If you ever want to know how well a given business program is working, you can spend money on focus groups and surveys. Or, you can just ask a child.
My five-year-old son and I were walking through Wal-Mart the other day, when he noticed the "Wal-Mart TV" screens for the first time. We've spent plenty of hours in Wal-Marts before, but the screens had always escaped his gaze (perhaps because they're mounted at heights that give an adult a neck-ache).
But today, he says to me: "Daddy, that's the TV channel that only shows commercials."
An exclamation mark appeared in the air over my head. Why yes, son, that’s right – it's a TV channel with no programs, only commercials.
Now honestly, how many of you would watch such a channel if you were at home? A few of you might have just raised your hands – marketers and ad-men and ad-women and connoisseurs of the art form of the commercial – but for most of us, a network of all commercials, all the time is a nightmare that sends us scrambling for the big, friendly TiVo button.
But there is no TiVo button in a store, only a growing number of screens that the shopper cannot get away from.
In-store media is a powerful tool, and when it is properly done, consumers love it. When the content is entertaining and place-appropriate, it feels like a benefit to the shopper. When the content is nothing but ads, it feels like an intrusion into the shopper's privacy.
Blame the all-too-human nature to be pennywise and pound-foolish. Many retailers, having just written the not-insignificant check for the screens and the software and the installation of their new digital signage program, turn to face the content beast and say, "Oh, wait, we can save some money here by using ads we're already running on television or the Web."
And yes, you can. You can also hire terrible customer service people to save a few dollars in the short-term. How well does that strategy work?
In-store media, evolving thing that it is, is a massively complex touch point between you and your customer. Give it the attention and intelligence it deserves. Do not let it become your company's version of the TV channel that only shows commercials.
James Bickers is editor of Retail Customer Experience magazine.