differences between a golf cart and a muscle car...

If you've been following our blog the last year and a half, you'll know there's A LOT more to all this than three simple questions; if a manufacturer is direct with you, these questions will be serious eye openers. Don't be blinded by "geek speak" and "tech talk." Get a straight answer and ask for transparency. You might not like what you see under the hood, but you'll be more aware of what you're working with and be able to spot the difference between a good partner and a bad vendor.

*Please comment here and/or email me directly with requests, questions, or follow-up at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note 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 noted.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Digital Signage Need to Know: Make your LED Sign Stand Out From the Pack

-Scott Hofheins

Whether it’s a giant digital billboard, or a small color unit, outdoor digital signage all share a the same goal: Communicate and Advertise to the Viewer. You could be selling cars, promoting events, or listing worship hours. The end goal does not change. Outdoor digital advertising is becoming more common across the US, it will become increasingly important to make your message stand out among the others. How do you do this?

It Matters...Always
During the initial period of an LED sign, owners may be heavily involved in the sign and its content to ensure a return on the investment. However, after the first year or so, this level of attention typically drops as other items appear more important than the LED sign. This leaves the sign working under its potential, outdated and rarely noticed from the lack of new content.

The truth is, your LED sign matters just as much on year 5, as the day it was installed. LED signs are not set it and forget it products, they must be updated and managed just like the rest of your business. If you're too busy, then invest in a content service, or in-house designer.

This can be done effectively without costing you an arm and a leg. Many designers are freelance, and can work on a “per ad” basis, where you only pay for what they produce. Additionally there are online content creation services available that are even more cost effective, without sacrificing quality.

The quality of the content will be the biggest factor in standing out among the rest. LED signs have unique requirements when it comes to content. Because they are viewed from a distance and a lower content resolution, font size/type, contrast  and timing are absolutely critical to the effectiveness of your sign.

A professional designer with experience in LED sign content knows this, and will be able to produce accordingly. While print media may contain thin stylized fonts, complicated backgrounds and effects, LED signs require very bold text, extremely readable fonts and animated effects that support the message, not done just for it’s own sake.

When done correctly, animations will provide a base for the message and accent the key points you are trying to make. In a message like “We Offer Free Diagnostics” you want to place the emphasis on “Free Diagnostics” not “We Offer”. A good animator knows this and drives the point home with subtle yet effective animated effects.

The timing of animated content is also very important. Good designers get the animation done quickly, then allow the viewer to read the text immediately. Slowly scrolling text across the screen is the least effective approach, yet we still see it all the time. This is a holdover from the “scrolling message center” days, when text was the only content you had. Viewers see so much more now, and their attention span is minuscule compared to 10 years ago. You must grab their attention, and get your message out as quickly as possible.

Timing and Scheduling
If your LED display plays the same content 24/7, your viewers will forget to look at it after the first couple of weeks. Unless you're in the sign business, you do not purposefully look at every LED sign regardless of the content.

Regular viewers demand fresh and updated content relevant to them.  By targeting specific audiences during specific times of the day, you can focus your advertising and demand attention from your viewers. I’m not talking about trying to find a way to strobe your LED sign, that will leave an extremely negative impression.  What you're looking for is:
  • Who is looking at my sign
  • When are they looking at it
  • What content will speak to them directly.
Some common target groups include, commuters during rush hour, people going to lunch, weekend travelers, Sunday churchgoers, and a host of other groups specific to your locale. Do you have other businesses nearby that may have customers for you? Create messages for them, IE “Getting your Car Fixed? Stop by for a Drink While You Wait!”.

How long do your viewers have to look at the sign? Are there stop lights? Does traffic back up? I always recommend you drive the road and write down the average time viewers see your sign and schedule accordingly.

Get a Good Sign
This seems obvious, but surprisingly not advice always followed. Some think “a sign is a sign, and a message is a message”. If you still believe that after reading this post, then I cannot help you. The quality of a sign is extremely important. It has to work 24/7, and skimping on a sub-par manufacturer will result in negative impressions from viewers in the long run.

