Digital signage is not a siloDigital – Digital Signage Today

Stephen Dorsey and Brandy Alvarado-Miranda argue that digital signage should replace self-siloing with interconnectedness, along with embracing a focus on content and seeing technology as a means toward audience engagement rather than an end to itself. They also share how and why inclusion is becoming a major business priority.
Digital signage is not a siloStephen Dorsey on a book tour. Provided.
| by Daniel Brown — Editor, Networld Media Group
Normally, we focus on the technical side of digital signage and marketing, so it’s a real treat when we get to go broad in our blog space and have a more free-range discussion with expert guests about the intersection of digital signage, technology, and society; it’s an additional bonus when we get some star power! Bringing a unique perspective and vast collective experience, Stephen Dorsey and Brandy Alvarado-Miranda sat down with Digital Signage Today to talk about some of the major pain points and opportunities as the industry builds back from Covid and prepares for a new year.
Based in Toronto, Dorsey is a writer, speaker and consultant who brings nearly three decades of experience in digital signage, digital marketing and business to his work in promoting diversity and inclusion in business. His memoir, ‘Black & White,’ lays out his journey as a biracial business leader in the U.S. and Canada, and his companion podcast has featured celebrity guests like Wes Hall of Dragon’s Den. Based in California, Brandy Alvarado-Miranda is CEO at the BAM! marketing agency, where she focuses on marketing and PR for ProAV. She has chaired the AVIXA Women’s Council, and in 2021 she received the AVIXA Women in AV Award.
Dorsey remembers the earliest days of integrating digital signage into marketing strategy. He chuckled over memories of the first North American digital signage convention where wayfinding consisted of a cardboard sign, and reminisced about projects where he introduced major brands like Starbucks, Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch in areas like digital signage, AV projects and media strategy.
“All the way back to the early 2000s, I often found myself swimming upstream against conventional wisdom- sharing my belief that the industry should be talking about the audience experience and less about technology,” Dorsey said. “Now, fast-forward to 2022: audience engagement is all about delivering relevant experiences.” To this day, Dorsey and Alvarado-Miranda agreed, the industry can be distracted by gadgets and shiny hardware or software at the expense of remembering to focus on content, the human touch, and customers (i.e. ‘people over shiny things.’)
“I was also perplexed as to why so much energy was invested in telling the world we were a different industry – setting ourselves apart from the broader and much larger digital ecosystem dominated by mobile and the internet,” Dorsey said, echoed other thought leaders on the problem of self-siloing in digital signage. “Everything was becoming digital – the out-of-home-focused organizations just happen to have solutions for differentiated applications. Put the experience first, and let the technology be the facilitator,” he added.
Alvarado-Miranda noted that industry events still often relegate content panels to a very small role. “This is an industry assumption, that technology drives the content, and it’s the opposite,” Alvarado-Miranda said. “One of my clients said, ‘Tech content is always an afterthought. Why is that?’ And I thought, ‘you’re right’… If you talk to any content creator right now, they all say the same thing: ‘Where do we fit in this industry?’ “
“One of the things that I learned early on was that, no matter how great the content you produced, if it didn’t serve the strategy, it was wasted money and effort,” Dorsey said, agreeing that content was for many years too often an afterthought entirely. “Content experiences need to be considered upstream – when strategy is being developed.”
Both experts believe digital signage needs to ditch the silo for interconnectedness: for example, an industry show should never simply be about screens on walls. “Shows focused on out of home innovation should be attracting mobile developers, those specializing in AI, interactive content creators, programmatic technology experts, and more,” Dorsey said. “I didn’t attend the latest Digital Signage Experience show, but I heard from those that did that the new show organizers were making efforts in creating a more integrated digital experience show.”
Another target is diversity and inclusion. Alvarado-Miranda started in AV in 2014. At her first trade show, she immediately noticed the overwhelming majority of men. “And I talked to one of my male co-workers, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s a predominantly male industry.’ And so, why is that? Why isn’t this attractive to women?”
Alvarado-Miranda became passionate about the issue, co-founding and chairing the AVIXA Women’s Council. “It’s just become a passion project since then, because we would represent such a small, tiny bit of the industry: 14% as of 2019, and currently 9% based on a recent study AVIXA published this month. I feel like that number is because many women have left the industry during pandemic for non-AV jobs or to care for their families. Women face so many different challenges; and then, not just women, there are definitely other minority groups, and people of color and LGBTQ… that face biases in the industry, whether it be sexual, race, other aspects of your identity, and that intersectionality really plays a big role. I think we can better acknowledge those differences.”
