|| The Perspective
Wednesday, 01 April 2015
By David McCracken - Livewire Digital
Turn on any high school or college sports movie and you’ll see a natural rivalry between the jocks and the tech nerds(…who I refer to fondly, being one of them!). Something in their DNA just can’t make these two groups get along. But in the case of sports Halls of Fame, life doesn’t seem to imitate art — jocks and tech geeks get along perfectly.
The hottest trends in sports Halls of Fame are digital signs, kiosks, and interactive software to organize and display the overwhelming amount of sports information available.
Baseball Hall of Fame
From the exhibits to the devices employees use to run operations, the Baseball Hall of Fame is taking tech to a new level. The Cooperstown landmark uses digital signs and interactive kiosks to give visitors a customized experience, no matter what they’re interested in.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has also started digitizing three-dimensional objects like documents and historic items to give visitors a hands-on experience, even if the physical item itself isn’t in the museum.
College Football Hall of Fame
Hot on the heels of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s tech success is the hall of fame for America’s #2 pastime: college football. You won’t see any plaques or busts in the College Football Hall of Fame — you’ll see movable touch screens instead. This Atlanta hot spot also incorporates RFID technology. Each visitor who enters selects their favorite team, and interactive video walls and other elements throughout the Hall are customized to reflect their preferences.
University of Massachusetts
At the UMass Football Hall of Fame, visitors use an interactive exhibit to explore the university’s 130-year-old football program. Kiosks and digital signs show visitors detailed historical information, current data and statistics, and engaging information on players, coaches, bands, mascots, and more. The digital directories allow every visitor using the kiosk to easily find something of personal interest through use of the touch screen software.
The Stevenson University Mustangs were inspired by the All-Sports Museum at my alma mater, Penn State University, and wanted to use the same interactive kiosks as well as video wall technology to celebrate their own program. Visitors of the Stevenson Hall of Fame use the touch screen kiosk and ultra-high definition video walls to learn all about the students and staff of the Athletics Program. Livewire’s eConcierge Content Management System makes it easy for school personnel to update and change the information on a dime — and since sports are always changing and evolving, this ensures the most up-to-date information available.
Ultimately, this technology provides so much more than could ever be inscribed on a plaque in traditional Halls of Fame. Why share a small amount of information with plaques, busts, and photos, when you can share a limitless amount with kiosks, video walls, digital directories, and a content management system?
Wednesday, 28 January 2015
Fitting rooms can be one of the most dreaded parts of a shopping trip for the customer. For the retailer it is one of the most important. So how can brands enhance the experience for shoppers? One solution we see popping up is digital mirrors.
According to “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill, shoppers are twice as likely to buy if they use a dressing room. Dressing room enhancements should be a top priority for retail stores as they make enhancements coming out of the recession. Digital mirrors are just one of the ways retailers can do this. Digital mirrors create an interactive experience for customers. Luxury brands are already testing digital mirrors in their stores.
The MemoMi Memory Mirror is a digital mirror currently being tested in Neiman Marcus department stores. MemoMi allows customers to instantly change the color or the pattern of the outfit they have tried on. They can also try on additional items to complete their outfit virtually using the mirror. The mirror takes 360-degree video, allowing customers to see themselves from every angle. Customers who are shopping alone but would like a second opinion from a friend are able to share a full body still via email or social media. The mirror is controlled by the user either through gestures or through a mobile app.
Neiman Marcus employees have access to the sales associate interface which lets them send recommendations directly to customers from the mirror. Neiman Marcus is the first retailer to use this product, but MemoMi is working with other large retail brands.
Last month Nordstrom added connected mirrors to their Seattle and San Jose locations. The mirrors are located in the fitting rooms and appear to be regular mirrors. However, customers can use the bar code scanner to can the tags of the clothing they bring into the dressing room. The mirror then displays item reviews, and shows what other colors and sizes of the item are in stock. It also shows additional related product recommendations, such as complimentary accessories or shoes.
The customer can use the mirror to request the suggested items be delivered to the dressing room by an associate. The sales associates are alerted via tablets. They can respond to the customers to let them know they are on their way. This message appears right on the mirror.
Rebecca Minkoff’s Magic Mirrors in her interactive store, are worth a mention. The touch screens allow customers to change their lighting settings, select different colors or sizes, and to add the items into their online shopping basket.
