What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Going
As a consultant that’s been in the trenches of the digital signage and in-store digital media industry since 1999, I recently found myself sitting in reflection of the past 10 years. For many of us, we are closing a decade of incredible challenge, growth, and excitement towards the future. I wanted to write my column this month not with a view of the past year, but of the past decade. We’ve come far folks — and we have a lot to be proud of.
I believe that no matter what your role in the industry, you have one thing in common with us all: you are a visionary. You accepted your job or helped form a new company with a dream — and a passion — to ignite the physical world with technology. Some of us were doing it for the money and some of us were doing it for the sheer love of it all. Regardless, you had at least some role in making the following thing real.
Digital signs are finally becoming an accepted media channel. I’m a career agency girl myself, and I will never forget sitting in the CEO’s office of a very wellknown media agency six years ago preaching the virtues of in-store and digitally enabled shopper experiences. The CEO looked at me in disgust and said, “You mean to tell me that I know have to start marketing in the STORE now?! God, that’s worse than direct mail!” I kid you not. This person is now leading his holding company’s North American media operations and is on the forefront of DOOH measurement efforts. I’d call that great progress.
Being smarter regarding measurement is making our media more valuable. The more we can tie a media to ROI, the more we can charge for it. (Graphic courtesy of CognoVision, whose “Anonymous Impression Metric (AIM)” was the winner of the 2009 DIGI Award for the Best New Audience Measurement Package.)
We as an industry are slowly becoming “evolved” media people. In the early days, most of us were operating as technologists. We were talking about things like hardware, software, and remote management, but not about effectively integrating messages and experiences. Success was getting a network sold and up and running — not up and humming with shopper delight. As the years have flown by, even the most left-brained industry people have learned the basic principles of good target marketing and we’re now operating as communications enablers rather than tech salespeople.
We are creating tools that support our screens as a “real” media offering. No other media channel is operating without being tied to a planning and buying software, and every channel is enabled by some form of measurement. As we’ve honed our marketing and media chops, it was a natural evolution to start tying our digital signage efforts to measurement and media planning tools as well. I feel that this has been the great progress of 2009, if not the entire decade, because it has enabled us to start acting like a real media outlet — and making us smarter about what is and isn’t working.
Being smarter regarding measurement is making our media more valuable. The more we can tie a media to ROI, the more we can charge for it. Finally, I’m thrilled to see our niche embrace this concept, as it’s the only way that we are going to dig out of the extremely low CPM rates that we’ve been stuck in for years. Can we measure all the data we’d like to now? No. Will we get there? Yes. And with each new sliver of measurement data that we can attach to in-store digital efforts, there will be an increase in its advertising value.
Brands now “get it.” More than any other industry player, CPG brands simply get the concept of in-store digital media. They want to be in store, they want to stand out, and they want to connect relevantly and powerfully to shoppers. They want insights, they want measurement, and they want innovation from their retail store partners — and they are pushing hard for it. Unlike the early years, major brands such as P&G have become spokespeople for our industry and we love them for it.
Industry associations are playing hard and playing smart. The only game in town when I got into this business was the Digital Signage Expo. Now we have many dedicated conferences and even more industry associations working their hearts out to help DOOH and ISDM with advocacy and standards efforts. Ideally, in the decade ahead, more of them will come together and attack the big issues as a united front; we are already seeing progress here and look forward to seeing which ones will rise to the forefront.
Interactive touchscreens are growing up. As confusing as it is to try to categorize a digital touchscreen versus a kiosk versus a digital sign, all flavors of interactive in-store are falling neatly into the “Digital Self Service” category and it is rapidly becoming embraced as a discipline. Interactive devices in-store are slowly become an extension of a retailer’s business, and, when done right, are finally making a difference for the shopping experience.
Mobile is getting serious…and getting integrated. Although mobile in-store is just now gaining traction, the potential for it is enormous. Be it mobile wallets, wayfinding support, augmented reality, or something yet dreamed up, I can’t wait to start weaving these mobile-based tools into our in-store digital strategies.
Visions of holistic “4 Screen Campaigns” may soon be real. As much as I’d like to say that we have oodles of examples of brands activating good digital campaigns on TV, online, on mobile phones, and in-store, there aren’t that many. We talk about it a lot, and brands like Pepsi, P&G, and Coca-Cola are leading the pack. But, the concept is being embraced and I have every confidence that in the years ahead every brand worth a salt will be utterly allegiant to this cross-channel digital philosophy.
We’re still having fun. The canvas is gleaming and white for what we can create with our digital paint palette. We have plenty of shopper challenges to address in-store and the thrill of making digitally based solutions for them real. With the Millennial Generation entering into a phase of significant consumer purchasing power, there is no better time to push innovation initiatives and make the next 10 years the most memorable of all of our careers.
As wonderful as our progress has been, we must still remember that we are at a critical point regarding consumer acceptance. We as an industry have to be united in our stance that we should not create technology experiences that people don’t want to view or use. My personal golden rule for clients is, “just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should,” and we must ensure that our projects will be serving human beings in some manner rather than act as “visual spam.” Simplistic as it sounds, old-school marketing is in the pickle that it’s in because it strayed from this basic concept — let’s not repeat their mistakes.
On a closing note, this will be my last column as the founder of Retail Media Consulting. The industry progress mentioned in this column made me think hard about my role for the past 10 years and what I want it to be moving forward. As rewarding as its been to be an active industry voice and enabler for all things in-store digital, the next decade will require action and leadership far beyond what I can do as a consultant. Therefore, as of January 1, my 2010 will begin as the VP of Global Retail Strategy for a company I’ve admired for years, Creative Realities. I will still be entrenched in in-store technology, but as a part of a leadership team that creates holistic shopper solutions and “experiential realities.” I look forward to continuing my column with even sharper observations from the field and, as always, welcome your comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Davis-Taylor (email@example.com) is a 15-year agency veteran with a diverse background in traditional advertising, brand planning, interactive marketing, digital signage, merchandising, and retail/environmental design. As founder and principal of Retail Media Consulting (www.retailmediaconsulting.com), her focus is on helping brands strategize and execute powerful media experiences within the store as a marketing vehicle. RMC has released a comprehensive guidebook on in-store digital media available at http://www.lightinguptheaisle.com.