Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Digital Signage Need To Know: Digital Signage Learning Curve, how to tell a good manufacturer from a questionable one.

-Deacon Wardlow
If you've watched enough old westerns and movies, you'll have noticed people biting the gold/silver coin to test its authenticity. Skilled cons used to drill out coins and replace the gold/silver by plugging the coin with lead (hence the saying, not worth a "plugged" nickel). Lead is softer and a skilled biter could tell the difference between a real coin and a plugged one.

With technology, it's especially difficult to tell the difference between a good product and a bad one. As was the case with a coin biter, you just had to go off of experience which meant you got cheated enough to know better after a while. Back in the 80's and 90's, buying a computer was a very daunting idea. Technology wasn't really simplified for a buyer and the choices seemed intimidating. Over the last 20 years, computer manufacturers have simplified their sales approach and made the important components more transparent (processing speed, hard drive sizes, computer capabilities/performance, etc.). The overall buying process was simplified and it became possible for someone to compare different computers and see which one (based on specs and performance) would be the best option.

The difficulty people encounter with buying a Digital Signage solution is similar to someone shopping for a computer 20 years ago. It's hard to compare one system from the other because of a general lack of standard common component naming conventions (especially with LED Signs) and little-to-no transparency in the market. I was speaking with a client last week about comparing a system she had found online vs. the option I presented. Here's a snippet of the conversation:

Me: Where did you get this quote?

Client: I found it on ebay. It's really cheap and I think it might work for our needs.

Me: Comparing systems can be really difficult, but let me put this situation in a different context. Let's say you're buying a laptop for your business. You go to the big box store near the mall and notice the price range for the laptop you want is about $500-$600. Not bad. As you walk out the store, you see someone selling laptops from a folding table in the parking lot. The seller tells you they have laptops which are "just as good" as the ones in the big box store, but "factory direct" and you can buy one for as little as $50 right now. The person will even write their cell phone number on a piece of paper in case you need help later. Would you take the offer?

Client: Of course not. It sounds really shady to me.

Me: This is the modern problem with DS. There are a lot of players in the market and it's easy to be misled. This is why it's really important to know who you're dealing with. What support does the company offer? How reliable are they? How good is their product? Are they offering current and/or innovative technology or repackaging old tech in a new cabinet? You can't just trust what people say, you've got to dig deeper and know what you're getting.

This is why it's important to do your research. Find out about why you may want an IPC instead of an embedded controller. When do software-based controls for a DS system make sense and when are cloud-based controls better? Please don't feel like you've got to go it alone. Unfortunately, there's no "quick answer" to this question, but there are resources to help you figure it all out. The savvy manufacturers out there are working hard to educate people. You can reach out to me or others in the industry for direction and assistance so you can hopefully avoid the pains and headaches we've gone through when we bit those lead coins thinking they were gold. Don't get caught eating lead, you and your clients are worth more.

The blog is fairly extensive, so we've put out a list of previous blogs (sorted by category) to help you learn more --> A year (plus) of Digital Signage information!

You can also use the search option (at the top of the blogspot page) to look for specific info. Please drop me a line and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction for whatever you're looking for!

Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to 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.attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Digital Signage Need To Know: Your Customers Return The Investment You Make In Them

-Scott Hofheins

The outdoor LED sign industry has been plagued by a “sell it and forget it” reputation that many sign organizations must fight with on a daily basis. Some believe that doing “just enough” to close the sale, install the sign, and collect the check is the most profitable approach. But the good ones see the value in maintaining a supportive relationship with their customers before and after the sale. They invest in their customers, and their customers invest in them.

There are a variety of reasons why individuals or organizations practice either approach. Experience in the industry, general approach to business, organizational skills (or lack thereof), and quality of vision are all factors. But regardless of why, at the end of the day you have to ask yourself: Are you hurting, or helping the industry? Your customers? Your long term success?

Quality Success
By success, I mean real, honest, quality success. Not just big numbers, important as they are, but the the quality of your work. Do your customers stand by you; will they refer you to others, are you comfortable directing potential accounts their way without hesitation?

All organizations have their good days and bad days, smooth projects and rough projects. This is unavoidable, but the quality of your success, and the success of your customers relies heavily on how you learn from the bad days and improve on the rough projects. An important part of this is truly investing in your customer after the sale.

