Bridging the Great Divide

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Holistic Solutions at Retail

Amidst all the buzz about the changing nature of marketing at retail, whether from a technology standpoint or with the tectonic shifts of marketing money among retail/media/internet/out-of-home platforms, there have emerged two camps that seem more squarely divided than opinions of Sarah Palin.

Think of it as a Sadie Hawkins dance staged in a Walmart parking lot. Old school traditional, static merchandising to the left. New age digital media to the right. With brand and retailers nervously contemplating the hottest dance partner. And in the middle, consumers are ultimately deciding the music we’ll all dance to.

To solve the question of the great divide, let’s turn to what I consider one of the greatest research think tanks available to me. With all due respect, let’s forget for the moment studies by Arbitron, Nielsen and Gallup. I have my own research group — seven kids (including in-laws) and three grandchildren, all engaged in the art to some degree of conspicuous consumption.

I know where the cool kids shop, the secret haunts of the soccer and hockey moms who looks for the best brands at the lowest price, the early adopters who need the latest techno-device, the discount shoppers, not to mention which retailers have the best sales and who offer the best coupons. They shop a wide range of stores as well as use the internet. I can tell you the best place to shop from branded Miley Cyrus items to Mylanta (that being my own personal contribution to the research.)

My focus group looks through the lens of consumer centricity — which is a fancy way of saying “it’s all about them.” Is shopping fun? What about this store make me feel cool, special hip and in the know are the consideration for some, others just want to know they are getting the best value. But how they look at the world has changed, framed and fueled by the Internet, On-demand everything, social networking sites that link them only to the people they want to be linked into and things like satellite radio that ensure that somewhere there will always be 24 hours of Elvis music.

REACHING SHOPPERS

If many shoppers are editing out fellow humans in their life, how do we get them not to edit out messages that we spend millions to communicate at the store level — once they cross the threshold of retail?

Dynamic content and an ever changing and engaging retail environment is the key. The question is not an either/or, but holistically looking at how all the media can work together — from the shopper fact finding stage (internet research, couponing, television ads), to the delivery to the store aisle where any robust consumer decision tree will tell you a sale can be won or lost based on in-store stimuli and the hierarchies that are important to consumers.

The answer to this new age question is evident to my consumer-centric focus group. Forget the line that separates the distinction between traditional in-store merchandising and digital signage and discover a way to ensure that people have a better experience in store than they do browsing your website — and that includes providing them with targeted, relevant, accurate information.

Consumers, rattled by $3 dollar a gallon gas, an uncertain economy and global political unrest, want to escape to a place that’s fun and speaks their language. So more than ever, think of your store as a brand cocoon, a safe haven of retailtainment, products that shoppers want and the information they need to make educated, or emotional choices. The retailer is now the brand. And that brand is expected to be smart and informed.

Retail has had to change from a product-centric business to a customer-centric business to differentiate itself from its competition and to develop brand loyalty. Shopping is now a user experience where services and products must be built around individual customers. Shoppers will delete your store faster than an ex-friend on MySpace if you fail to deliver on that promise to stay relevant and in tune with their needs and desires.

DIGITAL SIGNAGE

Digital signage and traditional marketing at retail must be factored together to complement each other, not compete for dollars from various buckets — they are both part of the in-store communication portfolio that defines the shopper experience from a practical, emotional, educational and experiential level.

Digital signage allows you to customize offers around each individual customer base and offer the appropriate product information and excitement based on each shopper’s needs. Digital Signage enhances Life Style Marketing that builds brand loyalty and sales excitement. Digital signage allows the retailer to keep the message relevant, up to date and exciting. Digital signage provides for better messaging at the point of purchase by delivering more timely and targeted information. D.S allows you to better and faster reach the specific demographic to educate the shopper and consumer to the product and related products for an up-sell.

Is there too much of a good thing? Absolutely. Dozens of signs, digital or static is too much stimulation and the consumer shuts off, effectively not seeing anything that so much money was spent to create.

Proper use of digital must cover a multiple of selling opportunities without overcrowding an environment and sending too many messages. A bewildered customer will leave with a negative impression that might be entirely subconscious.

COUNTING ON CLERKS

Consumers like to make educated and informed purchases and feel good about themselves, hence the popularity of Internet storefronts, which have created a consumer more demanding of information. Not just any information, but the right information.

In some ways, digital signage becomes an extension of the Internet experience. The one that delivers information in milliseconds. While, the Internet educates, sometimes the retail environment frustrates. As we staff up with marketing at retail methods and digital screens, we staff the stores with people who are disenfranchised from the shopping experience and brands.

Best in class retailers know that retail personnel are an extension of the brand (had we ever even heard of a barista before Starbucks?), a living breathing organism that defines consumer-centric experiences as much as the millions spent on any in-store program.

But let’s not live in a retail fantasyland. Not every retail employees will become an evangelist for your brand or store. That’s our Nirvana as marketers.

In reality, we’re trusting much of our in store experience to a twenty-something who’s biding time in his or her job until it’s time to go home and run people over in the last version of Grand Theft Auto.

Faced with that harsh reality, Digital Signage helps offset the informational delivery in-store and helps the consumer narrow down the wide range of choices some retailers throw at them in various categories. This eliminates the frustration and disconnect between your brand attributes and actual in-store experience.

Consumers now live with digital media via the internet, handheld devices, i.e., iPods and cell phones, at home or at work and are much too techno-savvy to suffer through solely static messages and half-correct information.

Great retail mimics our homes and, indeed our lives. Now as marketers let’s get off the chairs, move to the center and learn how to dance together to create retail that’s exciting, memorable, focused on the consumer experience. And oh yes, profitable.

Andy Edelman is the Chief Experiential Officer for Visual Image Display, a full service digital media provider; VID/Kaizen, a digital production company specializing in training videos; and Trimco-Display, a leading provider of Holiday Décor and Visual Merchandising to the retail industry. Edelman is a Past Chairman of Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) and recipient of POPAI’s Industry Achievement Award. Along with his brother Mitchell, Edelman co-founded Phoenix Display, an award winning point-of-purchase advertising agency, which was sold to International Paper in 1997. Edelman is also a co-founder of and currently serves as a Board Member of North American Bio-Fuels.

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