Embracing Your Role as a Vendor in a New Landscape
By Laura Davis-Taylor
The New World, In Microcosm
By Executive Editor David Keene
There were more than 2,500 Speakers featured at SXSW Interactive, that took place in early March in Austin TX, over a period of five days. The sessions ranged from “Brands as Patterns” to the refreshingly titled session on Analytics: “Media Measurement: Science, Art, or a Load of Crap?”
SXSW Interactive, is as far from the Ivory Tower as you can get. If you want to feel good about your company, and want to hole up in the comfort of your pre-conceived notions of where the DOOH industry is going, then don’t go to SXSW. If you want to see what is happening in the real world while you were admiring your own PowerPoint deck, then beg, borrow, or steal your way to Austin next spring for SXSW Interactive. SXSW is the most important hot-bed of real-world new technology and social trends I’ve ever witnessed. Look at the technology being used at the event, by the attendees, on the street and the lobbies and blogging rooms and parties–not in demos on a trade show floor. Look the Brands involved– major Sponsors of SXSW Interactive included ISIS, Microsoft, IFC, Pepsico, AT&T, Miller Lite, Chevrolet, and Monster Energy– and I have not seen such a feeding frenzy of corporate sponsors pouring money into a trade show since the height of the dotcom boom circa the CES show 1999. SXSW offers the ability to witness, up close and aggravatingly personal, how the world of Media, Social Media, Advertising, Interactivity, and Education are changing– so rapidly that there is no one conventional trade conference to address it all. There is SXSW– a circus of what is happening today, to consumers, students, employees, fans, and entire industries as they jettison all our pre-packaged messaging and tools we think they need, and jump head first into the BYOD movement (that’s Bring Your Own Digital).
Interestingly, I ran into Jill Miller, COO Immersive Labs in the lobby of SXSW Interactive. What was Immersive Labs doing at SXSW Interactive? “We were invited by PepsiCo. to run their (5) outposts, DOOH network, with CARA, our Smart Face Detection and Adaptive Advertising platform,” Jill explained. “We were tasked with providing real time data of the viewership. Information including; gender, age, dwell time, glances , top ads and busiest time of day. These statistics were fed into PepsiCo Zeitgeist, a real-time ticker of social media activity around SXSW. The PepsiCo Zeitgeist was debuted at SXSW Interactive a couple years ago to monitor the pulse of the Conference by mining SXSW social media conversations and presenting emerging trends. It was a fantastic opportunity, and the response to our platform was overwhelming!”
I asked Jill, at SXSW Interactive, with all the companies there, all the press, etc. how would she would explain that nowhere do you read, hear, or see the words "digital signage", or "DOOH" (Digital Out of Home)?
“The quick response is everybody was at DSE” Miller replied. “The real answer is the Interactive conference has it roots in the Internet side of the digital equation. This year mobile applications were everywhere. It became somewhat amusing to learn there is an "APP" for just about anything! I would expect to see more in use of networked digital signs at future shows, however they will a part of the overall customer experience not singled out. This show is about solutions not software or hardware.”
It’s been a busy season. The shows, Global Shop, the Digital Signage Expo and SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive), were hotter than ever. Digitalsignage vendors are cranking out more powerful offerings, a ridiculous amount of new apps and gizmos have hit and I’m personally experiencing, for the first time, a really interesting phenomena—every new potential client is asking for a point of view on how to create better brand experiences, not just brand promises.
It’s no wonder. As our editor David Keene pointed out in a recent write up about SXSW Interactive, it was overwhelming to witness up close how the world of Media, Social Media, Advertising, Interactivity, and Education are changing. Further, he found it aggravatingly personal to get hit upside the head with the realization that the digital signage industry is way too focused on our little perspective on where DOOH is going. We have a lot of preconceived notions and ‘tried and true’ pitch messages about the value of our medium, but shows like SXSW make it obvious that it’s a blip in the ecosystem of new technologies and social trends. And the movement is one of BYOD—Bring Your Own Digital. The changes this is reaping on society are just now appearing, and how this will manifest in the future is almost too much to process.
I was at a Google shopper marketing council meeting recently where this was a key discussion focus of our day. Ten of us from various agencies all agreed that our clients are now hyper-focused on the relationship between consumer and shopper, how to map out the pathways between pre-shop, store shop and post-shop, and how to create contextual experiences that bring these things together. They are calling it “Big M” marketing, and it’s a heck of a lot different than the shotgun blast awareness messaging measured by reach and frequency that many DOOH pundits think agencies are looking for.
Making Big M marketing is a very new thing for brands, and making it work is fuzzy at best. At the heart of it is innovation and working together to get to answers about what to do, why, where and with what tools. It won’t be easy and will require greater collaboration between agency, media, data, and technology partners—meaning you. If and when you get a seat at the table, you need to bone up on what you need to know to be there not as a commodity vendor, but as a strategic compadre.
Don’t panic. We aren’t expecting you to become marketing experts. We are, however, expecting you to operate like us brand people do, namely by embracing a mindset of human insight driven innovation. It’s not hard guys; just pay attention to what’s really happening in the world around you in a mindful manner. Cultivate a constant curiosity and observation of what people are doing around you. How are people (including yourself!) consuming media? How is this changing? Why? How are they using social tools and apps to enrich their lives? How are they feeling about and responding to advertising? What kind of advertising is resonating? What is driving interactivity with brands? Where? How and why? How are they educating others around them? What DOOH signs/communications are they looking at? When, where, and why are they paying attention to digital signage? What cultural trends are happening that can get retailers more interested in digital? What new flavors of our industry solutions are going to solve big hairy issues such as power needs, low cost options, easy installations, etc.? What can and should you do with the answers you gather? I could go on…I hope you get the gist.
We all have to become human anthropologists and master collaborators. No vendor or resource has the answers. And there’s no longer one resource to help get you there. As David noted, get out of your comfort zone and get yourself to other industry shows such as SXSWi, shop.org and such. Your digital signage solution, no matter what form or flavor, is going to live as an element of the overall customer experience: only one element of it. Your prospective and current retail clients are trying really, really hard to figure out if, when and how digital signage should be a component part of their unique store strategy. To sell it effectively, you simply have to understand this.
I’ve been passionate and highly present in the digital signage industry for over 12 years. I fear that if we don’t get super proactive about this now, we may find ourselves in a commodity business. Big M marketing is about innovation, collaboration and motivating people. It’s a mindset and should be a mission—for you, me and pretty much anyone else that plans on being remotely relevant in the murky future of marketing.