Where do you draw the line between DIY digital content creation and using the services of professional digital content developers? It really depends on how engaging you want your content to be and your budget.

Today’s budget-conscious, understaffed businesses can purchase cost-effective all-in-one digital signage solutions that include solid-state hardware and software for creating, scheduling, updating and monitoring high-definition displays. Using templates and wizards, they can quickly create looping and multi-zoned displays and be assured that there won’t be any hardware/software compatibility issues. With the best turnkey solutions, the software can even automatically create the playlist file and bundle it with the selected content, ready to drop onto a SD card or distributed via the network for playback.

Designed to be both affordable and easy to use, these all-inclusive solutions have played a key role in levelling the playing field for small businesses.  However, the signage industry itself has also grown in all industries from retail to restaurants, hospitality to healthcare and more. In all these applications digital signage has become a primary medium to promote, educate and inform; and audiences have come to expect top-notch visuals to grab their attention and keep their interest. New technologies are also now available to create more visually dynamic and engaging displays ranging from user-driven RFID and barcode readers to multi-screen synchronized displays.

Pro Look and Feel
Neutra Jeans Digital Signage Display shows how advertising space can bring quality information in limited space
Neutra Jeans Digital Signage Display shows how advertising space can bring quality information in limited space

Consumers expect professional content everywhere, especially in retail such as the Japanese brand Neutra Jeans displays above. Note the moving images on the back wall display that is closely tied to the free-standing and table-top digital image displays. The consumer’s experience is further enhanced with the free-standing display at the left which enables them to interactively find the information they need.

When you consider that the content you display on your digital sign is "the" most important component in determining your sign’s success or failure, do you want any limitations producing this content?  Keep in mind, today’s sophisticated consumers have higher expectations when it comes to the messaging media they’ll view.  Since most consumers still watch a tremendous amount of TV network programming and Hollywood movies, they have an expectation of highly produced content.

According to Aberdeen Group, organizations are turning to digital signage to combat the decline in effectiveness of traditional marketing and to meet the changing expectations of their target audience.  In fact, Aberdeen research revealed a connection between changing expectations of target audiences and a decline in the effectiveness of traditional marketing tactics.

The Case for Professional Digital Content Developers
As good as the best digital signage "creation" tools are, there’s a reason professional content developers prefer using proven tools like the Adobe, Apple, and Avid toolsets. They create amazing, pristine content that attracts viewers. 

In making the move from simple content to amazing content, you need to ask yourself if it’s cost effective to buy one or more of these professional-quality creative applications and spend the time learning to use it.  Will hiring a professional digital content developer save you time and produce better results?

Perhaps more importantly, why use tools to produce your content for digital signage on creation tools that are only for a single industry?  If you decide to use a to professional content developer, be aware that these proprietary digital signage creation tools are unfamiliar to them and they are not willing to spend the time learning them when they can use the tool sets that they know and love-the tools they use to make everything from stunning graphical images to Hollywood movies.

One other consideration.  If you’re planning to recover part of your digital signage investment by selling time and space on your displays to in-store brands or third parties, know that they aren’t going to create their content on your proprietary digital signage creation software.  That could be a deal breaker.

Kirk VanderLeest, vice president of Flixio Studios, an award-winning video production house headquartered in Oregon City, OR, uses the Adobe Creative Suite extensively. Furthermore, Cinema4D and Maya are used for motion graphics, and Final Cut Pro for video editing. With these tools, Flixio produces commercials, marketing videos, web videos, tradeshow videos and DOOH content for some of the world’s highest-profile brands.

"Basically, digital signage is all about the content, and the last thing you want to do is to be limited by the creation software for your final content," said VanderLeest. "The same content can be used for your web site, advertising, brochures, even to tie mobile marketing into your digital signage. We recommend having the professional content developers create the absolute best content they can and then let the digital signage software do what it’s good for – distributing and managing the content."

Faster, Easier to Create
Content such as the digital signage wall imagery prepared by Flixio for the DSE convention is faster and easier to create when content developers use professional tools. Flixio used the same tools that they use for all of their content development projects… including signage installations.

Flixio Studios and BrightSign worked together to create a 8.5x3.5m (28 x 12 foot) wall with continuous animation
Flixio Studios and BrightSign worked together to create a 19 screen, 8.5×3.5m (28 x 12 foot) arch with continuous animation in extremely high resolution (11880×6240 pixels, 74 Million Pixels)

Kirk’s approach worked exceptionally well when BrightSign, Philips, Chief and Flixio collaborated to build a 28-foot synchronized "Beyond HD" video arch for the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) 2011. The videos, were played back on 19 BrightSign digital sign controllers to create what the producer of DSE called "the most unique entry to any tradeshow ever produced." 

"The complexity comes in the interaction between the hardware and software," VanderLeest explained. 

"That’s why it’s important to select a player that supports the leading professional-grade content development applications. The solid-state players we use offer broad support, so we’ve never had a problem importing content and converting MPEG formats, etc. without losing content quality. For the DSE video wall, we loaded the content and let the player’s software synchronize the 19 displays to create a seamless playback effect."

The bottom line is, there is no need for creation tools that are developed strictly for the digital signage industry when there are so many outstanding creative tools that aren’t just for the burgeoning digital signage arena but for the "content everywhere" marketplace-including the convergence of digital signage, mobile phones and social media so you can connect directly to customers even when they aren’t in your place of business.

If you want the freedom to focus on your business instead of buying and learning the advanced features of professional-grade content creation applications that can deliver on these trends, consider doing what you do for your IT, accounting and legal needs and hire a professional.