I almost never talk on the telephone anymore. Instead, I text, I email, I instant message.
As recently as a couple of years ago, I never — and I mean never — texted or IMed with people; I either called them or emailed them.
A few years ago, if I wanted to go to a part of town with which I was unfamiliar, I looked up the address online, maybe printed out directions, or I just used my Mapsco book to find it and map out my course.
Now, living in a new city, when I want to go somewhere I don't know how to get, I put the address in my phone and the in-phone GPS tells me — literally, it talks to me — where to go.
That's been the genius of companies like Apple with the iPhone and the wireless carriers with SMS messaging and the Android smartphone manufacturers with their handsets: They've found the things we can't imagine living without, that we lived without just fine not that long ago.
As I look back at 2011, I'd say digital signage has gotten either very close to that point or maybe even to that point for advertisers and brands. But what's next?
For brands and advertisers, if you can show a shopper tailored video messages at the point of decision that will help them envision themselves using your product — or if you can change the messaging, instantly, based on the weather outside or the gender of the person in front of the screen — why in the world would you still be using static displays? You might as well be asking people not to buy your products.
To some extent, I'd say digital signage and digital out-of-home is even getting to that place for consumers. When I go to a mall, static images are just visual noise to me, but digital signage — while that may have something to do with the fact that I'm in the industry — jumps out at me as noticeable. If the content is creative and engaging, I actually enjoy that format of advertising. It's entertaining. And how can you do without it, now that it's here?
(And just a note for deployers: Any time I walk up to a screen, the first thing I do is touch it to see if it's touch interactive — and pretty nearly every time I see anyone under the age of 20 approach a screen they do the same thing — so if you believe the children are our future, non-interactive screens are already close to out-of-date, with some obvious exceptions. [No need for touchscreens if the screens are out of reach and can't be touched, clearly.] You gotta keep up.)
But, again, what comes next? What is the next development in digital signage or digital out-of-home that will be the next thing we the people didn't realize we couldn't do without?
QR codes and apps that tag images or sounds from a display are a good start, but to my mind they're still too clunky and too early-stage development. (Admittedly, I could be too old and curmudgeonly to pick up on these, but it seems to me that teens aren't going to bother with something so labor intensive, and besides, there are too many people who still can't or won't pay for smartphone data plans, so you're automatically weeding out a significant portion of your audience that way.) Maybe when more handsets and screens are NFC enabled or in some other way tied into a mobile payments/mobile interaction system, when I can just tap my phone on the screen or wave it at it? Maybe it'll be something else entirely that most of us can't see coming? (That actually seems the most likely thing to me, to be honest.) Maybe it'll be something we already do but learn to use in a new way? I don't know.
But, luckily for me, I'm still basically a reporter, so I don't have to know. You do. I just have to write about it when you figure it out. Good luck in 2012. I can't wait to see what happens.