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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Digital Signs, Posters, and NFC Chips

My fiancee and I were in the car at a stoplight today, and I noticed a large digital sign on the side of a building. It was promoting a local campus of a major metropolitan university. I thought about what I liked and didn’t like about the sign, and about whether offset or digital custom printing could be used to achieve a similar effect.

A Description of the Sign

First of all, the digital sign must have been about thirty feet wide and twenty feet high. Obviously from where I was (sitting in the car), I couldn’t measure the digital sign, but I will say that it was large enough to stand out from all other distractions. It was about twenty feet up on the side of a university parking building.

What I remember the most is the effectiveness of the sign’s illumination and the drama of its constantly changing imagery. Since I’m used to static signage, the first thing I noticed was that the digital sign provided a number of messages, from a general tagline for the university plus the university logo, to a Facebook icon sending you to the Web for further information, to a list of some courses of study the university offers.

Although there was no sound, the movement and visual variety plus the bright colors and the backlit screen grabbed my attention.

What Didn’t Work for Me

Unfortunately the side of the parking building was exactly perpendicular to the road. Therefore, anyone driving by the sign would need to turn her/his head to read the message, and this would put their safety at risk. (I was lucky. I was a passenger at the time, so I could look at the sign for as long as I wanted.)

Granted, a less-traveled road intersected with this main road creating a “T” at the parking building. Drivers coming up to the intersection and about to turn left or right could look directly at the sign. They would not need to turn their heads. Moreover, since the sign was bright, drivers would be engaged with the presentation and the message of the sign for a while, from the time they first caught sight of the digital image until they turned left or right at the intersection.

How About the Print Version of a Sign?

I thought about how a few years back I would have seen a large format print sign hanging from the building and been equally surprised and engaged if the sign were large and dramatic. To a certain extent we have become so accustomed to static signage that advertisers can increase our “engagement” with their message with the bright lights and movement of digital signage.

However, there are new technologies that can add an extra dimension to large format print signage as well. A technology called “Near-Field-Communication,” or NFC, will allow you to tap your phone against an NFC-chip enabled poster and be directed to an online interactive experience.

Much has been written in recent years about the power of multi-channel marketing, and a large format print poster that can send a viewer to a website for further information, to do research, to sign up for text messages or emails, to see a video, or to respond to the poster and leave a message, can be a powerful marketing tool. This NFC chip technology can create a more personal connection with a prospect and even initiate a dialogue.

Granted, if the digital sign on the side of the parking building had been a static, large format print image instead of a series of changing digital images, you could not have tapped your phone against the print signage. However, you could have achieved the same result with a large QR code printed on the large format poster. Scanning the QR code with your phone camera and a downloadable phone app could send you to a website for similar interactive content, videos, or a place to request further information.

What We Can Learn from This Experience

Here are some random thoughts:

  1. Anything that captures your entire field of vision will draw you into an advertising experience. (Think about the large size of a movie screen in a theater compared to the much smaller TV in your house.) Also, the darkness of the movie theater helps you lose yourself in the experience. For an advertisement outside in bright sunlight, you can increase its attention getting power by making it huge. In fact, a grand-format inkjet image wrapped around a building could actually attract more attention than the digital sign I saw on the parking garage building. The building wrap’s sheer size could make up for its static nature.
  2. Movement trumps static imagery in attention getting power. Back-lighting also trumps reflected light illuminating a poster. However, you can overcome these limitations by using QR codes and NFC chips to bring the viewer of the poster or other large format print signage into an Internet-based experience.
  3. Such a transition from the print poster to the website can do a few things even digital signage might not achieve. For instance, once a marketer has brought a prospective client from the poster to the website, she/he can request contact information from the prospect. The web-based portal can also track the online experience of the prospect. In this way a marketing executive can collect marketing data regarding the effectiveness of the signage: who is viewing it and when, as well as whether the prospects are responding to the offer and requesting further information. Print signage enhanced with NFC technology or QR codes can facilitate two-way communication between the company and the prospect.
  4. Field of vision is important. If you’re designing static posters, digital signage, or posters with NFC chips, you need to capture the viewer’s full attention. The digital signage on the side of the building, perhaps, would have been more effective if it had had two angled screens (one facing either side of oncoming traffic). For a static poster, it’s important to locate the image where it will be seen. Make sure it is large enough to completely fill the viewer’s field of vision. Either increase its size, or put it closer to the viewer.
  5. Since a conventional large format print poster usually consists of only a slogan, an image, and a logo, adding NFC chip technology to direct the prospect to the Web can give the viewer much more information than a large format print poster by itself.

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