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Digital Connections

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Laura Davis TaylorThe marketing landscape as we know it is not only changing, it's morphing into a Brave New World that many are not altogether prepared for. Why? A lot of reasons but the big change agents are: We can no longer control consumers. What we tell them doesn't matter (it's all coming down to experience). The marketing toolkit is not only getting bigger, the legacy processes we use to plan within it are slowly breaking.

As consumers have seized the reins of what, when and how messages come into their world, the concept of Marketing at Retail has finally started to take hold. It's perplexing that it's taken this long, but it's obvious that the adoption of Tivo, pop-up blockers, Do Not Call lists and burgeoning "permission" devices have made it harder to reach people. Naturally, this has prompted interest in Retail Media strategies, as it's understood that the one place you can bank on Reach is a retail store.

RETAIL DIGITAL SIGNAGE AS NEW MEDIA CONNECTION

Viewing the Digital Signage industry since 1999 through a Marketer's lens has been like reliving the advent and adoption of the Internet. Retail digital signage (RDS) has opened the door to a new way to reach consumers: targeting and dayparting, a rich method to create branded experiences and a promise to one day "optimize" messages served up for maximum results. Having personally lived through the bumpy road of Internet adoption, consulting in the digital signage and Retail Media space is starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day. It's my hope to point out some obvious comparisons so that our industry avoids repeating some hard lessons. Let's dig into a few.

Just because it's technology does-n't mean technology teams should drive it. When we started building websites, it took a while for the industry to realize that their success was only as good as the underpinning consumer strategies. Brochureware, bad navigation and irrelevant sites driven by IT teams led to plenty of wasted money and "2.0 website redesigns".

Digital signage is similarly struggling. It's not a technology—the technology is the vehicle. It's not TV-peo-ple aren't sitting at home watching shows when they encounter it...they're shopping. It's certainly not about Captive Audiences—build networks to snare eyeballs and you become one more tuned-out marketing message.

RDS is a new communication vehicle that needs to be useful, relevant and welcoming to the consumer if it's going to be embraced.

No one resource can do it all. It takes a village of niche experts. Hey, any new media has to have a few guinea pigs. Who isn't guilty of overselling to get into opportunities that will teach us how to lead a new sector? The Internet, and now digital signage, has had more than enough promises of expertise that fell short of delivery. We're not going to build successful case studies if we can't be honest about the pieces that we know and those that we need to work with experts on. If the necessary internal retail teams and external agencies/vendors worked together on Retail Media ventures, we'd see true store evolution take place.

Too many players are creating closed architecture, proprietary solutions. Yes, we all want to be the de factor standard. Who doesn't want to the own the market? However, as failed Internet players showed us, very few technologies can effectively penetrate the market if they don't snap into other key legacy systems. This is even more important as customer-centrici-ty becomes central to our lives and store infrastructures are built to integrate multiple data points and support "dynamically driven" content.

We have to "dump" our advertising value to stimulate media trial and adoption. As an early Interactive marketing nerd, I still remember now famous Net Names calling me at the agency with a bottom dollar deal to advertise on their home page. Most of those sites now generate the highest CPM rates in the industry. We're living this now with RDS media real estate as we struggle to stimulate trial on it as a new medium.

I have every confidence that as retail digital media evolves it will prove itself to be in the top rung of media vehicles. It just needs to prove itself out. I will say, however, that it makes me crazy that we're holding it to standards that TV, print, radio and billboards have never been accountable to. What a shortsighted approach to one of the most exciting medias to appear in many years.

Standards and media value battles are making it hard. God Bless the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), as they worked tirelessly for years to create standards for content and pricing. They still work hard, as video and amazing new technologies continually emerge in their space.

Retail Digital Media has a few fabulous groups trying to repeat IAB's efforts in the RDS industry, but the job is even more complex because camps are struggling with the right media valuation internally. Do we use Reach and Frequency (CPMs and GRPs) or is this a new medium with new values? Or, should it be driven by POP and merchandising price points? It's a true conundrum as many feel that we are moving to a "pull" marketing world and valuation will be based on something entirely new.

It's unknown and unproven—there-fore, old school marketers are in fear of it. Working with a well-known global CPG this year, I was told that speaking about retail digital signage to media constituents was inappropriate because the store had nothing to do with media. The same point was made to me about mobile marketing. Call me crazy, but I was shocked that this came from the head of media from one of the biggest brands in the world.

Once again, as with the Internet's first years, we have way too much fear and not enough fearlessness with these new media tools. Clinging to old mindsets and processes will only leave you chasing to catch up with your competitor.

Turnkey media planning tools=media buyer adoption. When DoubleClick made it easy for media constituents to plan, place, measure and optimize online advertising, adoption ramped up significantly. RDS— and other retail media—will likely face the same challenge. SeeSaw Networks and trials with camps like Ebay and Google are lighting a path for the industry and we hope to see more traditional constituents open their minds to planning media into retail venues.

IS IT INTERACTIVE?

Be clear: just because it looks like interactive media doesn't mean it is. I once owned an interactive firm-there's not much about site development, interactive creative or i-media that I don't get. That said, I will be the first one to loudly state that RDS and the Web are very different media. Yes, interactive media is the closest thing to digital signage regarding the skill sets and processes to make it happen. However, there are critical differences rooted in merchandising know-how, store strategy, customer experience design, store media integration and more. These skill sets are learned by doing-and the learning curve is stunning.

Bring your skills to the table but be willing to work with a team of retail store and content experts that understand the complex world of consumer experience and retail organizations. Remember, no dead guinea pigs this time! who the viewer is, what they may need, and how they like to spend their time. Period.

Much like the early years of the Internet, brands, Agencies, new technologies and emerging media tools are indicating that the Retail Media opportunity is not only real, but key to the overall media toolkit. If we approach Marketing at Retail as an integrated channel, it's going to be a lot easier if we pay respect to hard lessons already learned.

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