The digital mirrors in these stores aren’t just a cool technology add-on. They all serve a purpose or solve a retail problem. In Neiman Marcus, the sharing feature helps customers who need advice from a friend before they are comfortable making a purchase. In Nordstrom they are used as a communications tool so that sales associates don’t have to stick by the dressing room, but remain accessible to the customer. In Rebecca Minkoff, the lighting settings helps customers who need to know how the outfit will look in real life. The digital mirror in each store offers it’s own unique experience tailored to the brand.
Tuesday, 20 January 2015
Pizza Hut is probably the last place in the world I’d expect to be wowed by technology. Don’t get me wrong, I love sinking my choppers into a stuffed crust as much as the next guy, but there’s not much about the restaurant chain that screams “on the cutting edge of tech.” But I can admit when I’m wrong, and boy was I wrong about this. (Watch this video and you’ll see why.)
The interactive tabletops Pizza Hut is introducing are not only fun and different, they virtually eliminate the major pain points of eating at a restaurant. They remove the annoyance of having a slow server, so you can order your food the instant you’re ready. They also take human error out of the ordering process. No matter how complicated your order, the self-service process nearly ensures it will arrive at your table correctly.
What makes the touch screens so effective is their ability to help customers visualize and customize exactly what they’re ordering. But pizza is not the only place you’re going to start seeing this new technology. Look at all the applications that are going to be happening in other industries:
Soon touch screens will be used like a virtual dressing room in clothing stores. Customers select a model who has a similar body type to theirs and swipe to try out different combinations of clothing styles, sizes, and colors. Then they select the favorite items, head to the register, and a sales associate meets them with their purchases, ready to check out.
Soon desks in hotel rooms will double as interactive, self-service concierges. Guests can order room service, wake-up calls, laundry services, and more. They can also browse through information on different restaurants and attractions in the surrounding area and easily make reservations straight through the touch screen software. It’s easy to see how advertising will play a key part in this set up.
We’re already seeing travel centers using these types of touch screens as giant interactive brochures. Tourists touch and drag on activities, attractions, and hotels from a map onto the calendar to plan out their travel schedules. Since they can be updated in real time, these types of screens often include travel times and prices to give tourists a comprehensive overview of vacations options.
The possibilities are endless with this incredible self-service software. Here’s a restaurant that’s using these tabletops to educate diners about the origins and characteristics of different foods. What creative uses can you see for this technology?
Tuesday, 21 October 2014
By David McCracken
I don’t know about you, but it seems every time I’ve been in a Starbucks over the last few weeks, it seems like everyone is scanning their smartphone instead of paying with cash. The retail world is moving so quickly towards convenient technology solutions like these, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down. Craig W. Smith, founder of the New Channels Department at London retail giant Marks & Spencer, gave his predictions for the five pretty incredible in-store retail technology trends we will see in the next year. (Original source: http://retail-innovation.com/)
1. First payment by smart watch
Smart watch payment…because reaching into your pocket or purse is too much effort (not!) Smith predicts we will move beyond paying with cash, credit cards, or even smartphones, to paying with your wrist wear. The smart watch will establish itself as a credible payment instrument.
2. First Google Glass in-store retail applications
Google Glass applications are popping up in the medical and hospitality industries, and retail will soon join them. Retailers will offer applications like customer recognition, personalized concierge services and pick, pack & dispatch.
3. Personalized targeting with beacon technology
Smith says retailers will start to engage customers with location-based personalized targeting. When customers enter a certain geographic range, retailers can send targeted promotions straight to their mobile phones.
4. Pay and go using your mobile
Have you been in a grocery store that allows you to scan your items as you put them into your cart? Picture the same thing…but with your smartphone. In the next 12 months, retail stores will trial software that allows customers to scan items as they shop and pay on their phones before exiting the store.
5. Payment on shop floor will move from trial to full-scale rollout
Some retailers are currently taking payments on devices like iPads, but mobile payment is definitely not without its challenges. Over the next 12 months, Smith predicts that hardware and solution providers will fix these problems, which will lead to more and more retailers adopting them. Mobile payments will move from proof-of-concept ideas into fully-fledged rollouts.
In which of these trends do you see the most potential? What other tech predictions do you have for the next 12 months?
Wednesday, 08 October 2014
By Christopher Hall
The aesthetics of digital signage and design — and the intermarriage of the two — are in flux. The idea behind digital signage is now in many cases as much about providing a digital experience as about advertising a sale or delivering a message. And design, specifically the design of a physical space, is becoming more and more about connecting people to place with experiences — experiences that can be provided or enhanced by digital signage.