Knowledge and Support
Learn about and fully support the product you sell. That sounds like a no brainer, but unfortunately there are many in the industry who learn just enough to craft a sales strategy, then hit the road. I discussed this in my previous article about implementing a successful LED sign program. LED signs don’t go away after the sale. Your customers will see them everyday, for years and years. They should be thinking positive thoughts about your company every time they see that sign.

This will not happen if you cannot support your customer. A good partner/supplier is an essential part of your team; they can offer resources, sales support, and customer support your customers in addition to a quality product. However, you are the still the face the customer see’s when looking at the sign. You are the one they shook hands with and chose to do business with. The more you own that, the better your quality of success will be, long term.

This means investing some time and effort in training your personnel on the technology, customer service, and support for the LED sign. Auto mechanics had to learn about onboard computers to continue to compete in the market. Those who did not, ultimately failed. The same is true for LED signs. The technology is not going away, it is here to stay and will only get more sophisticated as time moves on. Adapt, Execute and Succeed.

Your Program
Develop a program for your customer after the sale. What happens after an installation? Are you taking care of them directly, are you connecting them with your partner? Who do they call for support, and do they have the number? Are you providing them documentation and support materials? Are you training the customer directly, or leveraging your partner? These are important things the you must not overlook. Have a plan of action and give your customer the tools, and people they need to succeed.

Raise the Bar
When you set the bar high, and let everyone know you’re doing it, you force the competition to do the same. They may not be as prepared as you are to make that investment. They may not have have a supplier that can back them up, and support their needs like you do. Go above and beyond for your customers, and don’t be humble about it. Share your experiences and let everyone know you are the go to guy for good service, and a quality experience. Build your business, improve the industry, and support your customers.


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, March 12, 2014

Digital Signage Need To Know: LED Display Evolution

There is little doubt that the modern outdoor LED display is a cost-effective advertising machine. 

With a very low cost-per-exposure for your advertising message, and 24/7/365 functioning there’s no worry about this employee updating their Facebook page instead of doing the job assigned. 

Not only cost-effective, it is also willing to do what you tell it, when you tell it, and for as long as you’d like. If you want a new slide to advertise your Easter Egg hunt at the church, type your slide description request in and soon the glitzy piece of artwork has automatically been produced by a professional designer and downloaded into the LED display's ad rotation. Not every LED display can do this function, so do your homework and determine what your business needs and where to find these professionally produced slides.

LED displays are becoming smarter and the mystery of the control software is dissolving as leading manufacturers build user-friendly platforms and interfaces. Perhaps someday, you may even go to your local Sam’s or Costco and buy a “plug and play” LED display not unlike a 60” Samsung TV. There are market forces commoditizing everything!

Ah yes, we live in a marvelous age of advanced technology being focused on outdoor signs. But it hasn’t always been that way. How and from where did today’s signs come to be?

There may have been some industrious cave dwellers scratching images into cave walls, to document and tell stories but these efforts are not generally considered to be the first signs. Most historians date the beginning of signs well past Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble into the Greek and Roman era.

Stone and terra-cotta symbols and drawings were used since most of the world was illiterate. Perhaps these early sign builders were visionary as LED displays today seem to “say it” more in pictures than in words. Pictures capture the imagination and communicate ideas as well, if not better than, text- words. A symbol for a tavern, for example, communicated the idea to all.

Here is an example of what appears to be a tile sign, early Roman- a warning that the owner of the home had guard dogs. It is simple and effective.

Religious groups used the symbol of the cross, and tradesmen used their sign symbols to advertise their specialty.

As time marched on the use of symbol signs became law. In the late 1300’s a law was passed that any tavern selling ale “must” have a symbol sign. Meanwhile those “trade signs” became more ornate and unique and featured logos of dragons and lions as business identities were established.

With the onset of the 19th century (1800s) the world’s advancing technology began to shape the sign industry. The invention of the printing press established the course centuries earlier but the advent of the industrial printing press, the innovations that expanded the print area and drove the printed output to thousands of pages per hour. This was a step towards the modern sign industry of today.

The excitement of the modern sign industry did not begin until the widespread use of electricity became common place. The incandescent bulb was the backbone of the new trendy signs and designers made the best use of them.

