The Perspective 
Saturday, 28 September 2013

By Richard Ventura
Director of Sales – Vertical Solutions for NEC Display Solutions


While digital screens have been deployed in a variety of retail applications such as menu boards in restaurants, digital end caps in electronics stores, directory boards in malls and digital mannequins in clothing stores, the true power of digital has yet to be fully tapped.  You may ask, what is that true power?  It is the power of full engagement via interactive digital signage.

Traditionally, retailers have used digital signage as a way to run advertising of products and goods with very little integration into store systems.  Those that have integrated focus mainly on inventory databases and their point of sales (POS) systems to capture customer data that can be mined to better align with customer preferences.  Further, many retailers utilize traditional kiosk systems to allow for online ordering, guest registry access and even for hiring future employees. 

What many are missing, though, is how to utilize their systems and capture customer interactions in order to create a full engagement between the brand and the consumer. When looking at interaction and engagement, there are three types:  passive, active, and mobile.

In the restaurant space, many brands have deployed customer-facing kiosks where people can place their orders and learn about specials without any human interaction.  This is an active way for the brand to interact with the consumer, and increase sales and efficiencies.  Following more of a passive way to interact with the consumers, others have deployed “order-ready boards,” where patrons are informed when their meals are complete.  While guests wait for their food, they have become a captive audience, a fact not lost on these businesses, which are cross-marketing and up selling various services and goods to them.

Interactive wayfinding kiosks in malls, hotels, airports and other retail businesses let consumers print maps and coupons, make dinner reservations, and purchase goods and services.  This creates an engaging experience, even if for only a few seconds, that allows the consumer to fully experience the brand(s).

Forward-thinking businesses also are letting consumers use their smart phones and tablets to interact with digital screens, kiosks, store end caps and video walls.  Many top restaurant brands have created iPhone and iPad apps for ordering food selections and counting calories – and through Near Field Communication (NFC), enabling interaction with digital screens themselves for scanning QR codes, downloading coupons and making purchases.  Also, many retailers are utilizing these applications to create a virtual store-within-a-store concept.  A consumer can pull up reviews, check inventories, place orders, and in some cases, test-drive a product all via their smart phones and tablets.

Research firm DisplaySearch says the market for public displays across industries is showing strong growth, set to push near 12 million units sold in 2018, an increase from just under 3 million in 2011.  DisplaySearch’s Jennifer Colegrove asserts, “Touchscreen penetration is rapidly increasing. Over the next several years, touchscreens will undergo strong growth in large-size applications.”

Through these devices and technologies, retailers gain opportunities to engage customers and build relationships.  But as the phenomenon of interactivity grows, the question about customer service looms large.  Is customer interaction with machines better for brands than dealing with company employees?

From my perspective, the answer has more to do with customers and supplying them more options than to say that human interaction is always better.  Interactive digital screens can empower customers to bond with a brand in ways that they choose and in ways that enhance their retail experiences.

As we’ve seen more and more, some people would rather shop online than walk into a brick-and-mortar store.  When these types of people do step into stores, they prefer to shop on their own, peruse in-store kiosks for more information, make their purchases and leave as soon as possible.  Salespeople won’t impact what they want to buy or have the opportunity to upsell additional items.

But there are others who want that personal attention.  The upshot is that the retailer can match the demands of a variety of consumers where and how they want to interact with the brand.  These options give retailers a better chance to capture more of an audience.  Interactive technologies introduce a new dynamic to selling.

Some stores are availing themselves of this new dynamic.

Best Buy, for example, has introduced interactive kiosks in airports to sell iPods, headphones, game cubes and other technologies.  It’s the “big box” retailer’s way of meeting the needs of the marketplace by giving people options on how and where to buy.  At the same time, it continues to offer its bricks-and- mortar department stores and the Best Buy Mobile stores.

Apple has done a phenomenal job of making sure that before a buyer can close out a sale online, in a store, or through its IOS application, that options for cables and extended warranties appear and are part of the sales equation.  That breeds additional sales.
While these are some of the best practices, the retail industry still has to make progress, according to a recent study.  SapientNitro’s Insight 2013 Report indicates that most retailers are failing when it comes to deploying digital signage and interactive technologies.  Just 22% were rated as truly interactive with a value-add beyond just merchandizing or a display.

Here’s how to make the interactive experience relevant:

  • Deliver the right content and messaging  
  • Design a technologically sound kiosk that people will be drawn to
  • Deliver a meaningful experience. 

If the interaction with a kiosk or digital screen is “bumpy,” or if consumers have to scroll through too many products to place an order, they will walk away.  There needs to be a way to guide them through the process with a series of questions and interactions, and their time must be respected

An interactive system built on good design, tied to other sales channels and offering a solid customer experience will increase sales.

Here are the questions retailers need to ask themselves before deploying interactive digital signage:

  •     What are our goals and strategies?
  •     How will we execute the plan?
  •     How will we measure results?
  •     Who will support our interactive system?
  •     How will we expand the deployment?
  •     What types of technologies will be used?
  •     Who will manage the content?
  •     How do we keep the content fresh and impactful?

The question is not whether to deploy interactive technologies, but when, and to have the plan in place to do so.

Watching young children interact with technology is a particularly noteworthy barometer.  Whenever they encounter a computer screen, their expectations are that it is interactive.  A touch mentality is so ingrained in this generation that it should give retailers pause.  These little patrons are the formation of a digital interactive society.

This article was originally published in Retail Merchandiser magazine.