A look at how the two can work, and in some cases already are working, together brought Justin Molloy, the director of education for The Society for Experiential Graphic Design, together with Matt Schmitt, the president and co-founder of in-store digital media solutions provider Reflect, at the recent Digital Screenmedia Association Symposium in Dallas.
"We don't want to just throw technology at the wall," Schmitt said during the duo's presentation, "Connecting People to Place Through Digital Experiences," that looked at how digital signage can help create the built space as an integrated design element as much as bricks or mortar are. "[Designers] want to understand how it complements the environment."
Digital signage and screen media have changed, as have the perceptions of them by outsiders, Molloy said. They are becoming viewed by architects and designers as a key part of a tool kit for creating branded experiences, and have moved beyond being seen as useful primarily for wayfinding or dynamic messaging, he said.
"Where does the screen end and where does the drywall begin?" he asked. "The traditional silos that have existed for so long have blurred."
The SEGD is a collective that bills itself as a "global, multidisciplinary community of professionals who plan, design and build experiences that connect people to place," according to its website, and it includes a range of "graphic and information designers, fabricators, architects, exhibition designers, technology integrators, interaction designers, brand strategists, students, wayfinding specialists, teachers and others who have a hand in shaping content-rich, experiential spaces."
"People are creating experiences that connect people to place," Molloy said. "They're creating that relationship between content and space."
Molloy provided captivating visual evidence of that with several video case studies — including one from the Yale School of Management in Connecticut and another from the lobby of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Both showed digital signage technology as an architectural and experiential medium that had more to do with how people experienced the built space.
At the Cosmopolitan, the digital signage is part and parcel of the built space, it seems, covering lobby pillars and creating a sensualized experience for visitors.
And at the Yale School of Management, not only did digital signage become a key component of the building and the experience of the space, data itself became a key element of the signage and the experience.
Still, despite the changes, one key thing remains the same, and that is that the merger of design and digital signage or experiential technologies still needs to have and achieve a defined objective, Schmitt said.
Schmitt started off the talk by going over a project his firm did for upscale jewelry chain James Avery in which digital signage was a key component of the new store design from the start. The process "really drove home" the value of having designers take part in the same discussions with marketers and technology providers, he said. The designers too often work in parallel with, or in isolation from, the other two, according to Schmitt.
"They need to be at the table," he said, rather than just being told they have to fit a screen in somewhere. "So they can make it seamless and still achieve the objective."
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
Philips Signage Solutions
Can remote control apps damage your digital signage?
Smartphone technology continues to amaze with so many different features and functions. But the latest one is the one to be extremely wary of in certain situations. Among the most recent advancements coming from the smartphone is a TV remote changer app.
This app can be downloaded into a smartphone, and all of a sudden, the person holding that smartphone has the power to remotely control a TV just in case he or she misplaced the one usually found on the coffee table. Who knows? Maybe one of the kids may have picked it up for whatever reason.
Not a bad app. Life is getting easier with apps like this one.
However, there’s a downside to this TV remote control app, especially if a business has taken the low-cost route and is using a consumer TV and PC for its digital signage. There's lots of money saved there — but, boy oh boy, there are a multitude of pitfalls associated now with the smartphone remote control apps.
Let's say it's a highly competitive business. Who's to say, anyone could stroll into a store, restaurant, fast food place, a small retail business or whatever business? With this new remote control app in their smartphone and a few quick strokes, a business's TV-based signage display could be turned off, switched to another channel, or the speaker volume, colors and contrast could be messed up.
It's one thing to take the low-cost route and incur a considerable number of potential problems associated with using consumer-grade TV screens and PCs for a commercial signage application. But it's another thing entirely to get sabotaged without knowing who or where the culprit is.
Also, it could be that particular business or restaurant is one of the unlucky ones with a commercial signage that lacks a lock against others' remote control ability. But now, a business owner is placing himself in a position where almost anyone coming into the shop can sabotage all the sales efforts promoted on that signage, and the business owner wouldn't be not aware of it until after the damage is done. When I say damage, I’m talking about incurring glitches in the business operations by altering or jeopardizing your sales displays.
While it's a bit more expensive, it makes good business sense to not only upgrade to, or start out with, a commercial-grade digital signage display, installed professionally, as well as making sure to have the key feature of a remote control lock in that new signage or video wall installation.
