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Frequently Asked Questions about EMC's

For easiest navigation, the following questions about EMC's are also links to their location and answer on this page. An answer may also contain a link to additional information on the SBA signage site. After each answer, a link is provided to bring you back to the top of this page.

  What are EMC's?

    Electronic variable message centers are computerized programmable electronic visual communication devices. They are capable of storing and displaying multiple messages in dozens of formats and at varying intervals. Similar to reader boards, they allow their owners to change copy frequently, but without the cost of replacing missing or broken letters, and without the physical labor involved in changing copy.

    Unlike the traditional reader boards, the message on an EMC can easily be changed throughout the day or week to suit the demographics of the people passing by. This allows the business owner to advertise specials, display public service information, or provide other items of public interest in a manner quickly and easily read by those passing by at any given time. Consequently, the effectiveness of an electronic message center is not limited by the space or surface area constraints that hamper business communication on reader boards. For additional information, review the Features & Advantages of EMC's.

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  How are message centers used?

    Message centers are used by businesses that want the flexibility to control their own graphics and message unit and be able to change their communication to meet their needs and the needs of their customers.
    • Large Corporations - have used such devices for years, in forums ranging from sports stadiums to Times Square. They like the ability to advertise their products in a dynamic format in which they can change their messages frequently and easily.
    • State Highway Departments have also realized the value of electronic message centers, and are increasingly using them to inform and direct traffic in large metropolitan areas, thereby easing traffic congestion and increasing traffic safety. Large-scale urban studies are currently being done to expand message center use in this area, with other "intelligent" components, to create integrated intelligent transportation systems. Under the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), they are used for regulatory, warning, and guidance purposes related to traffic control.
    • Local Banks have for years used the familiar time and temperature units.
    • Small Businesses are quickly realizing the advertising power of these dynamic visual communications devices as most people in a community look at the signs frequently. Although EMC's have been quite expensive in the past, often costing around $30,000 or more for a small, simple unit, recent technological breakthroughs have drastically reduced production and operating costs, bringing them within an affordable range.
    • Entertainment establishments, restaurants, casinos, and theme parks use EMC's extensively to create a district or zone effect.

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  We have a sign; why does my business need a message center?
    Consider for a moment the speed at which traffic passes by the average business. A motorist has only a few seconds to see and comprehend any given sign. For example, on a street with traffic passing at 45 miles per hour, a car that is 500 feet in front of a given sign will have only 7.6 seconds to read the sign before it passes, under normal driving conditions. A business' sign must be conspicuous if it is to catch the attention of passing motorists within the limited amount of time available.

    Motorists often spot electronic message centers quickly because the copy changes, the letters are illuminated, and the signs have traditionally been used as public service devices. Additionally, electronic message centers may have greater visibility from further distances, especially in poor lighting conditions, giving the motorist additional time to read the message displayed while safely maneuvering his or her vehicle.

    Message Centers act as a consolidating type of advertising. In other words, they offer businesses a way of posting a variety of information in one place rather than relying on numerous signs and banners displayed in windows, for example. This can be a real advantage for a business located in a district with strict rules about temporary signs.

    Most importantly, the electronic message center almost always increases a business's share of revenue. This is a result of the "branding" of the site through the use of specific logos, reinforcement of other advertising messages, allowing for public service notices, generating exact impulse stops, and helping to change customers' buying habits once they have stopped.

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  How will an electronic message display work best for my business?

    The growth in number of media options in recent years is good news for businesses because of the variety available to meet individual business communication needs. However, each new advertising option draws its audience away from other existing audiences. This is not true with EMC's. The display's audience is determined by the sign's message, its location, and the number of vehicles that pass it each day, and its audience continually grows.

    The electronic message display rapidly becomes a landmark in a business's local community, because it offers a valuable public service to the entire community by displaying:

    • Public service information
    • Civic events
    • Personal and holiday greetings
    • Current time and temperature
    • Specific advertising messages

    Passing viewers often look forward to reading clever new messages, and may even come to rely upon the message service in some settings. But most importantly to the business owner, the passing viewers will remember:

    • What the business is, and
    • Where the business is located.

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  Is an electronic message center a cost-effective advertising medium?
    Yes. Businesses often select their advertising medium, and messages, based upon the cost per thousand exposures of their message to the public. ON this basis, no other form of advertising comes close to matching the efficiency and cost-effectiveness, dollar for dollar, of an electronic message display. Compare the figures below:
    • Newspaper advertising - the cost on average is about $7.39 for 1000 exposures within a 10-mile radius of the business location.
    • Television advertising - The cost on average is approximately $6.26 per 1000 exposures.
    • Radio advertising - The cost is about $5.47 per 1000 exposures.
    • New LED electronic message center display - The cost is less than $0.15 per 1000 exposures. How? Assume, for example, that you spend $30,000.00 on this type of system, and that its useful life is about ten years. The amortized daily cost of the message center would equal about $2.74. Add to this the daily cost of electricity for this new LED unit (approximately $0.20), thus giving your business a daily message center expense total of $8.82. With a daily traffic count of 20,000 vehicles passing your business, you would have a cost of less than $0.45 per thousand exposures (counting drivers only)!