In Dorsey’s 2022 memoir ‘Black & White,’ he shares his three decades of experience as a biracial business leader in Canada and the U.S. Dorsey, like Michelle Montazeri, emphasized that progress happens when people talk to each other. His work aims to start conversations and raise consciousness by using empathy to replace accusatory or confrontational elements, with a strong focus on facts and data over opinion. “I wrote ‘Black and White’ with the objective of bridging the divides of understanding and to hopefully raise awareness about systemic racism for those still not understanding what it was and the negative impacts it continues to have on our society,” Dorsey said. “My book includes a call to action for all of us to ‘Be better, do better so we can eventually all live better together.’ It all begins with ‘being better’ – a purposeful want for greater awareness of the systemic inequality-related issues at play.”
He believes his efforts are paying off. “Some change is happening, which is positive. Maybe not as fast and maybe not as much (as we might like),” Dorsey said. “Some organizations and industries are taking tangible steps toward greater diversity and inclusivity,” he added, citing Wes Hall, a Jamaican-born Canadian business leader and philanthropist known widely for his role on the Dragons Den television series. Hall, whom Stephen interviewed on his podcast ‘Black and White,’ formed the Black North Initiative with the objective of increasing representation of Black professionals in C-suites and on boards in Canada, a nation where the Black population is estimated at 3% but where business leadership roles only show 1% representation.
Dorsey said that meaningful conversations should start by leaning on facts and data, rather than opinion. “The second part is being a conduit for awareness, and being bridge builders as opposed to accusers,” Dorsey said. “Words matter. In my book, I moved away from using ‘white privilege’ and changed it to ‘white advantage’ because I realized that in many of my conversations with white people, when I mentioned white privilege, they got defensive. For example, I heard comments like, ‘What are you talking about, Stephen? I come from humble beginnings, a small farm in Ohio, and everything I have, I built for myself. I worked and paid my way through university, and I built my own business from the ground up.’
“I’d reply, ‘No, that’s not what we’re talking about,’ ” Dorsey continued. ” ‘We’re talking about simply the advantage you have because of your whiteness. You may not even be aware of it.’ This explanation created many ah-ha moments and allowed us to have a more fulsome conversation about the negative realities still faced by people in traditionally marginalized communities. Achieving equality is not about taking anything away from anyone, it’s about sharing with everyone in an inclusive way. But that’s not how some people are viewing it, because they’re being fomented by a lot of fear of the other. We’re not just talking about equality for Black people here,” he added. “We’re talking about Black people, people of color, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, LGBTQ. You can’t have some people being more equal than others.”
So, what are some starting points for progress in the industry? They include equal pay and performance bias around gender. “You know, in California, we’re about to pass a law where, when somebody posts a job, the pay scale is acknowledged in the post,” Alvarado-Miranda said. “Because, again, you go in for a job interview, and there’s these negotiations, and as a woman, you are more than likely going to get less than a male… And likewise, with performance, there’s a bit of performance bias that is rooted in assumptions about how women and men’s abilities are perhaps perceived differently.”
Both experts agreed that ethics go hand in hand with success and profit. In both Canada and the US, not recruiting the best candidates due to a lack of diversity equates to what Dorsey calls a “war on talent,” which means lost revenue for businesses across verticals. “To make real change happen, organizations must truly align the values of their organization, their brand… around demonstrable action that will attract and retain top talent — professionals who, more often than not today, place greater importance on aligning their personal values to their professional career choices.” Dorsey said. “And if you don’t do it now, you’re gonna lose out in the long run.”
It extends to audience engagement, too. “If you’re wanting to engage audiences, you have to be relevant to them,” Dorsey said. “Therefore, you should make your messaging – and your branding, and your marketing – appealing in a genuine and authentic way. You do that by aligning them to demonstrated, lived values of the organization.
“Available data tells us that organizations who embrace diversity and inclusion do better financially and are valued more in the open market. That’s why, for corporate leaders, diversity and inclusion should be a business imperative.”
“Since the murder of GF (George Floyd) and the global reckoning on race we’ve witnessed since 2020, we’ve seen much greater awareness on the issues related to systemic racism and inequality,” Dorsey said. “I think, especially in communities, we’ve seen a lot of progress. I’m a real proponent of working in communities where a lot of the change needs to happen. I think what we’re still missing is a broader acknowledgement of truths — the historical truths around discrimination and marginalization and the continuing realities of systemic inequality that exist in our public and private institutions,” he added.
Building businesses and communities while forging equity and understanding requires connection, and Dorsey has found success in various business and community projects by applying his principles of communication and empathy. “How does that happen? Well, you actually have to bridge build with other people who can make it happen, and you have to bring them together collectively around facts and ideas for tangible action,” Dorsey said. “We need to find a place where we can have on-ramps for different people who have different levels of understanding and awareness. And when we achieve that, we then need to bridge the divides of understandings and get to the truth, reconcile around those truths, and then take collective action.”
Daniel Brown is the editor of Digital Signage Today. He is an accomplished technology writer whose experience includes creating knowledge base content for a major university’s computing services department. His previous experience also includes IT project management, technical support and education. He can usually be found in a coffee shop near a large pile of books.
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