A business owner works long and hard to get the business to a healthy level. The last thing he or she wants is to be a candidate for competitive sabotage or a victim of a prankster who'll do damage to a place of business's signage just for kicks via that smartphone remote control app.
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Provided by Reflect Systems
Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, one of the largest amusement-resort operators in the world, is using digital engagement to thrill park goers and improve overall guest experiences. Operating 11 amusement parks, three outdoor water parks, one indoor water park, and five hotels, Cedar Fair continuously strives to provide guests with an unmatched experience. In fact, Cedar Fair’s Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio is consistently voted “Best Amusement Park in the World” in Amusement Today polls.
Cedar Fair amusement-resorts provide an ideal environment for experiential digital brand media. Spanning across all 11 amusement parks, the digital experience starts immediately when guests arrive. Entry gate digital signage is being utilized to help direct the flow of traffic, indicating which lanes are open or closed. To add a touch of personalization, entry gate screens also designate lanes reserved for attending companies and groups.
Digital media engagement continues throughout the parks with screens strategically placed in ride lines and restaurants to entertain guests while they wait. Multiple screens throughout the parks also provide guests with real-time weather information. A custom weather app tells guests when to expect the hottest or coldest hours of the day, or inclement weather, allowing them to plan their day accordingly.
Additional screens located in the parks provide Cedar Fair with the opportunity to educate their thrill seeking guests on other attractions and rides, announce upcoming promotions, and provide entertainment with music, games, and videos.
Cedar’s Fair’s constant pursuit to boost the overall guest experience has led to its world renowned success and solidifies their reputation of delivering world-class fun and entertainment.
Friday, 04 September 2009
Product packaging is a powerful and effective means of communicating a product’s potential, promise and desirability to consumers. There’s no argument about that. However, product packaging is a little overworked these days — a package must clearly list ingredients, nutrition facts, instructions for use, safety information, consumer hotlines, and make room for a bar code. And all of this is before the important stuff! It must also do a stellar job of displaying its brand, attract consumers and make them desire the product — and do this better than every other product package within view.
Until recently, product packaging has been pretty much up to the task of delivering all that is asked of it. But, with bigger stores carrying ever-larger assortments, packages need to shout louder to be heard over the competition. Compounding this problem is the admirable drive to reduce packaging, which finds manufacturers with less package ‘real estate’ to use for messaging. In some cases, there is no package to use for messaging (think bicycles or car tires) — just a tiny shelf tag to tell the story. And if your product package can’t tell its story, your product won’t make it into the cart. Consider that a recent Miller Zell study shows that 60 percent of purchase decisions are made right there in the aisle.
It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing an increasing number of retailers and brands using in-store interactive media systems to help their overworked product packaging. Interactive touchscreens offer near-infinite real estate in a compact space, which makes it possible to provide in-depth technical information, to show product demonstration videos or simply tell a product’s story. The feel-good origins of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or the quest for innovation that led to Dyson vacuum cleaners make for compelling "aisle theatre," and are sometimes just the things that cement purchase decisions.
Interactive media systems bring products to life. Video games locked in display cases are replaced with on-demand trailers, searchable extended inventory and instant pre-ordering.
Another retail trend I see is the inclusion of extended inventories — products which are merchandized in the store, but only available online or via ship-to-store delivery for later pickup. This trend brings the best of web shopping to the brick-and-mortar store, but often comes without all the great sorting and filtering tools the web provides to make sense of all this choice.
Think of digital cameras, or other technical products that require some consideration like golf clubs, laptop computers or even baby carriers. Without a knowledgeable sales associate and only a shelf tag to do the talking, retailers are increasingly turning to in-store interactive screens. These assistive shopping systems guide consumers through the selection process and provide independent user ratings, product reviews, and even price comparisons. The trend toward these systems is growing, as it is preferable to maintain a single, accurate product decision tree, than to train thousands of store associates on the intricacies of a dozen or more high-touch product lines.
Looking to the future of in-store interactive systems, it’s clear the gel has not set — retailers are still discovering new ways of mixing packaging and interactive technology to connect with consumers. Decades from now when computing is truly ubiquitous, and packages are literally alive with moving images, every container could be in itself an interactive experience. Until that future arrives, in-store interactive systems may be the best way to think outside the package.