    Best of all, with an electronic message center, a business does not have to worry about missing its target audience, becoming "yesterday's news," or facing expensive production costs for changing its message, as happens frequently with the other forms of advertising mentioned.

    With an electronic variable message display:

    • The business owns the form of advertising
    • The advertising works for the business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
    • The sign acts as the "salesman on the street" attracting customers into the business
    • The advertising speaks directly to the potential customers as they drive past the business location, and the EMC makes the business a landmark in its community.

      Finally, many message center manufacturers provide leasing programs, which include service and maintenance, thereby providing another option for covering the cost of usage.

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  What level of return on investment can I expect?

    For businesses that choose to enhance their signage with an electronic message display, the owners typically see an increase in business of 15% to 150%. Using the smaller number, consider the following example.

    A small business generating $1,000.00 a day in revenue adds an electronic message center. The business soon increases by 15%, adding another $150 per day in total revenue. That translates into an additional $1,050.00 a week in revenue, or $54,600.00 per year.

    It has been said that in retailing, "the last dollars are the best dollars," meaning that each additional customer adds a greater marginal percentage to the business's bottom line profit. In the foregoing example, we can only speculate upon the actual impact upon profit, but assuming that the business was at or above its "break-even" point before adding the electronic message center, the addition of $54,600.00 per year in revenue would clearly add to the business's profit.

    Keep in mind that with this example, the investment in the electronic message center unit would likely be about one-third of the additional revenue generated in the first year of its operation alone.

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  How much can I expect to spend on an electronic message center?

    Before you wonder how much a business will spend on an electronic message center, first determine how much will be spent overall on marketing and advertising. It is not uncommon for a business that is already using a variety of media advertising without an electronic message center to divert some of those advertising dollars to an investment in one of these displays, greatly increasing exposure, business volume and customer acquisition - all without spending any additional revenue.

    Technological breakthroughs have reduced the costs of producing these communications devices and have considerably reduced the previous level of expense for operating message centers. New technology is available that allows message centers to:

    • operate 24 hours a day continuously for many years with minimal bulb or LED replacement; and
    • consume electricity at a daily cost of as little as $0.20 for a small LED display, or approximately $74.00 per year.

    Best of all, these new message centers can be purchased for much less than their predecessors. Even small and medium-sized companies are finding an investment in a changeable electronic sign is worthwhile. Technological advancements are occurring so rapidly that a greater variety of these signs is within financial reach, offering the small business a tremendous on-site advertising tool that ties the advertised product directly to the location where it can be purchased.

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  What about safety? Aren't EMC's a distraction for drivers?

    Over the last few decades, discussion pertaining to signage has centered on four fronts:
    1. maintaining the economic vitality of commercial districts through signage
    2. the First Amendment (see this SBA site's "Legal Considerations" and the "Legal Resources" in the Glossary/Resources tab for in-depth detail about legal rights, protections and more)
    3. community aesthetics; and
    4. traffic safety.

    Some might argue that signs cause traffic accidents by distracting the driver of a vehicle. However, this has never been proven to be the case with a well-designed sign. A well-designed sign has a brief, easy-to-read message, in lettering large enough to be easily seen and read by a driver. Further, the sign is illuminated to assist in its visibility and legibility. The sign is of a sufficient size and height that it is easily seen, as well as placed in a location where a driver would naturally look.

    If anything, well-designed and placed signage can increase safety. As quoted in the article, "Traffic and On-Premise Sign Regulation"* which speaks to this issue of safety in detail, "To facilitate safe movement and meet information needs, roadside signs, both commercial and noncommercial, must provide drivers with clear messages that are visible under all environmental conditions." The article continues with, "Signs that do not optimally communicate can create driver frustration or disorientation." And finally, "These driver behaviors many times cause accidents - accidents which might have been avoided had the pertinent sign been visible and readable in sufficient time for the viewer/driver to process its message and safely respond."

    Electronic message centers - like other types of signage - when properly designed, placed, maintained, and illuminated can actually promote greater traffic safety.

    * "Signline", a publication of the International Sign Association, has given us permission to reproduce the 2001 article, "Traffic and On-Premise Sign Regulation". This article also outlines the standards outlined by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in their "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" (MUTCD).

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  What about face changes? Can I change the face or copy of my sign?
    The subject of copy and face changes on signs, and exactly how much control regulators should have over it, is riddled with complexities. The federal courts have been clear in restricting sign codes to content-neutral regulations of time, place and manner of display, but what about copy and face changes? Several cases have bearing on the issue.

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