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.

Stevenson University

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?

Posted by: Admin AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Wednesday, 04 March 2015

A year later, retailers are reporting positive results from iBeacon campaigns. There are, however, still challenges from the caveats associated with  iBeacons.

Specifically, customers must be iPhone users. They must download the retailers’ app. They must enable Wifi on their phone and opt-in to receive notifications. Many consumers are not willing to opt-in because they have privacy concerns about retailers collecting their data. Physical Cookie gives retailers and their customers the benefits of iBeacons without having to meet all of these requirements.

What is Physical Cookie?

Physical Cookie is a RFID-tag within a piece of plastic, usually on a key-fob,  which retailers can give to their customers as they shop. The customer puts Physical Cookie in their pocket and then has to take no additional steps. Electric readers are then placed around the retail store. The Physical Cookie key-fob collects data in real-time in the same way cookies on websites do (hence the name). Digital screens within the store, show customers advertisements based on their behavior. Customers do not sign up or register, so there are no privacy concerns involved. Physical Cookie has operated in the Citycenter shopping mall in Helsinki, as part of a trial since Fall 2014.

Physical Cookie is easier for the consumer to use than iBeacons. Unlike the Bluetooth technology used for iBeacons, Physical Cookie is always on. Instead of pinging a user’s phone, the actual retail environment reacts to the consumers behavior, which feels much less spammy.

The Physical Cookie Customer Loyalty Program

In the Citycenter trial, a customer loyalty program called VIP-key was launched. The VIP-keys were given to 14,000 randomly selected customers who were then automatically part of a loyalty program, without ever having to opt-in, register, or sign up for anything. The trial was in a shopping center but Physical Cookie has said this can work for both retail chains and for brands working within big-box retailers.

While this trial was conducted using Physical Cookies in a key-fob format, the company said in the future this does not necessarily have to be the case. The key-fob format was selected with the thought process that customers enter the shopping center with their wallet, mobile phone, and keys with them. The average customers wallet is already full of loyalty cards, and mobile phones would require opt-in. The key chain was chosen instead because it does not already have any smart device on it.


  •     The VIP-key cost the equivalent of about two cents in US Dollars.
  •     15% of the VIP-keys were active.
  •     They showed a 14.5% increase in activity between floors.
  •     There a was a 21.7% increase in time spent in the shopping center.

For more information on enhancing your customers’ retail experience, please visit our About page.

Photo Credit: Physical Cookie

Posted by: Admin AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 20 January 2015

David McCracken
Livewire Digital

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:

1. Retail

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.

2. Hospitality

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.

3. Tourism

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?

Posted by: Admin AT 09:44 am   |  Permalink   |  
Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Glen Young
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.

Posted by: AT 10:32 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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  |  
Thursday, 08 November 2012

The Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA) has announced the winners for the DSA Crown Awards, which recognizes excellence in digital out-of-home content.

The DSA Crown Awards ceremony was held aboard the Duchess Yacht, which cruised around Manhattan, New York on Nov. 7 following the first day of Customer Engagement Technology World.

The categories for the content awards were Point of Sale, which is all about content on screens in store catering to the shopper; Point of Transit, which is all about reaching people are on the go, such as at airports and with digital billboards; and Point of Wait, for places where people have dwell time such as banks, elevators, and doctor’s offices. New sub categories based on budget were introduced this year.

The awards ceremony was co-hosted by Marcy Patzer of Scala and Keith Kelsen, author of Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage.

The winners are:

Category – Point of Sale (content budget of $10,000 or more)

  • Gold: McCormick - Guess That Spice, submitted by 5th Screen Digital Services and HP
  • Silver: Sprint - Green Mountain Bike LCD, submitted by Two West
  • Bronze: Sprint Studio Holiday Grand Moment, submitted by Two West
  • Honorable Mention: McCormick – Flavor Print, submitted by 5th Screen Digital Services and HP

Category – Point of Sale (content budget less than $10,000)

  • Gold: Mercedes-Benz “Visualizer,” submitted by Scala and Pro-Motion Technology Group
  • Silver: Sprint - Need For Speed EVO 3D LCD, submitted by Two West
  • Bronze: Cedar Fair - Digital Menu Board Optimization, submitted by Allure Global Solutions

Category – Point of Wait ($10,000 or more)

  • Gold: BBVA Flagship, submitted by John Ryan
  • Silver: Sprint - Trail of Destruction, submitted by Two West
  • Bronze: Sprint - Buyback Virtual Queue, submitted by Two West
  • Honorable Mention: Loews Don CeSar Hotel - Concierge Board, submitted by JANUS Displays

Category – Point of Wait (less than $10,000)

  • Gold: Sprint - Total Equipment Protection, submitted by Two West
  • Silver: Family Dental Care, submitted by Digital Clinic

Category – Point of Transit ($10,000 or more)

  • Gold: Monterey Bay Aquarium - 150 Feet of Awesome, submitted by Inwindow Outdoor
  • Silver: Tesco - The UK's First Interactive Virtual Grocery Store, submitted by Monster Media
  • Bronze: McCarran International Airport Digital Signage, submitted by Four Winds Interactive

Mark Lopez and Lou Thurmon of Two West with their six Crown Awards.