Monday, 28 April 2008
Some go to Las Vegas to get married or to gamble. I go to Vegas to renew my kiosk vows at the annual convention and KioskCom Awards event. On my return from Vegas, I rushed backed from New York’s JFK airport in order to avoid the traffic gridlock posed by the visit by the Pope and to see the new Microsoft Surface installation at the AT&T phone store.
The much-anticipated Microsoft Surface touch table landed at five AT&T stores this week in New York, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Francisco.
Much has been written in the trade press about the production delays. It appears that it had to do with Microsoft running a Betty Crocker Bake-off contest between the original partner, T-mobile and AT&T Mobility.
AT&T won and my congrats to Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility for understanding what it takes to win in today’s competitive environment. (You may recall that AT&T also was the first partner with Apple’s iPhone.)
You can see how the MS Surface application works at the AT&T site by clicking here.
How do I like it?
I’ve been excited by multi-touch technology ever since I saw Jeff Han’s video (now used by CNN Political TV coverage). Not a lot has been written about some of the pioneering competitive technology created by GestureTeks MultiTouch Application or Savant’s AV control touch table. Again, Microsoft has borrowed inventions from other industry innovators and sewn together an affordable, commercially available hardware and software product offering. The Apple iPhone interface also raised the bar on consumer interactive applications.
What is the secret to the AT&T Surface Application?
It’s not about the technology. It’s about the creative application, fused with savvy in-store merchandising skills. The AT&T and Microsoft team (and perhaps a few clever contractors), produced a kiosk application that provides real value to consumers and store associates. The AT&T store salesperson was able to demonstrate dozens of different phone configurations, colors and coverage maps in a matter of seconds—without giving me 5 different paper brochures.
How will this change the kiosk world?
I’ve been involved in this industry for over two decades and love to innovate. And as founder of Netkey and Managing Director of SMP, I’ve worked on over 200 interactive kiosk projects around the world.
The AT&T Surface installation will change the kiosk world.
No longer will your customers want simple kiosk pedestals or wall mounted units. Your customers will request the amazing features of MS Surface: Multi-touch, product tag initiated information, relevant digital merchandising interfaces — in table top or wall mounted configurations.
My advice to my kiosk colleagues? Turn off your computers, get out of the office and take your entire team to visit an AT&T store to play with the MS Surface Application. Follow Microsoft’s example: Don’t copy, but instead enhance and improve on their application for your own specific industry market, and you just might beat them.
Or you might want to leapfrog Microsoft and start thinking about mobile devices. The Apple iPhone, with its rich, multi-touch interface, may be the next battleground for the in-store customer.
Technology will always change every 90 days, but I can safely make predictions about who will win the KioskCom 2009 Best of Show Award, the NRF Best of Show Award, GlobalShop Best of Shop or any other retail merchandising award category. And the winner is, AT&T Mobility.
Monday, 14 April 2008
As the owner of a company that publishes kiosk system software and develops custom self-service kiosk applications, it has been interesting to me to watch the convergence of the digital signage and self-service kiosk industries. Although kiosks are typically designed for interactivity and digital signage is not, it is apparent to me that the kiosk industry has a lot to offer to digital signage.
Digital signage gives the opportunity for signage to evolve from static to dynamic; static branding can become animated, a static advertisement can become a video commercial, maps can be instantly updated with latest information, and current news can be easily displayed. Perhaps most importantly, content can be readily modified.
With the convergence of digital signage and self-service kiosks, now dynamic digital signage can become interactive. Self-service kiosk applications exist to provide a seamless user interface, enabling a kiosk user to perform a task. Similarly, the digital ad that draws a user to the kiosk can now be extended to enable the user to find out more information about the product and ultimately place an order. Or, a user can drill into a ticker tape news item and read the complete story. The ability to make digital signage interactive enables more information to be transferred ultimately improving the ROI of the deployment.
The first inkling of things to come occurred several years ago when LCD display prices dropped to enable kiosks to economically have second monitors – typically a big, beautiful widescreen LCD mounted above the kiosk. This gave the kiosk deployer an interesting choice. The second monitor could be used to enhance and expand the functionality of the application running on the primary monitor - for example, by providing context sensitive help, displaying detailed product information, or providing additional dynamic branding for the kiosk. Or, the second monitor could be used as an independent revenue stream by selling advertising.
Whereas, advertising had long been sold for display on a kiosk’s primary screen especially for display during periods of inactivity, the second monitor enabled constant advertising exposure and most importantly during periods of kiosk activity, when a potential customer is at the kiosk and most ready to be influenced.