Posted by: Admin AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 17 September 2013

By Vern Freedlander

Vice President, Production, X2O Media

The adoption of visual communication solutions within the corporate, public, and personal space is driving a major shift in digital signage. The use of video, animation, visualized data and other graphical content is fostering a new era in corporate communications. The consolidation of this content and distributing it on highly focused and customizable channels that target very specific audiences within an enterprise is also playing an increasingly important role in conveying information to stakeholders.

Compounding this trend is the rapid pace of today's society where people's busy lives make it increasingly difficult to peruse spreadsheets, intranets, or emails in search of relevant content. In addition, people are now being exposed to multiple screens on a daily basis. At work, home or in the community, consistent interaction with place-based screens, smartphones, tablets and the desktop are the norm.

As corporate communicators seek to maximize the impact of their messaging, the challenge within this pluri-device environment becomes how to reach audiences on every screen while still ensuring that content remains both relevant and targeted. This dilemma derives from the fact that different screens are experienced in different ways. As a result, communicators have begun fine-tuning the user experience, applying new tools and technology to customize content presentation. This is forcing us to rethink the definition of digital signage as it morphs into a highly targeted content delivery system that is effective on any screen.

Different screens, different experiences

Screen real estate will determine the kind of content that works best on a particular screen. This determination in turn influences editorial choices and will ultimately define the user experience. In today's large digital signage installations, for example, place-based screens are conducive to providing significant amounts of information derived from multiple data feeds and other sources. This can include multiple video windows, numerous performance indicators, social media and various graphical elements. The size of the screen allows viewers to scan different areas in order to retrieve all pertinent content in a single viewing.

However, it is impossible to transfer this type of experience to tablets and smartphones, since the volume of information would become cluttered on smaller handheld screens. Therefore, channel administrators must begin to think more from the user's perspective by asking questions related to the specific editorial requirements of the user, their job function and how they interact with various screens. Examining these parameters will lead to the editorial and layout considerations that are required for creating channels that effectively deliver the right content to the intended audience.

Smartphones and tablets are considered more intimate experiences where screen real estate tends to support small amounts of content. Laid out in a totally different manner than a large place-based screen, this format appeals to content which is more urgent and time-sensitive, as opposed to information which is meant to be studied or contemplated over longer periods of time. In other words, mobile devices tend to favor focused content that is consumed immediately and typically acted upon with little delay.

On the other hand, desktop screens in an office environment provide a different experience. This setup creates a more passive setting where users can study information at a more leisurely pace, opening opportunities for training videos and other types of content which necessitate a more contemplative approach.

Tablets also bring a different flavor to the experience, bridging the smartphone and desktop experience via a device which can be used on the go yet depict video, graphics and data very well. Corporate communications professionals need to appreciate that, to effectively target viewers, content must be matched to the appropriate device and user intent. Software solutions that manage both content presentation and distribution will dramatically improve workflows and introduce new communications possibilities.

Editorial considerations

Just as in other media, leveraging video and graphics has become a top tool for corporate communicators since it has the power to convey complex information in a very concise and easily digestible manner. For instance, short videos and infographics can be used to unveil new products, share strategic information and communicate news regarding specific industry verticals. An example could be the aviation industry, where staff is exposed to up-to-the-minute news and analysis regarding the air and defense markets — giving the company an advantage within the marketplace.

Connecting to live data is also an important opportunity, with applications ranging from the disclosure of key performance indicators to the distribution of social media. Within the corporate context, access to social media allows employees to obtain direct access to thought leaders' Facebook and Twitter feeds. This facilitates the absorption of key insights and promotes the exchange of new ideas. Another example is a sales manager of a large corporation using his or her channel to provide colleagues, using any device, with continuous, around-the-clock strategic information about sales opportunities while monitoring competitors and reinforcing sales targets. Back-end tools allow this kind of vital content to reach any member of the sales team no matter what screen they may be using.

The winning combination of timely editorial content and the right technology solution leads to the development of targeted content channels that become a highly focused repository of mission-critical news and information that can provide organizations and their employees with a significant competitive advantage.

Designing channels for different devices

When planning screen layouts, communications professionals should consider a technology solution that takes full advantage of the HTML5 standard. HTML5 provides the ability to easily cross-publish content, allowing material produced for a large place-based screen to work on a smartphone, tablet or desktop and vice versa.

Another important consideration is the use of "objects" in the channel creation workflow. An object is a design element that is connected to data. Users can simply select the objects they want on screen, lay them out by positioning them on a canvas and finally publish them to different screens. Objects also support automatic rendering to different devices with the most appropriate format being selected. Users can easily resize, reorient, and reposition objects for different devices. For instance, a news ticker object would include a rectangular graphic connected to data from a news agency. The object may be reused on various devices but its size, position and font can be automatically customized depending on the output screen.

Other examples can include live data pulled from a database of KPIs, which could be represented on a channel by an object that has the appearance, for example, of a series of large animated vertical bars. This type of graphical representation may look appropriate on a large screen but might require a smaller version for a smartphone or tablet. Again, using object-based tools, users can seamlessly transfer content between different objects and in turn transfer content to different devices with little intervention from the user.

In sum, with the simplicity of object-based workflows and by using insights gained from sound editorial considerations and usage cases, communications professionals can easily publish and revise multiple content channels directed to any type of screen. This creates impactful interactive experiences that provide relevant business information exactly when it is needed, through channels that can be consumed anywhere, anytime, and on any type of device.

Freedlander is vice president of production services for Montréal-based X2O Media, a full-service provider of technology, network management and content services for professional digital signage applications. With more than 20 years of broadcast television experience as a producer, director and executive, Freedlander oversees all of X2O Media's content initiatives. He can be reached at .

Reprinted by permission:

Posted by: Admin AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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