Neon signs followed the incandescent bulb era (1910- Paris Motor Show) and glass blowers and artists began to produce not only messages but works of art. But a neon sign is unchangeable and permanent. 

In the mid to late 40s, technology again changed the sign industry with the introduction of plastics which included the changeable letter signs. Flexibility and messaging was improving.

In 1962 Nick Holonvack, Jr. of GE, developed the first red LED lamp that produced light in the visible spectrum and the race towards todays LED sign industry began.

The LED displays we see today evolved from simpler designs of the 1990s.The early LED sign industry began to gain prominence and traction in large-scale sporting venues and other commercial applications. Las Vegas and Times Square became the glowing beacons for what technology could develop.

Today, as software evolves, animation, live video and other “mind-blowing” graphics have transformed both the digital billboard industry and the on-premises signs (smaller than the billboards and owned by the resident business).

The sign industry of today produces about $50 billion dollars a year in sales. Digital signs have driven much of the excitement and the sales within the sign industry and it’s only expected to get better. 

One could say… our future's so bright… we gotta wear shades! I'm sorry, I couldn't resist!

These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at                                                
                                                    -- Mike Prongue

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Digital Signage Sales 101: The importance of being "in" the know with Digital Signage.

-Deacon Wardlow
I'm often called-upon to consult with various companies (sign companies, corporations looking to adopt Digital Signage (DS) into their  marketing, end-users, etc.). A lot of the consultations are about business (growth, change, management, international trade, technology) but these days DS is a really hot topic. I've learned it's not enough to know your industry and your product, you have to know the things that are all around it as well.

Know your stuff
A while back, I was called in to a "shootout." This is a situation where various DS manufacturers, integrators, and resellers are asked to come together so the client can ask them all the same questions and see how they compare. Shootouts don't occur often, but when they do it can be a bit tense for some sales reps. There were four companies present: 2 manufacturer's sales reps, a reseller of some Off-Shore DS systems, and a DS Broker (a company who sources various manufacturers/solutions and resells the solution to the client for a low-margin cost).

The two manufacturer sales reps were VERY knowledgeable about their product and both seemed well versed with industry knowledge as well. I felt sorry for the reseller reps as they didn't know their product well, nor did they know the market. Many questions were answered with one of them stating, "I don't know." OR "I think..." The broker was very knowledgeable about the industry. I could see why the end-user asked them in. At the end of the day, if you don't know your product and especially the industry and main competition - you're likely to lose out. Clients are looking for experts to give them direction, they want someone knowledgeable who can steer them away from making a bad purchase and assure them the DS solution they're getting meets their needs and budget. Be the solutions specialist, don't be the person saying, "I don't know."

Know your resources
There are a lot of options for end-users out there. Many integrators, sign companies, salespeople, and (especially) end-users forget to check for leasing and financing which can easily make a solution affordable that may have seemed out of reach initially. Crowd-funding is a seriously hot topic in the tech world and there are organizations like Piggybakr helping schools and students fund their goals. In the sign world the non-profit SignVine is launching and currently looking for churches and communities who need funds for LED Signage. Companies like offer turnkey all-in-one DS solutions. The more resources you have at your fingertips, the more you can help an end-user find a way to make the DS dream come true for their organization.

Be a Leader
Clients are looking around more and more online for answers. Make sure your company's website has been spruced up and prune the dead pages so the active ones can thrive. Take a consultative approach to educating people; don't tell organizaions what you think they need to know, give them some ideas and starter information so they can ask you the right questions to get the answers they need. Use social media  like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, anything and everything your client-base is using to provide as many avenues of access to your company and team as possible.

Choose your partners carefully
What has your vendor done for your recently? Are you simply in a buyer/seller relationship or do you feel you can lean on your vendor as a partner to help out. Manufacturers are (one would hope) the experts in what they're doing. Many DS integrators, sign companies, and individuals getting into the DS business often have to deal with a broad spectrum of information and products and it helps to know you've got experts to lean on for advice, direction, and assistance in selling things and coming up with the right solutions for your clients. We all need to offer more to our clients than a product, we need to be partners with our clients in the purchasing proposition and as we deliver more, we should all expect more from the companies who sell to us. Don't just be a seller, be a solver.

Please comment here or send questions or requests for information to 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.attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically noted.