Digital signage and the interactive brand

Date: 
02/14/2012

By José Avalos | Worldwide Director of Retail and Digital Signage

Whenever a new technology comes along, we always expect it to take the place of what's already there. People thought the telephone would replace the telegraph; TV would replace movies; ATMs would replace live tellers.

It never works out quite that way.

While new technologies may take over some of the functions of older ones, what truly makes them successful is how they redefine the space that they operate in. Digital signage is no exception — 2011 marked what I consider to be a breakthrough year in establishing the role of digital signage in the world of creating compelling, interactive brand experiences. There is every indication that 2012 will bring more of the same.

2011: A Breakthrough Year

Today, digital signage is the No. 2 reach media behind TV, the No. 2 exposure media and the No. 1 fastest growing media — this is quite an accomplishment for a technology that is still in its early stages. But to really understand the success digital signage is enjoying, look at just a few of the premier examples that set the pace for the industry in 2011 (there are many to choose from):

Macy's Beauty Spot

Macy's digital experience offers customers a helpful and fun way to evaluate cosmetics across multiple brands while also getting useful information on beauty trends, new products and seasonal specials — all of which can be downloaded directly to a mobile device.

  • Kraft Foods iSample

This stylish and enticing digital experience is a new approach to product sampling. It uses anonymous viewer analytics to anonymously detect the age bracket of the viewer and offers complimentary samples of JELL-O Temptation Pudding Snacks to adults who approach the station.

  • HSN's Pizza Challenge

HSN's interactive touch wall allows the company to expand its reach and interaction with shoppers beyond TV and the Internet — it moves beyond its current channels. Using the touch wall, consumers can take a virtual cooking class from world-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck, learn how to use his products as well as create shopping lists.

  • LEGO's Interactive Window

Through an innovative interactive augmented reality window display LEGO brand retail stores give shoppers the opportunity to star in a game as a LEGO Minifigure as shoppers are transformed into a LEGO Minifigure that mimics their moves. This solution aims to bring the LEGO experience to life in a new, exciting and immersive way.

When speaking with our technology, agency and ecosystem partners about some of these interactive, branded, immersive experiences — like those I have listed above, and others, like the Inwindow Outdoor Experience Station — we are finding that retailers are experiencing a 5-10X increase in consumer dwell and engagement time!

With results like this, it's no surprise we are grabbing a greater share of the media pie. But these examples also demonstrate something else: how much digital signage has changed from its initial conception as a replacement for printed posters and billboards. "Signage" doesn't quite capture it. "Kiosks" doesn't quite fit either — it truly is an experience.

Interactive Brand Experiences

But if naming is a challenge, understanding the appeal of these solutions in today's fragmented media market is no mystery. It's not simply that they are supporting their brands in fun, engaging, interactive ways. They are helping to define a new form of marketing: the truly interactive brand experience.

Of course, the underlying technology has helped make this possible: Bigger, clearer screens. Better interfaces. Faster performance. Integration with social and mobile. Real-time audience analytics. But it's not just about performance. Technologies become successful when they satisfy a compelling need. Today, there is a compelling need to support new approaches to branding and marketing.

Going Beyond "Push"

Branding has always been about push. It still is, but in today's highly fragmented market, it is also about engagement. Branding has always been about the big message, the big picture. It still is, but in an era of local and hyper-local marketing, brands need to deliver those big messages more effectively in highly-focused efforts. Branding has always been about creating trust. It still is, but for more and more people that trust is gained across a wide range of interactions.

For brands that are looking to surround the smart, on-the-go consumer with an integrated and consistent digital experience, the time is now. With the convergence of mobile devices, social media and digital signage, interactivity is everywhere. Instead of looking at each platform and channel separately — traditional vs. online; online vs. mobile, in-home vs. out-of-home, broadcast vs. narrowcast — brands are able to take a holistic approach from the start.

That's why in retail, you are seeing less discussion about being "multichannel" (that's a given) and more focus on being "omnichannel" — bringing together branding assets with the technology to engage and influence a very demanding, very elusive mass audience at different touch points.

Original Content and Accountability

Original content is a big part of this. The traditional approach to digital signage was to repurpose what was being done on TV or in print. Now brands are taking the opportunity to exploit the unique capabilities of digital signage with original concepts designed just for that medium.

Interactivity and accountability now go hand in hand, as exemplified by the audience-aware examples cited above that have the ability to gather proof-of-performance statistics. Audience analytics is vital to establishing the credibility of digital signage, but going forward it is going to be even more critical to claiming our due share in the highly-fragmented media mix.

Take note that this emphasis on accountability is not restricted to digital signage. The initiative launched by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's), and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to embed metadata in creative will make it possible to traffic and track ads across all forms of media. In many respects, digital signage is already a step ahead.

For a brand today, the opportunity to reach and connect consumers with compelling relevant media has never been more possible ... or more important. But no one should be under illusions that change will occur overnight. Organizationally, many brands still approach their different platforms and channels as silos. Advertising agencies are struggling to adapt their traditional reliance on national media buys to new world of hyperlocal branding. But with upwards of 70 percent of Americans spreading their shopping investment across channel — in-store, online and mobile — the way forward is clear.

There will still be many opportunities for digital signs that are essentially push media — serving as smarter, more cost-effective replacement for the signs and billboards. The opportunity to play an active role in defining the era of interactive brands is a big one. The technology is here. The medium is proven. The need is clear. Now, it is up to all of us to realize the potential.

Jose Avalos is the Worldwide Director of Retail and Digital Signage for Intel Corporation in the Intelligent Systems Group. In this role, Jose leads Intel’s worldwide Retail and Digital Signage businesses and his organization is responsible for delivering Intel’s Intelligent Retail and Digital Signage Platforms, Software and Services, as well as initiatives to fuel the growth of these Industries. Jose has a multi-faceted career with numerous General Management and Director level positions at Intel in Business, Marketing and Engineering. Prior to his current role, Jose was General Manager of Intel’s Ultra-wideband Networking Operation. Jose has represented Intel at SEMATECH, at the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and at the Digital Signage Association advisory boards, and currently represents Intel at the ASU W.P. Carey School of Business Center for Services Leadership board. He received his BS in EE from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and his MSE in EE from the Arizona State University. In addition, Jose has completed Executive Leadership Programs at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

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