When it comes to retail opportunities, look to airports. That’s where Chris Blasie spends much of his time, evaluating digital signage solutions to enhance the customer experience.

The total digital signage market — which includes kiosks, menu boards, billboards and signboards — is expected to reach $23.76 billion by 2020, according to research from MarketsandMarkets.

And Blasie, global product manager at Rockwell Collins, a provider of avionics and information technology systems and services, is helping to propel it.

Digital Signs in Airport Terminals

Digital signs are gaining traction in airports as a means of providing passengers with seamless and uninterrupted journeys. They can help guide passengers to their next flights and lead them to restaurants and retail establishments when they have extra time on their hands, Blasie said.

As Blasie explains, digital signs are key elements in airports' strategies to be more than holding pens for travelers. Some global airports — think London's Heathrow — already rival destination shopping malls.

The right retail opportunities, enhanced with effective digital signs, can generate sales and transform layovers from pains to pleasures.

Other Uses for Digital Signage

Digital signage has a place in other industries as well — from stores to Fortune 500 corporate offices. It's an important way for companies and brands to connect with customers and employees by showcasing products, services and notable achievements in public spaces.

In effect, they're the modern equivalent of the painted signs and glued posters that first appeared on walls and fences nearly 200 years ago to alert those passing by that establishments up the road sold horse blankets, rheumatism pills and other useful items.

And understanding the digital signage market is as important today as understanding those signs and posters two centuries ago.

Using Data to Understand Passenger Preferences

This is the work Blasie is intensely involved in. One of his signature projects was with Continental Airlines (now part of United). It involved building an in-depth competitive analysis project for the onboard brand management team.

This work helped him gain firsthand knowledge of passenger preferences and many other details about how airports and airlines work.

Blasie has also used his deep understanding of consumer habits as a resource to help shape aircraft interior design with some leading manufacturers. You can hear more from him at CMSWire’s DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

We had an advance conversation with Blasie about the advent of digital signage and what you need to know about this powerful marketing tool.

Smart Signs = Happy Customers

Walter: What makes digital signage such an important tool for marketers, particularly in airports? 

Blasie: Digital signage is becoming more of a content management system (CMS). Users and corporations that want to use it to add actual, physical content to lure customers to where they want them to go are finding a significant amount of success.

Whether it's a shopping mall, airport, train station or other public place, they can use it to focus on a business that just opened or create a display that generate a high volume of traffic. Then they can charge for those ads that go on those displays to make additional revenue.

Digital signage has come around 360 degrees. It’s not just a way to show information.

Instead, the goal is to take information and combine it with context and rotating videos to lure customers to specific locations and make their experience more "wowy." I know "wowy" is not a word, but it illustrates the goal is to make the experience more pleasant.

Walter: What airport can you cite as a good example of the use of digital signage? 

Blasie: London’s Heathrow airport is a great story. People shop more regularly there because they don't post departure gate information until 30 minutes before departure time. If you post departure gate time too early, then people will go there to sit down.

But Heathrow wants people to shop. So by not posting that information on purpose, they hook you into taking advantage of shopping. Not only will the retailers get the revenue but the airports get a certain percentage. It’s a smart partnership and demonstrates the ways that data and interactivity can create a great digital experience.

Walter: So are airports effectively tapping into all that potential spending?

Blasie: Yes, airports want that shopping experience as well. These solutions can provide you that. And at the same time it can give you lots of real-time data.

What I mean by data in this circumstance is if there's digital signage and it is also incorporating real wayfinding then you end up with a lot of information to collect.

The digital signage incorporates a map of the facility or any environment that can capture all your touchpoints, such as getting to a specific venue or that airport gate. Airports are a good example of all the data that can be used and it applies to other industries.

Digital signage is not specifically for airports, but it shows how it can be used and applied in any environment. Airports are a nonstop, 24/7 operation so they are an ideal use case.

Walter: What are some other potential use cases?

Blasie:  Digital signage can be in hospitals, hotels, rent-a-car facilities. It’s definitely doable in many different locales.

The key is also who the [signage] customers are. Whomever they may be, they have to have full control or management of that platform so they can not only create the ads but schedule the ads themselves and manage the whole application just like any other.

That is the whole benefit, as they'll know what's going on in their environment.

Walter: In airports you are going to have visitors from all over the world. How important is it to support multiple languages?

Blasie: Having digital signs be multilingual is very important not only at airports, but at hospitals and universities in large cities where you have people from all over the world.

And you can make sure with those customers that are from different countries have the ability to refer in their own language.

This is one of the many advantages of digital signage, as it can be customized to the particular needs and offer the right experience at just the right moment.

Walter: Any type of interactivity back to a smartphone?

Blasie: With wayfinding services you can incorporate digital maps so that if a [client] has their own app it can be incorporated with the wayfinding. So the map used at the kiosk and their app and even on a client’s web site will be a consistent experience, which is a huge convenience for the customer.

You could get turn-by-turn directions sent to your mobile so you don’t have to remember six or eight different sets of directions. You’re enabling a smart sign to interact with a smart device so the customer has a great experience.

Walter: What are you involved in outside of work that’s important to you?

Blasie: My wife and I have a daughter who is nearly nine months old. She takes the other big piece of my life, and we try to do a lot of activities with her when we’re not at work, making sure she gets outside so she can meet new people.

And we’ve gone with her on a plane already. She did a great job with the air pressure and she loves the people watching.

She loves the water and we’re trying to get her acclimated as much as possible to real-world environments so we’re not just sitting inside of four walls.