Judges for the DSA Crown Awards included Michael Chase of St. Joseph Content, Pat Hellberg of The Preset Group, Jim Kealy of 2hemispheres, Keith Kelsen of 5th Screen, and Anne White of HypeHouse.

Each of the entries were scored independently by the judges, who took the following into consideration:

  • Did the content meet the objectives?
  • Was the content engaging?
  • Did the content fit the environment?
  • Did the content fit the audience?

After all the judges submitted their scores, the scores are tallied and the highest average score in each category were chosen as winners. Judges who had entries in the competition recused themselves from judging their entry.

"The spectacular thing about this year's awards were the amount of entries featuring interactive engagement,” said Keith Kelsen, judge and co-host. “Looking at this year's gold winners shows that interactive content is a significant trend for the industry. For retailers, interactive engagement helps make their stores a digital destination.”

Posted by: Admin AT 12:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 15 June 2009

Multitouch interfaces, as well as immersive experiences, are revolutionizing the self-service industry, and full-body tracking by 3D cameras will soon be added to the mix. These technologies draw customers into the action, first by sheer fascination and then through the satisfaction of being able to control, personalize and improve the quality of their interactive experience.
Cutting-edge 3D trackers have just begun to be introduced in motion-controlled self-service systems for high-traffic retail and public spaces. They help cut above the clutter that competes for consumers' attention. With 3D technology, customers are enticed to navigate advertising and entertainment content with full 3D gestures.
This refreshingly natural and intuitive ability to access information by gesturing in the air has created a more ergonomic, hygienic and, ultimately, more engaging consumer experience. Using just their hands, consumers can move items back and forth and sideways or even grab at virtual objects in mid-air. This kind of interactive user experience is far more exciting than a traditional touchscreen interface. And immersive technology, such as when the user actually sees his video image onscreen as he interacts with the display, creates an even more personal and exciting customer experience.
Even better, multitouch interactivity is adding a whole new dimension to a world where 'single user/single point' display control was once the norm. With a multitouch interface, multiple users can access information on an interactive display simultaneously, and each user can use two hands to do several things at once on a display. Because people generally use two hands in the everyday world, multitouch is a very natural, intuitive and comfortable interface.
By making simple rotating and dragging gestures, the user can control dynamic multimedia content, access product information, view advertising, play games, create special effects or manipulate images. Without a doubt, multitouch technology creates a world of possibilities for innovative and highly engaging multiplayer, multiuser and collaborative interactive experiences.
All these technologies are based on cameras, which offer the added benefit of being able to deliver user metrics for reporting and analytics purposes. 

But how can multitouch, immersive technologies and 3D technologies go beyond mere novelty, so they actually build brand awareness and loyalty and even convert passersby to customers? Here are just a few scenarios that are made possible with these technologies:

  • As shoppers approach a retail window, they are beckoned to enter a virtual store, complete with an authentic 3D replica of the store's interior, aisles and merchandise. With a tilt of their hand, customers fly through the aisles, grabbing in mid-air to see the image of their own hand actually reach for and pick up products, which they are free to shake, twist, open or turn upside down. Each motion the user makes is rendered instantly onscreen for a real-time experience that entices customers to enter the store and make their purchase.   
  • Tourists can enjoy a real-life virtual tour with the implementation of 3D depth-sensing, wayfinding systems. Visitors experience the thrill of a fly-by with an overhead view of a life-like 3D representation of their destination, complete with the ability to navigate key attractions. With a flick of the wrist or slight hand gesture, visitors can go, stop, change directions, fly through the cityscape or duck inside hotels, restaurants or other points of interest for an up-close and personal view of amenities and offerings before heading off to experience the real thing.
  • Customers can test drive new products with a 3D, interactive in-store display to gain a virtual user experience before they buy. Brand marketers can dramatically dial up the "cool" factor, kick start new product launches and create an experiential shopping environment that generates buzz and enhances viral and word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Entertainment venues can provide immersive, interactive experiences that help educate and entertain guests: Little sluggers can take a swing at a Major League-caliber fastball and then order tickets to an upcoming game. Aspiring explorers can navigate craters on the moon or traverse the jungles of Malaysia. Restaurant patrons can enjoy virtual games while relaxing with their favorite beverage and order refills right from their seat. With user-guided 3D environments that can be integrated into surfaces like tabletops, bars, walls and floors, the possibilities are endless.

Clearly, 3D and multitouch technologies provide loads of interactive and memorable fun for the consumer. But more than that, they also provide substantial economic benefits to the business that deploys them. Inventory costs can be reduced as real-world product displays are replaced with virtual ones. Sales-conversion costs can be cut as consumers conduct product research virtually, leaving associates free to close and cash out sales. Revenues can increase substantially as robust self-service kiosks allow stores to sell products and serve customers 24/7 through storefront windows, even when doors are closed. Printing expenses can be reduced, as consumers no longer require brochures to view offerings or explore options.
The list of economic benefits is long and grows over time, but there's no question that the fuller, richer experiences offered by these technologies entice more customers to browse longer and make them more inclined to purchase.

Posted by: Vincent John Vincent AT 12:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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.Alex_Richardson.jpg

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.

Posted by: Alex Richardson AT 11:19 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 08 January 2008
Bill Gerba, president of WireSpring Technologies, regularly blogs about digital signage at 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.
Posted by: Bill Gerba AT 10:19 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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