SBA Report on Electronic Message Centers (EMCs)

Below is an executive summary by the U.S. Small Business Administration on the effectiveness and safety of LED signs. Read on to learn why an EMC could be the smartest decision for your company.

What are EMCs?

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.

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%.

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.
  • Television advertising - The cost on average is about $6.26 per 1000 exposures.
  • Radio advertising - The cost on average is about $5.47 per 1000 exposures.
  • New LED electronic message center display - The cost on average is less than $0.15 per 1000 exposures.

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.

Electronic Message Centers: Safe and Legal

The federal government recognizes the superior communication value of EMCs and uses electronic information panels on many freeways to warn drivers of possible hazards. Its use of portable electronic warning signs at construction or accident sites is also increasing.

Electronic message centers are not a distraction to drivers; it is quite the contrary. Their exceptional readability and conspicuity means that EMCs actually increase driver safety. The federal government and other reviewers, after conducting numerous studies, analyzing court cases, and reviewing the available literature, have concluded that signs and electronic message centers, if used properly, are traffic safety enhancement devices.

We have a sign; why does my business need a message center?

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. 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.