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Why you should not use USB flash drives with digital signage

Fredrik Lund
Fredrik Lund | 4 minutes to read

The other day, I was on the phone with a former work acquaintance of mine. He wanted to publish content on a digital display and informed me that he would be bringing the content on a physical USB flash drive that we could insert into the display. This took me by surprise.

Technology that rapidly became obsolete

We have all heard of the term “planned obsolescence” when it comes to technology. This is not the case with USB flash drives and digital signage. When digital signage first hit the market, the amount of hardware and cables needed for it to work as intended was complex and overwhelming. As technological advances were made, many displays soon supported USB flash drives and had internal media players that could play the content on the USB stick, as long as the content was in the right format.

However, this still required someone to physically replace the USB stick when the time came to update the content. This meant that content was rarely updated and often stood on for much longer than it probably should have. The USB stick might have become a band-aid in the world of digital signage, but it certainly was not a long-term solution. Working in digital signage myself, physically updating the content on the displays has become very foreign to me. I would compare it to using an old cell phone instead of a smartphone - you CAN make calls on both, but the functionalities are night and day. That is why the sheer notion of using a USB flash drive to update the content baffled me. Let us take a closer look at why USB sticks have become obsolete in the world of digital signage.

The cons of USB sticks

The main downside of using USB sticks to update your content is obviously that you must physically update the content. Now, this might not seem so bad if you only have one location. But consider the amount of time, effort, and money it would take to update content across several displays in several separate locations. Combine that with the fact that an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely by 2025 and it becomes clear that you need to be able to update the content regardless of where you might be.
It is not uncommon for content to be created on a separate location to that of the digital display. Having to physically update the content thus also means that you cannot easily test your media to see if it works properly. Driving back and forth from one location to another several times just because you got the file format or dimensions wrong is the definition of inefficiency.

Another downside of USB sticks is that only one person will have access to the flash drive. This makes the organization very vulnerable in case that person gets sick or accidentally loses the flash drive on their way from one location to another. Now, USB sticks are quite inexpensive, and it might be tempting just to buy a bunch of them and have many people be able to update the content physically. However, that is a recipe for disaster. You will have little control over what information is displaying where and if it works properly. Human errors happen, that is just the reality.

Control is perhaps one of the most important aspects to take into consideration regarding USB sticks. Unless you are using a cloud solution where you can administer your displays remotely, you have no insight into whether the display is working properly, what content is showing or if the display is even on. This information should be available to you at all times regardless of where you are.

Cloud-based digital signage

The solution to all these problems is simply to go cloud-based with your digital signage. Most signage displays these days have internal media players and an internet connection which, with the right software, enables you to update your content remotely. You can get full insight into what displays are online, what content is showing where and at what time, and replace or update the content in a matter of seconds.
You have probably already started using cloud-based solutions in most aspects of your work and there is no reason as to why you should hold onto outdated digital signage solutions. You already know the major benefits that cloud-based solutions come with, such as reduced costs, increased efficiency, and streamlined operations. In addition to the overarching benefits of cloud solutions, a cloud-based digital signage software can also allow you to change content automatically based on aspects such as weather, time of day, and temperature.

While the content on USB sticks would be quite static, with good digital signage software you can add widgets with live content. This can be anything from basic live content such as a clock or the weather forecast to more advanced live content such as displaying your website or your Facebook-feed live. You are even able to stream video live from YouTube or use RSS feeds that are relevant to your audience. In other words, you will be able to get far more value out of a cloud-based digital signage solution than what you would by using static content.

Cloud-based digital signage can also improve your marketing efforts. By running different content at the same time of the day in the same conditions, you can split test which message resonates the best with your target audience. If you see a clear correlation between sales and message, you will better be able to identify what messages and content help drive sales.
In terms of internal usage, a cloud-based digital signage solution can even allow you to share live KPI-dashboards. This ensures that everyone in the company knows what the goals are and track how the team is doing in terms of those goals.

This is just scraping the surface on what the benefits are of using a powerful cloud-based digital signage solution. The point I am trying to make is that if you are still using USB flash drives to update content on your displays, you are wasting time and money on something that could be far more efficient and valuable.

Conclusion

With all this information at hand, you might see why I was surprised by the sheer notion of updating the content using a flash drive. In 2021, it just does not make any sense. It is costly, inefficient and gives you very little, if any, control of your content and displays. A cloud-based solution allows for far more flexibility and scalability and will allow you to take control of your digital signage once and for all.

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