The Sign Industry: How Digital is Reshaping a Dynamic $134 Billion Industry

The sign industry is a vibrant and growing field that plays an important role for businesses and organizations seeking to advertise and promote their brand. The signage that companies use provides visible identity and awareness for their goods, services, and locations. Though signs have been utilized by civilizations for thousands of years, the modern sign industry has rapidly evolved in recent decades with exciting new growth opportunities.

According to industry analysis, the global sign market was valued at over $120 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $134 billion by 2024, with a CAGR of around 6%. Increasing urbanization, branding, and marketing spend, expanding retail space, and development of electrical signs are key factors driving industry growth and evolution.

As technology advances, the capabilities and applications for signage continue to expand. What started with hand-painted wooden boards has transformed into illuminated billboards, digital LED displays, interactive touchscreens, and a plethora of customized signage options. The adoption of digital signage in particular has accelerated in recent years. This growth and evolution makes it an exciting time for companies in the sign industry looking to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Defining the Sign Industry

The sign industry encompasses the design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of visual communications for businesses and organizations. This includes a wide variety of signage types and services.

Some of the major sign categories include:

  • Outdoor signage – Billboards, building signs, wayfinding signs, digital displays
  • Indoor signage – Graphics, dimensional letters, directories
  • Vehicle graphics and wraps
  • Trade show and event signage

The sign industry provides full-service offerings beyond just manufacturing the signs themselves. This includes services like:

  • Consulting and design
  • Installation and mounting
  • Maintenance and lighting
  • Permitting
  • Content creation and management for digital displays

Sign companies aim to be a one-stop partner for all visual communications and branding needs of their clients.

Brief History of Signs

The use of signs and visual symbols dates back thousands of years to early human civilization. Early signs largely served functional purposes like conveying meaning or marking locations. Over time, signs evolved into a key medium for communication, identity, and advertising.

Some key innovations in the history of signs include:

– Signs in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome using materials like stone, metal, ceramic, and wood. These set early precedents for signage design.

– Medieval signs that incorporated symbols and heraldry to mark shops and trades.

– The rise of porcelain enamel signs in the late 1800s, which enabled durable and vibrant signage.

– Neon lighting and signs gaining popularity starting in the 1920s.

– Development of computer numerical control (CNC) routers and vinyl cutters enabling precise and efficient sign production.

– LED and digital signage emerging in recent decades for dynamic and networked displays.

Signs have evolved enormously over time, with new materials, production methods, and technologies allowing for more creative, customized, and digitally-connected sign solutions.

Rise of Digital Signage

One of the biggest transformations in the sign industry has been the rise of digital signage and LED displays. Whereas signs were previously limited to static messages printed on materials like vinyl and plastic, digital signage introduced new capabilities for dynamic messaging and displays. The digital signage market has seen rapid growth, with  the global market expected to reach $45.94 billion by 2030, representing a CAGR of 8%.

Digital signage includes networked, intelligent signs and screens that can display different content, animation, imagery and video. This allows businesses much greater flexibility to update messaging in real time, tailor content by time of day, and integrate with mobile and online platforms. Digital displays enable more engaging and targeted communications with customers. The core benefits of digital signage come from the dynamic capabilities and measurable results compared to static signage. Screens can be controlled remotely to update content and scheduling based on analytics and data.

With LED and LCD displays, digital signage provides excellent image quality, brightness and energy efficiency. Touch screen interactivity is also now commonplace. With the digital transformation of signage, companies have an expanded array of options when considering visual communications and branding in their facilities.

Industry Trends and Drivers

The sign industry is being shaped by several key trends and market drivers. One of the most significant is the push towards digital transformation. There is rising demand from businesses for networked smart signs, digital displays, and other dynamic signage. According to Pinnacle Signs, the use of interactive and digital signage is expected to grow in 2024 as these signs capture audiences with changing content, touch-screen capabilities, and engaging experiences.

Another major trend is the focus on ROI and measurable results from signage investments. Companies want proof that their signage achieves business objectives. Sign makers are increasingly expected to provide data and analytics about the effectiveness of signs. There are new technologies emerging to track metrics like viewer attention time and engagement.

Sustainability is also an emerging trend. Both companies and consumers want greener signage with eco-friendly materials and efficient LED lighting. There is growing demand for signs made from recycled materials as well as signs that can be updated digitally instead of replaced entirely.

Growth Opportunities and Areas of Expansion

The sign industry has several key areas of growth and expansion to leverage new opportunities:

Digital signage presents the ability to bring dynamic and targeted messaging into new environments beyond traditional advertising spaces. Digital displays can be embedded into corporate offices, healthcare facilities, educational institutions and more to communicate with specific audiences. Retrofitting existing traditional signage with digital and LED capabilities also provides an avenue for growth, allowing companies to upgrade static signs to networked smart displays.

