Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New advertising startup lets you target and engage customers at a local level

I just stumbled upon a new tech startup that wants to do for digital signage what google did for online advertising.  The company is called locbit (for "local bit of information") and they are located in San Diego California and their concept is quite simple.

You create an advertising campaign by choosing the locations where you wish to display your ad and you set your bid.  Next you enter your online coupon or web site link  and you enter a short text message to be displayed with your ad.  Your ad is assigned a unique QR code that will be shown with your text message.

Your ads will be displayed on digital signage screens in the area(s) you select and you only pay if someone interacts with your ad by scanning the associated QR code.  You also get access to usage data so you can adjust your bid to ensure the best possible exposure.

I think this will be really appealing for small and medium sized screen networks who cater to businesses that need to reach a local audience.  The system is compatible with any content management system capable of displaying a web page.  All you have to do is assign the URL that was assigned by locbit to a template or screen layout zone and ads will be streamed and displayed in the proper area with the rest of your content.

As you go through the registration process, you can select which type of advertising you want to be shown on your screens.  For example, a coffee shop can restrict the scope to food related ads.  You can select one, multiple or every type of ads and locbit will take care of the rest.  Your bid amount will determine how often you own ad will be shown as part of the rotation so you can increase the ad repeat rate by increasing your bid.

The network operator gets relevant content that can easily be added to their existing content and local businesses get to advertise where their customers shop.

It's a clever idea and it will be interesting to see if the company takes off or if it gets gobbled up by a bigger player.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The impact of smartphones on digital signage in retail applications

Anyone who follows emerging technology trends already knows mobile internet usage is on the rise. Smartphone popularity is at an all time high and there is no end in sight.  Having access to the internet anywhere, anytime is empowering consumers who can now research products and services wherever they go.  What has proven to be very useful for some (consumers) has been less useful to others ("brick and mortar" retail stores) since this practice is starting to impact in-store sales.

Major national chains are now seeing customers enter their stores, check out the price asked for an item and then use their smartphone to see if they can find cheaper prices online.  Retaillers must adapt quickly if they are to compete with this new form of competitive shopping. They must offer a more informative and entertaining shopping environment.  They must also add value otherwise they will continue to lose sales to their web based competitors. 

Digital signage can be extremely useful in helping retailers increase sales and retain customers but this requires some changes to traditional advertising practices.  It is no longer sufficient to simply push product advertisements using a digital signage solution and expect sales to increase just because you have screens hanging in your stores.  To be effective, digital signage content must evolve in order to compete with the mobile internet on its own terms.

For example, dynamic real-time data is preferable over static ads as there are less chances of displaying outdated information.  You don't want to be caught showing a clip with expired pricing.  It's also important to display compelling content that is relevant to the viewing audience at their current location.  One of the things digital signage is great at is having the ability to display highly targeted content so every effort should be made to use this capability and speak directly to the consumer at a local level.

We know major brands are great at "speaking" to national audiences but since we can now target tightly focused groups, it makes sense to adapt our messages and make them even more relevant to a local audience.  Maximize your screen's impact by mixing up your content. Show a national ad on one side of the screen and a local call to action on the other.

Leverage in-store promotions and advertise locally even as you roll-out global campaigns.  Blend local and global content distribution to better compete in a connected world.  Remember you're no longer going head to head with the store across town.  You're competing with global online retailers who can ship goods from warehouses anywhere in the world.

Whenever possible, look at integrating interactive applications as part of your digital signage rollout.  Use Bluetooth and SMS so customers can interact with your screens and download promotional coupons or pull down product information on demand.  This can also be useful to store staff who can interrupt scheduled content to bring up specific product information at a customer's request.  This form of interaction is great for all types of retail applications whether you are selling cars, appliances or fashion items.  These solutions leverage technologies people already carry in their pocket. Better to have them interact with your screens than surfing your competitor's web site.

Retailers should pay attention to screen locations and route content that is appropriate to each screen whenever possible.  It may be easier to push a common set of content or playlists to all the screens in your stores but are you really getting the most out of your investment?   Remember that it's all about offering relevant information to the audience at the point of decision.

There are many other techniques you can use to compete with online retailers.  If you comparison shop your competitors, be sure to include major online retailers and make it a point of highlighting any product where you either match or beat the best online price.  You should also highlight the advantages of shopping on-site and remind customers of the various disadvantage of shopping online (shipping costs and delays, difficulties with warranties and other related services, etc...).  Use your digital signage screens to inform your customers and turn them into savvy shoppers.

If your company operates its own online store, promote it on your screens.  It's a great way to show you are committed to new technologies and it lets customers know you are accessible on the web.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Beware the zombie screens!

I don't know if it's because I'm in the industry but it seems I can't go anywhere without seeing some digital signage that's misbehaving.

For example, I often see screens in public venues displaying content that was not meant for them (wrong content, wrong aspect ratio, wrong image orientation, image meant for multiple screens "squished" on a single screen, etc...).  This is almost worse than having screens frozen, locked up or displaying a big error message right in front of the intended audience.

And it gets worse... I once saw a screen showing a back-end player rebooting itself in a continuous loop.  The scene was quite surreal and I don't know how long it took the network operator to figure out there was a problem but I sat there for a good half hour and it didn't get resolved.

This screen was mounted in a prominent location, hanging from the ceiling right behind the sales counter.  The  staff was taking orders from customers with their backs to the screen.  No one working behind the counter seemed to notice what was going on, and frankly I don't know if they could have done anything other than turn off the equipment.  Meanwhile customers had a great view of a Linux boot up screen in all it's glory.  Looping over, and over, and over...  This was now a "zombie screen" and it would remain this way until someone put it out of its misery.

I have seen zombie screens in shopping malls, fast food restaurant chains and other high traffic environments. Places where we are told digital signage is at its best and most effective.

So why does this happen?

  • Lack of resources post-network launch.
  • Lack of follow up.
  • Bad planning.
  • Indifference...

It's easy to get everyone all fired up prior to launching a digital signage network.  After all, there is lots to do.  Budgeting, planning, testing, purchasing, deployment...  Deadlines are tight and everyone's focused on getting the job done but what happens after the screens are turned on?  Does everyone go home?

The work's far from finished... in fact you're just getting started!  There is content to be created, schedules to be managed and screens to be monitored.

Continuous monitoring and event tracking is almost as important as having good content because screens that malfunction won't display your content the way it was intended.  This affects your image, your client's image and eventually it impacts your bottom line.

So what should you do?  Well, you can start by enlisting your staff's help.  For example, they can let someone know if there is a malfunction. Set up a 1-800 number or an email address that goes straight to your IT support staff.  Let everyone in your organization know this is important.  Don't just rely on technology to tell you when it's failing.

Put in place a clear and effective troubleshooting policy.  Have spare equipment on hand ready to deploy in case of a breakdown.  Don't rely on suppliers to come running to your help unless you have a support agreement.  Remember to keep your support agreement active by renewing on time.  Don't wait for a problem to come up before you renew as you may be billed for any unplanned work.

Perform periodic content audits to make sure the material being sent to the screens is appropriate.  This will help eliminate the "portrait content in a landscape screen" issue.  If feasible, deploy a few web cams at various sites to get a real-time view of what's actually going on.  If that's not possible, have someone at each location check and report periodically on the status of the screens.  It may be low-tech, but it works!

Don't be indifferent to this problem.  Equipment will fail and people do make mistakes.  It's your job to be on top of things before the problem gets too much attention.

You wouldn't want your zombie screens to be featured on YouTube now, would you?