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How To Make Your Digital Signage Stand Out Using Psychology

Come with us inside the human brain - we promise it makes for an interesting read.

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If someone asked you to name the best ad you’ve seen lately I bet you could right? Great advertising stands out and it lives on through the test of time. Visual ads, like those shown on TV or digital signage, seem to last longer in our mind than print campaigns or great emails. As a marketing method, that makes digital signage a great vertical through which to channel your very best messages. In this guide, we look at three ways you can use human brain psychology to better inform the creation of your digital signage content.

The importance of individuality

In an article on the rise of the “selfie” and instant photography, Elizabeth Kilroy, chair of the New Media Narratives program at the International Center of Photography School in New York said: “We live in this Kinfolk-Airbnb-WeWork space, where there’s this homogenized modernity. Everything is the same aesthetic. When people are original, they get imitated really quickly.”

Many marketing and media channels feel less individualized as they once might of and increasingly like an echo chamber. We follow the same pages as our family, we view the same statuses as our friends and we quickly find ourselves wrapped in a world that mirrors our own thoughts and nothing else.

In digital signage, this could easily become the case. If everyone shares their own Twitter feed, followed by a bit of news then every digital sign you walk past looks pretty similar right? It’s why boring news displays, left on loop for years, have never set the world on fire.

If a brand has an ad and it’s played across social media, web and TV then while this breeds familiarity, it also gives the “glass eye” effect where audiences zone out. The brain says “I’ve seen this before” and begins to pay less and less attention.

Where individuality is so scarce, digital signage offers an opportunity to do more with the displays and content choices available to make something more personal and different. This could be choosing to break “the rules” of just showing news and instead showing music videos from specific eras. Or allowing customers to vote on what they want to see and sharing those results on screen as a poll.

Similarly, why does your office display have to only show news and health and safety updates? Why not share images, quotes from staff or fun trivia that will make staff feel more engaged with the communications around them?

Slack do this really well by allowing you to add custom loading screen messages that add a touch of personality to your everyday comms. Under their “Customize Your Team” feature you can create loading messages with quotes, lyrics or anything you like. Simple things which all add to the look and feel of your company culture and make the display more individualized.

Appealing to the two different parts of the brain

Whether we know it or not, many “best practice” marketing tactics find their basis in psychology.

In 1994, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio published a book titled, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. This demonstrated the importance of emotions to the two main systems of our brain; our limbic system and neocortex, or our “inner” and “outer” brains (which is a little easier to remember).

Our inner brain (limbic) is the emotional part of the brain and also contains the “reptilian brain”. Whereas our outer brain (neocortex) is the thinking brain; far more rational. The inner brain evolved first and is the one responsible for making instinctual decisions; for example is this dinosaur about to attack? If yes, then I’d better run. It kept us safe in our most primeval lives, however has been taken over in later evolutionary years by the outer brain which is what allows us to process language, thought, logic and most importantly, control over all of the above.

So how does all of this apply to marketing and digital signage in particular?

The truth is, all of our decisions have to go through both parts of the brain; the logical and the emotional. Take an ad for a fancy car. Our rational brain knows that a car is a car; they all do essentially the same job of driving us from a to b. But the emotional part of our brain feels the exhilaration of the person in the passenger seat that the ad is depicting. We want to look that cool, we want to feel the wind in our hair and we begin to believe that how we feel can be affected by having that car.

That’s the basis of all advertising campaigns, at least the successful ones. They have to be able to bypass the rational brain and light up the limbic one which is where the magic really happens.

In terms of digital signage, studies show that creating a brand personality where the brand is seen through the eyes of very human traits - openness, compassion, conscientiousness and so on, makes it more appealing to an audience.

As such a visual medium, digital signage is a great vehicle through which to achieve this. Here are a couple of ways you can appeal to the inner brain:

Using digital signage to reduce your customer’s pain

Domino’s pizza is a great example of a brand who know how to learn and solve customer pain points. In a research exercise they realized that the worst part of the customer journey was not that the customer didn’t have pizza; it was the unknown of where it was or how long it would be until it arrived. So they built a pizza tracker app that told the customer if their pizza was being made, in the oven or on its way.

Digital signage creates a great way to do the same job in a store, restaurant, coffee shop, airport lounge or even office. Digital media helps minimize wait time — or at least helps customers perceive that their wait is shorter. Set up a screen and share the average waiting time your customer can expect and you already reduce their perception (and pain point) of how bad they think it might be.

Surprise and delight

How often do you truly feel surprised by a brand campaign? What was once the “go to” technique for ad agencies has long since tailored off. Probably because, consumers got a little “surprised out”.

According to the Expectancy Violation Theory (EVT) of surprise, there are three ways you can surprise your audience.

  • Interactant variables — issues like race, sex, socioeconomic status, age and appearance.
  • Environmental variables — time, surroundings, proxemics, setting, etc.
  • Social norm variables — biological influences, behavioral patterns, social norms, cultural norms.

Out of the three, the latter is probably the most applicable to digital signage and marketing and the least likely to offend. After all, we can easily map out the behavior and the social norms of our customers and then subvert this into a really great digital signage display.

For example, say you play your standard social media feed playlist one afternoon but then cut it short with an “important service announcement” message. By social norms, your audience are probably going to expect something serious about the weather, an emergency or some health and safety issue. Then, rather than conform to norms why not announce your top doughnut of the day.

This mixes a traditional media format with something unexpected, but would undoubtedly make audiences sit up and take notice.

The A to Z technique

In the same way Domino’s’ efforts to reduce customer pain was so effective, you can also use the A to Z technique to help get customers closer to where they need to be. If a customer starts at A and wants to get to Z, everything in between has a sense of “pain” attributed to it. This obviously isn’t physical, but it’s the way the brain connects the starting point with the desired outcome.

In digital signage, the goal is to get the customer as close to Z, as quickly as possible. For example, if the customer walks into the store and wants to buy an outfit to wear to a wedding what can you do to get them there more quickly? Perhaps you can use a digital signpost to share the route to your wedding section, you can prompt visitors with a message that you have a wedding specialist on hand and you could even offer a 10% discount on any wedding outfits as you know the customer will only be wearing them once. All of which, show a great understanding of your audience and the journey they face when moving from A to Z.

Using anchoring to connect customers with your digital signs

Anchoring is a psychological technique which can be used to get customers more interested in your digital signage. Rather than just being passive viewers, anchoring ensures they engage with what is on screen which can be used to your advantage as it increases recognition and improves memory retention.

One example is to have a video or presentation which firstly presents a product or service and asks the audience how much they think it is worth. This engages the customers as they answer the question, even if just in their head. If you then show a series of resulting slides or information they will pay attention, waiting for it to confirm or subvert what they thought. The technique works because they hold onto that information throughout the rest of the series.

If at the end of the series, the real price is revealed and it’s lower than the information the customer has been holding onto, it’s a winning situation. The customer cannot doubt that the product or service is cheaper than it should be - after all, they said themselves it should be more expensive.

This psychological technique can be used in a variety of ways across almost any use case - to increase social media following, to engage staff with company figures and to increase interest around specific menu items.

In conclusion

You don’t really have to know much about psychology to be able to apply the concepts to your digital signage. Yet understanding the way the human brain works can lead to seriously effective creative displays. When you know how the mind of your customer works, you can easily choose and create content which appeals much more than static displays alone. Begin testing yours today at  

 SC Gradient

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