Interactive Pandora’s Box
While making digital signage interactive has many obvious benefits, it also opens up many self-service kiosk issues that need to be addressed. The most important include the need for the user to be kept away from the operating system and network, to clear the user’s confidential information, and to reset the application after the user leaves. These are significant requirements to add to a digital signage application but fortunately long ago solved by the kiosk industry, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
As with self-service kiosks, the only thing worse than having a digital signage installation broken down, is not knowing your digital signage installation is broken down. ROI is a key determinant of the success of a project and when a kiosk or digital signage unit is sitting with a dark screen, ROI plummets. Fortunately, the kiosk industry has a solution whereby the kiosk regularly pings a centralized server saying ‘Here I am alive and well’ and typically sends a statistical snapshot of its health for proof. When a kiosk stops pinging, the centralized server sends out the alarm. The technology is readily transferable to a digital signage installation.
Similarly, the nature of digital signage is one of dynamic content and the requirement for content to change regularly. Depending on the complexity and size of the digital content and the quality of the internet connection, content can be hosted either locally at the digital signage location or at a remote server. When content is hosted locally, there needs to be a robust method to update content. Once again, this dilemma has been resolved within the kiosk industry, and the technology is readily transferable to a digital signage installation.
Not just a one-way street
Lest one believe that only the kiosk industry has technology to share with digital signage, the digital signage industry has helped the kiosk industry in at least one way by popularizing the concept of a computer on a wall. The first digital signage implementations were generally a display unit hooked up to a DVD player or to a closed circuit media network, but especially with the advent of PCs small enough to be packaged onto the back of a display unit, digital signage displays are more commonly PC driven which receive content directly from the Internet. Similarly, self service kiosk applications are increasingly either wall mounted or desktop displays instead of being floor mounted, thus freeing up valuable floor space and increasing viable installation locations.
One source of instability that plagues both kiosk self-service and digital signage is the quality of digital media players. Whereas the typical industry standard media player was designed for a user sitting at their desk playing a video file over a relatively short period of time, the media player in a kiosk or digital signage application must play a video for an extended period of time, perhaps measured in months.
Many industry standard media players and/or codecs are not up to the task of extended play. They tend to leak memory and resources in a manner that a user sitting at their desk would not notice, but can bring a kiosk or digital signage application to its knees over an extended period of time. In the kiosk industry, sophisticated kiosk system software monitors these applications and when necessary restarts the application or reboots the computer; however, the user experience of having an application freeze due to depleted system resources, then get restarted by the kiosk system software is not ideal, and it would be far better for everyone involved if the industry’s media players/codecs were better written.
In summary, as digital signage applications move toward increasing interactivity, I believe the self-service kiosk industry has a lot to offer the digital signage industry and the convergence of solutions is a positive step forward for both industries.
Tuesday, 08 January 2008
Bill Gerba, president of WireSpring Technologies, regularly blogs about digital signage at Wirespring.com. The following column first appeared on that site here.
Happy New Year, folks. Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008 for all. For many, the new year brings with it connotations of renewal, a fresh start, infinite possibilities... and zillions of blog posts with top-10 lists and predictions for the coming months. While I'm as much an optimist as the next guy (oh, stop laughing already), I'm not much for making predictions. Maybe it's because I recognize the futility of trying to do the impossible. Maybe I don't want to trap WireSpring in a self-fulfilling prophecy that belies its full potential. Or maybe it's just because I'm always wrong. But regardless of the underlying cause, I'm not kicking off the first post of 2008 with some corny industry predictions. Instead, today I want to talk about the innovation (or lack thereof) taking place in the kiosk and digital signage markets.
Admittedly, talking about innovation itself isn't very innovative -- I actually got the idea from this month's HUB magazine, which focuses on marketing innovation. As Editor-in-Chief Tim Manners quips, "talking about innovation is kind of like the marketing equivalent of talking about the weather. You know the old joke: Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it." Whether looking at marketing in general or the tiny microcosm of digital out-of-home media like kiosks and digital signage, I think Manners' observation holds true. There's certainly a lot of activity in the marketplace right now, both for interactive kiosks and non-interactive digital signage. But does any of it show the hallmarks of innovation? Does anything out there today make it past the "Gee, that's a neat demo" phase into the "Duh, now why didn't I think of that?" territory that so often marks a truly innovative idea? I can't think of a single thing in the last twelve months that's firmly planted in the latter category, though a few come close. For example:
Not very innovative - New and different form factors: 2007 saw the aggressive expansion of one company's interactive digital signage installations in taxis, on buildings, in public toilets and urinals, on the floor, on the ceiling, and even mounted on people. Are any of these ideas interesting? Sure, they all are. Are they truly innovative? Not in my book. Unique signage placement, even when bundled with (or reliant upon) a unique business model, hasn't solved any of our well-known industry-wide problems, nor has it opened up (or created) significant new markets or otherwise advanced the state of the industry. Likewise, when highly-touted OLED and electronic paper technology makes new screen shapes and mounting options available in a few years, they may offer significant technological innovations, but little industry innovation.