Experiential signage provides unique growth potential with interactive displays and creative branded environments. Digital signage can be integrated with emerging technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and projection mapping to craft immersive branded experiences. This more creative application of signage opens up new ways for brands to engage with consumers.

Sign companies can also expand their service offerings to provide additional value. This includes content creation to supply customized messaging for digital displays, data analytics on sign performance, and management platforms to control networks of smart signs. These supplementary capabilities allow sign firms to boost their value proposition.

Competitive Landscape

The sign industry has seen significant consolidation over the past decade, with key players acquiring smaller regional and local firms to expand their footprints nationally. According to IBISWorld, the top 4 players account for approximately 40% of the total US sign market revenue.1 Major national players include Signify, Watchfire Signs, LG Electronics, Samsung, Keywest Technology, and NEC Display Solutions.

Industry consolidation has intensified competition, as larger players can leverage economies of scale for pricing and operational efficiencies. Smaller local and regional firms can still thrive by focusing on specialized offerings, customization, and superior local customer service. Developing turnkey solutions and strategic partnerships also helps smaller firms effectively compete against expanding national chains.

National firms boast extensive distribution networks, brand recognition, and broader capabilities to service large corporations and national accounts. Local and regional players counter by emphasizing their market expertise, agility, and community connections. Many customers still prefer supporting local sign companies if they can meet their needs at a competitive price.

Key Capabilities Needed to Succeed

In order to thrive in the rapidly-evolving sign industry, sign companies need to focus on developing key capabilities that align with current trends and market needs. Some of the most critical capabilities include:

Customer-Focused Approach: Sign companies need to take a consultative approach and understand the customer’s objectives, needs and values in order to provide the right solutions. Having strong customer service and relationship building skills is essential. This involves actively listening, asking the right questions, and guiding customers to the options that best meet their needs.

Digital Transformation Skills: As digital signage, LED, and integrated technologies become more prevalent, sign companies need expertise in areas like software, connectivity, data and content management. Understanding how to leverage technologies to deliver ROI and impact is key. Staying on top of emerging technologies and innovations is also important.

Design Expertise: Strong design thinking and creative skills enable sign companies to develop branding assets, signage, and displays that captivate audiences while aligning to strategic goals. Graphic design, visualization, typography, color theory and composition skills allow sign makers to craft appealing and effective signs.

Project Management: With many signage projects involving multiple stages from concept to installation, sound project management and coordination is crucial. Organization, attention to detail, scheduling, budgeting, and communication skills help streamline the process and deliver within timelines.

Given the pace of change within the industry, adaptability and learning agility are also vital for sign companies looking to grow and lead. By developing strengths across these areas, sign businesses can gain a competitive advantage.

Challenges Facing the Industry

The sign industry faces some key challenges, despite the growth opportunities. Keeping pace with rapid technological change is one major hurdle, as innovations like digital signage require constant learning and investment (Sign World). Integrating new technologies into existing workflows can disrupt operations. Firms must dedicate resources towards training, R&D, and strategic planning to adapt effectively.

Another core challenge is pricing and cost control, especially with custom and specialty signage (Graphics Pro). Setting prices that are profitable yet competitive is tricky, as project costs can vary widely. Managing customer expectations on pricing is also difficult. Companies need robust estimating, project management, and accounting practices to tackle these issues.

Regulations and permitting are also pain points, as local codes often lag behind new sign types and can stifle innovation. Navigating and influencing the regulatory environment takes substantial legal and government affairs expertise (Sign World). Permitting and installation costs further complicate pricing and competitiveness.

Lastly, attracting talent and skill sets like 3D modeling and coding for digital signs is challenging (Gregory). Technical skills gaps make it hard for companies to actualize emerging opportunities fully. Developing well-rounded teams requires focus on culture, training, and positioning as an attractive career destination.

Future Outlook

The sign industry is expected to see continued growth in the coming years. According to research from Smithers, the global printed signage market will grow at a CAGR of 2.4% from 2022-2028, reaching $41.4 billion by 2028. Key drivers fueling this growth include economic development, increasing retail spaces, branding activities, and events marketing. While print will remain prevalent, digital transformation presents exciting opportunities.

Digital signage is forecast to expand at a CAGR of 7.6% globally through 2024, rising from $21.8 billion in 2019 to $29.5 billion according to The Business Research Company. Ongoing innovation in display technologies like LED, OLED, and e-paper coupled with falling costs will further propel adoption. Network connectivity and integration with mobile and online platforms also enable richer applications. Companies that leverage these digital capabilities while retaining core sign industry expertise will be well-positioned for the future.

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