Package Deal

Atlanta, GA-Traditional retail merchandising took another step toward the digital age last month with an announcement from in-store experience design heavyweight Miller Zell. The company, which boasts such massive clients as Wal-Mart, Office Depot, and Coca-Cola among countless others, has struck an alliance with NEC Display Solutions of America, 3M Digital Signage, and Digital Display and Communication aimed at facilitating the addition of digital signage systems into the everyday marketing activities of major consumer contenders.

The endeavor, called MZ In-Store Digital Media, will deliver a much sought after "one-stop shopping" experience for retailers interested in digital signage solutions, including displays, integration, content production, and digital ad sales-coupled with Miller Zell's retail merchandising strategy, design, graphics, fixture production, and full-program implementation capabilities.

"Part of what we're able to offer through this collaboration is a very robust digital component to what was traditionally static imaging and perhaps some ad hoc digital messaging throughout the store, thus allowing clients to make it a full part of their marketing plan," explained Kevin Kelly, managing director of digital programs for Miller Zell.

Before joining Miller Zell a year ago, Kelly had the opportunity to work frequently with Mercury Online Solutions, now known as 3M Digital Signage. Based on what he saw developing there, Kelly had a vision for what needed to happen in the retail sector. "The digital display systems marketplace has been dominated by technology-based companies offering separate solutions, and there haven't been many retail design marketing services companies taking a leading role. That's what we wanted Miller Zell to do, find the best in class-which is 3M architecture and software, NEC displays, and DDC for content production and management-and really bring a total solutions package to our clients."

The alliance entails cross-training among the various brands' sales forces so that any one point of contact can provide complete solutions advice for retailers. "Most retailers that are interested in digital signage are looking for more of a consulting approach," observed Doug Albregts, vice president of sales and marketing at NEC Display Solutions of America. "They want to talk to someone that can not only inform them about the various components that go into a digital signage opportunity, but who can also manage the entire process."

Frequently, the brands already co-exist in many of these premium brand spaces. "Approximately 35 percent of our business comes from the enterprise space, which means we're in probably half of the Fortune 1000 accounts," Albregts said. "Miller Zell has many of the same relationships."

The idea for the alliance came about because all four companies had worked together on several major retail-level digital programs, including a networked system in Future Shop stores in Canada; a customer communication system in SunTrust Bank branches; a 26-channel interactive system in HSBC's flagship bank branch in New York; and a new showroom messaging system in Mohawk flooring dealers throughout the U.S.

But the point of the alliance is not to edge out systems integrators. "Our goal is not to steal the business from them, it's to work hand in hand with them and let them leverage the relationships and the customer sets that they have and then lean on us to help provide information about ROI and sales lift," Albregts said, indicating that retailers place more emphasis on these factors than on technology specs.

Of course, with so many big brands going digital, the effect can only be positive for integrators working with regional and local retailers. "As mass adoption occurs with the large retailers, there's going to be the local company with five high-end grocery stores that wants to do the same thing," Albregts speculated. "In the next three to five years, that's where the play is going to be for integrators."

Miller Zell's Kelly concurs, especially now that the hurdles of compliance and ROI are nearly overcome-with ACNielsen working with NEC to ensure that content is displayed at the right time and in the right place. "We've moved from the leading-edge early adopters to where this is now accepted as pretty much mainstream," he said. "Major brands are now getting very engaged in digital as a part of their overall marketing program. We're very close to it being a very seamless part of a retail presentation."


Kirsten Nelson is a freelance content producer who translates the expertise and passion of technologists into the vernacular of an audience curious about their creations. Nelson has written about audio and video technology in all its permutations for almost 20 years; she was the editor of SCN for 17 years. Her experience in the commercial AV and acoustics design and integration market has also led her to develop presentation programs and events for AVIXA and SCN, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate and participate in panel discussions. In addition to technology, she also writes about motorcycles—she is a MotoGP super fan.