Beware "One Size Fits All"
By Laura Davis-Taylor
Finally, digital signage for retail is becoming an accepted media. As our medium becomes more established, however, there's no surprise that it's starting to creep along the adoption path that many media venues before have already tread. And, as it does, a pesky question consistently comes up that some camps are far too quick to confidently answer: what works?
As an individual who spent 15+ years in the traditional and interactive advertising space, I've been down a bumpy road in how to answer this question. That road has never been bumpier than now, because even the things that have traditionally "worked" in mainstream media vehicles have begun to unravel. So, based on my experience, I would like to give those of you wrestling with this question in relation to digital signage a solid strategic foundation on which to operate.
Comparing Apples to Apples
Digital signage can be used for more than just advertising and traditional communications. However, regarding the question of "what works", it's usually within the context of what content strategy is most likely to either capture shopper attention or stimulate sales at the cash wrap. If you think about it, this is the norm for most media. So, let's look at how we approach this media question as a whole to find some guiding principles.
What works with mainstream and interactive media is a process, not a hard and fast set of executional rules. That process starts with understanding the target customer from multiple angles, digging for the "golden nuggets of insights" that research may provide to connect with them, determining the ideal vehicles/locations to try to reach them and then creating a solid creative brief for the content magicians to follow.
If TV or print is the desired media, then there are minimal chances to get it right…so brands hope to get it right the first time. If digital or direct marketing/mail is the media choice, it is much more formulaic and statistically based. So, sharp subject matter experts play around with copy, images, and many other things tantalizing factors to figure out what combinations pull the highest measured results. It's not easy and it's an ongoing process that keeps those behind these strategies consistently on their toes. This ongoing process never held more truly than with online media as it went mainstream a few years ago, and it compares comprehensively with the still emerging digital signage vehicle.
Online, we follow the process outlined above and we "optimize" the planning, placement and creative for our campaigns based on results. It's a humbling game, to put it mildly. You see, every single campaign comes loaded with surprises. Invariably, an ad that no one thought would be a winner starts pulling in record numbers (or vice versa). Or a site placement on a certain day that everyone thought would go gangbusters fizzles miserably. And as we have new types of online media emerge, the latest and greatest always pull amazing results until the Net audience gets familiar with it and then the response rates slowly fizzle out. The point is, we're never done playing around with the formulas to determine what works with digital media online and we're never done evolving those formulas based on what's truly happening. Every brand, product, campaign and test carries with it new insights to respond to but it's a never-ending process of "applied learning".
I remember one campaign with a major wireless phone carrier in which we did about seventy-five creative banners and let them loose across over 1,000 websites. The creative was all over the place, as it was our first campaign for a really exciting new product and we wanted to do some major foundational learning with our execution.
To our complete surprise, the most boring, low-glam creative pulled over 15% more clicks and sales than any other. It just crushed the creative people, as they had put a lot of heart into doing some great work that they stood behind wholeheartedly. But there we were, looking at a banner that a 5th grader could have done just cranking the results through the roof. That icky little banner continued to do so for well over a year and then POOF, it fizzled with no explanation. As much as we hated it, we learned that for that type of campaign and product, simple was better. We also learned that "simple" had a shelf life.
You starting to get where I'm going here?
Let's Start Off on the Right Foot
As an industry, we have started to embrace new types of measurement for our digital signage efforts and we are indeed seeing some great insights to apply to our own arsenal of applied learning. Regardless of whether we gain these insights via traditional shopper intercepts or via video, gaze tracking, sales tracking or path tracking analysis, these insights are starting to paint a clearer, more accountable track record for success. That said, it's concerning to me that as we garner a sense of the "causal factors" for what works for specific digital signage campaigns, those insights are often being taken as blanket "how-to" directives.
There will always be insights that brands and retail venues gather for what works for their unique initiatives. Those learnings need to be placed into test with other brands and retailers to see if they ring true for them as well. But, I feel confident in saying that there will not ever be hard and fast executional guidelines that can be applied to all retail initiatives with a "guaranteed to succeed" sticker. So, why are we hearing more and more buzz that we now have these easy "what works" answers?
People are trying to sell products and services and no one wants to take on the complex challenge of learning the right mix for those unique to them. Nevertheless, we have no choice. We must be media innovators and need not be intimidated.
The following is a high-level list of the various factors that can swing the results for any digital signage initiative at retail:
The retail vertical
The retail brand
The store location
The creative strategy
The creative execution
The time of day
The screen location
The brand objectives
Other concurrent marketing or store promotions
Shopper behavior where the content is experienced
Of course, this list is fraught with variables that can impact the success of a digital signage campaign. But this kind of list is nothing new to "evolved" media experts like those that have mastered online. Based on their inspired pathways, we need to be fearless, humble and open to learning-and evolving-what works for each individual digital signage initiative. We need to follow the tried and true process for all other media and, like they did, start building our own repository of learnings for each and every brand, campaign, and situation. But, let's not fall into a trap of believing that this will be a simplistic path or that what works for one retailer/brand is going to work for all others. No other media is this cut and dried so why on earth would ours be?
Nothing worth much is easy to come by, and the goldmine of shopper insights available to us via digital signage is no exception. We're going to have to continue to work at establishing credibility for this media but it will come to us much more quickly if we think like savvy marketers and follow the principles of other established media principles. And the most important one is this: no one knows what works in every single case. We only know how to get to what works and how to make darn sure that we're tracking the success factors as they continually change. If you hear otherwise-caveat emptor.