Somewhat innovative - DS that appeals to more than one sense: And throwing up a pair of speakers to complement your hanging LCD screen isn't what I'm talking about. The past couple of years saw some interesting ideas come to light, though. In particular, directional sound came of age, with Wal-Mart Mexico deploying something like 5,000 hypersonic sound speakers to reduce employee fatigue and improve audio targeting in their digital signage network back in late 2006. (Full disclosure: Wal-Mart Mexico is one of our customers.) Since then, a number of other large deployments have followed suit. Directional sound represents not only technological innovation (which has been in the works for years, of course), but also a solution to problems that previously plagued installations. 2007 also marked the advent of scent marketing, with Japan's NTT testing a digital sign platform that could match specific scents with audio and video promotions. I don't think this tech is quite ready for prime-time, but it has a lot of potential for driving sales of food, drinks, perfume, and other products where smell is a big part of the customer experience.
A little more innovative - Interactive store windows: Although it only spanned a few locations, the interactive store window deployment at Ralph Lauren Polo stores this year scored some major headlines, not only in the interactive kiosk circuit but also in weighty, mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal. On the surface, it looked quite innovative: a huge, dynamic screen that users could interact with simply by touching the store window. In reality though, the true innovation was smaller: let passers-by shop the store after hours. That particular piece has been done many times before, and in a number of different ways -- just think ATMs. Still, it brought the solution to 5th avenue and the New York Open, garnered some positive press for the self-service industry, and from a technical standpoint was visually stunning. Still, we've encountered through-glass touchscreens and rear-projection onto storefront windows a number of times before, so I'd have to say that the combination of these elements was clever and eye-catching, but not something I'd call highly innovative.
Quite innovative - The rise of ad aggregators: In an attempt to solve one of the biggest problems plaguing the ad-driven digital signage community, companies like SeeSaw Networks, Adcentricity and Artisan Live started working on ways to make buying time on screen networks easy for media planners and buyers. While each company has some successes to talk about, we're still a ways away from a digital signage media buy being as foolproof as it needs to be in order to see mass adoption over on Madison Ave (if in fact that would ever happen, and it probably wouldn't). Still, each of these companies (and others, I'm sure) are introducing unique solutions to a highly complex problem, and while the overall concept of "Let's take a bunch of little networks and sell them like one big one" might seem obvious, I'm sure it's quite the colossal undertaking, requiring all sorts of business, finance and technical acumen.
Most innovative yet - Direct feedback/interaction via mobile phones: It certainly wasn't invented in 2007, and it might even be old hat by now, but every time I see a particularly well-done piece of content that has a call to action featuring an SMS coupon or feedback form, I'm impressed. This technique addresses one of the most difficult problems for digital signage vendors: proving out an ROI. With a direct feedback mechanism, advertisers have an accurate gauge of how many people actually were engaged by their ads, and they even have the opportunity to collect some information about them. For viewers who aren't interested, there's no negative consequence. For those who are, participation is just a text message away. Considering the mobile phone and SMS penetration rate in the industrialized world, very few are excluded. Of course, the method isn't perfect: it still requires some effort on the user's part, and it doesn't do anything to address those individuals who were engaged, but not enough to whip out their mobile. But of all the solutions I've seen so far for measuring engaged audiences, this is my favorite.
All considered, this year is likely to bring many incremental improvements to the solutions I've covered above, and that's a good thing. Part of becoming a mature industry is realizing that it's not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. In fact, the best approach is often to learn from (and work from) the accomplishments of others. But there's always the chance that we'll see some real innovation happening -- solutions to the "big problems" that we all face every day: calculating ROI, measuring impact (heck, merely defining "impact" would be great), engaging more viewers, and delivering messages to those viewers effectively.