An LED sign with missing pixels, poor viewing angle, and dim LEDs will make you stand out...but in the worst possible way. You will look cheap, and your organization will look the same. I’m not saying you need over pay for a gold leafed sign, but you do need to avoid the temptation to purchase a sign with a price tag that’s too good to be true. Avoid this at all costs.

For those already burdened with a sub-par sign, there is still hope. If replacement is not an option. you can usually find at least a few qualities that you can maximize on the sign. In many poorly crafted signs, displaying “white” is a problem, and it looks splotchy. In this case, find the colors that DO look good, and maximize your content to match. Investing in a content creation service, or in-house designer is even more important for you. You may not be able to make your sign look amazing, but great is much better than poor.

Get a Good Warranty
Many in the industry would like you to believe that their displays will never have issues. I promise, they will. Unfortunately this is only realized after the sign is installed and paid for. All of the sudden, the sign warranty becomes THE most important factor of your sign.

A good warranty is at least 5 years. Some manufacturers offer a labor warranty, take it! This will mitigate the cost for repairs, and allow you to minimize the downtime.The difference between a quality manufacturer, and poor one is how often the sign has issues, and how they handle them.

Remember, it’s about Communicating and Advertising to your viewers. You will stand out when you talk to them boldly, tastefully, and directly. Put yourself in their shoes, and never forget the important role your LED display plays in your business. Invest in it, and it will provide for you.


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 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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Digital Signage Need To Know: Test drive an LED Sign (aka EMC) BEFORE buying...

-Deacon Wardlow
When you're out buying a car, it's a good idea to test drive the vehicle. The problem with Digital Signage (DS) systems is we're asking clients to implicitly trust us and our experience over their doubts. We ask them to look at the car, but they can't take it out for a spin until they own it. No wonder people are nervous about making the investment with DS.

We can pull out specifications and numbers to compare systems, but for many people outside of the industry the numbers just confuse the issue. The biggest concerns a client typically has:

1. Support (both on software and hardware): 
Can the techs be reached easily? How supportive are the staff? Can the support team walk the client through issues quickly and simply? How is the company guaranteeing the 5 year parts warranty? If the company goes out of business, how can the customer be assured their on-site warranty will be provided and covered?

2. Reliability (in construction, performance, and current technology):
Is the system built to last and perform (at its best) for the projected lifetime? What things has the manufacturer done to ensure this and how can you demonstrate the manufacturer builds quality and uses the latest technology?

3. Ease of use:
If the system checks out, the display is reliable, the build takes advantage of current technology available (or possibly is pushing new technology), it comes down to use. If a system isn't easy to use, the content will suffer. The end user is often a member of an organization with about 1,000 other things to do aside from their digital signage system. The DS is important to the organization, but they need to take care of their core requirement first and DS sometimes takes a back seat. This is when we see that one message which sticks around for days if not weeks without a change and the DS becomes a background component as it's lost any interest. Follow the 5 minute rule.

My most basic test of a system is often the 5 minute rule. With the DS controls am I able to login, create content, schedule content, and logout in 5 minutes without jumping through hoops and with the content looking decent (if not good)? How easy and accessible is the control for the system? Another concern, am I locked-in to a single PC or can I use my phone, tablet, home PC or Mac to control the system. We live in an age of anytime, anywhere access and it's important to have that same access to the DS system. My next great idea may not be when I'm sitting at my desk. It'll likely come to me at home or when I'm out with a friend and I may want to take advantage of that idea then and there before it's lost. I could take a note, but why bother if I can login to the system remotely and update what I need at that moment.

When you're demonstrating a system, are you confident the solution your using can pass the 5 minute rule for the client? Could you hand them the controls, confident they can make a good piece of content quickly and easily and then schedule it without jumping through a lot of hoops or special training? Do they have options to set conditional messages (content which triggers when an event occurs, like a weather change or something tied-in to sales figures for a particular product their promoting)? 

If you don't feel confident letting the customer test drive the system, are you sure you're using the right solution? Take a test drive and make sure the ride isn't just good, but great. An investment with DS isn't short term (typically you're looking at up to ten years or more), it's important to make sure that ride is smooth and the experience is excellent.

*Please comment here and/or email me directly with requests, questions, or follow-up at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note 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 noted.