Before this year, guess how many digital billboards I passed on my way to work from my home in the Dallas suburbs to downtown Dallas?
Sometime early this year, guess how many I started seeing?
Now, getting into the latter part of the year, guess?
While one to five might not seem like a big increase, driving down that stretch of highway and now seeing five digital billboards as opposed to one actually has a big impact.
1. I’m automatically processing more digital.
2. I’m getting used to more moving images vs. static.
3. I’m interested to see (while not driving, of course) what’s next in the loop of content.
4. I’m starting to feel like I’m in a digital-forward city/environment.
My eye is automatically drawn to them because of all of these reasons. That’s the biggest impact it has. On a personal level.
I can’t help but think about the cost of putting in digital billboards vs. static billboards, but I’m starting to get convinced that cost is certainly not going to be a barrier. In a short eight months, it hasn’t seemed to be, given the increase from zero to five.
I’m really feeling and believing that this is just going to be the norm. Digital/moving image signs on the sides of highways. It’s right around the corner.
But I also start to wonder if we’ll grow (somewhat) immune to these digital/moving messages, too? Just like we have to static billboards. Over time, once they’re commonplace, will moving images provide even more noise than one static image? And in that way, how good (read – effective) has digital become?
When you pair super creative minds with super technology, you get something like this:
This was this year’s Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix winner.
This is not just cool for cool’s sake. This Mercedes car runs of F-cell technology, which produces 0 emissions. Basically, producing an “invisible” impact to the environment. This is a creative expression of that benefit.
Look around you. Design is all around. In the past five minutes, I’ve noticed the poster at the train station, the map on the train, heck, even the train itself. I’m having one of those moments where I think a little bit too deeply about normal things. But, if you think about it, there is so much thought put into how things look. Those things that you and I might take for granted – someone labored away and made choices that resulted in what we see everyday. Now, granted it’s not all good, but that’s for another time. The point is, time, energy, thought, and skill went into packaging these things.
Recently, I was reading through Communication Arts. I love this publication. I see it as a showcase of the best-of-the-best creative work in our industry. This particular edition was the Design Annual, where all sorts of design – print, digital, experiential – from the past year were lauded. One of the categories that they highlight is packaging. Everything from beer to a bag of chips to an iron box.
All of these examples elicited an emotion from me. I was curious about all of them and told myself to look for them the next time I was in whatever store might sell them. And maybe, just maybe, if I was so inclined, I would buy them. All just by the way they looked, the way they were packaged. This is what design is supposed to do. Create an emotional response to drive action.
This got me thinking about digital signage and the way that I normally see signs out and about. This is pretty standard fare:
Sure does seem like these signs could benefit from some good packaging. I’ve often wondered if everyday people were blind to digital signs, particularly because of the noise that they generally broadcast. Signs are all around so unless there’s something extremely compelling and relevant on the screen, how many people actually watch them? Enough to consume the content that brands want them to consume?
What if these signs were packaged a little bit better? Would it make me stop and notice them? Would it elicit the same emotions the iron box does?
I hear so much talk in the digital signage industry about content, content, content. What’s on the screen. True, that is critical. But I’ve never heard anything about how the screen actually looks out in public. How it’s packaged. Seems like that’s a critical component, too.
But who wants to spend money on fabricating this or that so screens can go in them? Especially, an entire network of screens? Well, businesses have been created for just that thanks to the introduction of the iEverythings:
Maybe that’s too much to realistically expect out of network providers and/or venues. Seems like a pretty daunting task to me. But in a world where the most preferred screen is in our pockets, packaged to our own likings, why would we want to give attention to anything else, especially when it’s just plopped onto a metal stand or hung on a wall?
Design changes things. Design makes us stop. Design makes us consider. Design makes us feel something.
When’s the last time you were out & about and saw a digital sign and actually felt something?
What an exciting couple of weeks it has been for the digital signage industry. I don’t even know if I’m referring to the industry correctly anymore, given one of the key figureheads recently proposed renaming the term “digital signage” completely. Truth be told, I’ve never been clear on what to call this industry and even whether or not to call it an industry, much less what the industry is defined around. But in the end, I come back to the same thing – it’s the digital signage industry. Because it’s centered around digital signs – er, signs that are digital – and the industry is larger than a group and businesses are made around the components to run digital signs. So, it makes sense and it’s easy. I say “digital signage” (with or without industry) and everyone I talk to understands what it is, at least on a basic level. Semantics.
The true waves – those that could have a real impact on changing the face of digital signage, far beyond words – are being made by the people running business in this industry. Three major players, rVue, RiseVision, and Screenreach, have all recently hired individuals who live and breathe engagement. Not digital signage. Engagement. These are individuals who will benefit the industry because they have specific digital signage experience, too, but they are not about the sign. They’re about the engagement. That is an important distinction, especially for an industry that ironically seems to be behind the technology-enabling-engagement curve. These individuals are awesome for the industry.
I think it’s interesting and admirable that each one of these companies created positions for these individuals. These were not positions that have existed before. They were made for these individuals. Before I get into that, let me just tell you a little bit about these individuals. I have the pleasure of personally knowing each of them and I’m better for it.
First up is Jennifer Bolt, who, for years, has been the head honcho for the media department at TracyLocke. She has immense media planning and buying experience and knows more about the media side of digital signage than anyone I’ve met from an agency. She just joined rVue as Chief Strategy Officer. She knows, firsthand, the challenges that agencies face when guiding major brands through allocating and buying digital out-of-home (DOOH) (a la digital signage). She knows how to ask the right questions of brands to understand where advertising dollars can be pulled from. It is complicated – from a brand perspective and agency perspective – and as a result, the digital signage industry suffers. Jennifer is a wonderful addition to the industry because she knows how to talk to agencies and exactly where to go within them to be a guide and help provide clarity all around.
Next is Paul Flanigan, who recently joined RiseVision as VP, Marketing & Business Development. Paul is one of my first and best friends in the industry. He comes with a wealth of experience in branding, marketing, and communications and is just an overall bright and seasoned guy. He worked with the guys at The Preset Group and before that he ran Best Buy’s in-store network. Paul is an engagement guy. He gets the power of digital signs and how if they don’t create engagement, they’re not realizing their full potential. Now, by working with a digital signage software provider, he will not only be able to shape the actual product, but he’ll also be able to speak to prospects about the true potential of reaching and connecting people when they’re outside of their homes.
Which leads me to my boy, David Weinfeld, who, too, was with The Preset Group before going on to Obscura Digital and just last week was named Chief Strategy Officer of Screenreach. The first thing you see when looking at the Screenreach website is, “Turn any screen into a 2-way interactive experience.” This is a perfect fit for Dave – a place where social, mobile and digital signage collides. He gets it completely and even more, eats it up completely, and Screenreach and the industry will benefit greatly from David having such a visible role within it. He should be able to directly infuse social and mobile connections into what’s expected from digital signage immediately.
All three of these individuals should have an indelible impact on the industry. I find myself energized knowing as much. But this could not have happened if the leaders of the respected companies – Jason Kates, Byron Darlison, and Paul Rawlings – did not recognize the need, potential, and competitive advantage that these individuals could fill/enable. These leaders had the wherewithal and courage to create positions for other leaders.
On one hand, I love QR codes because I think they’re a great enabling technology, a technology that bridges the offline world with the online. This is essential in driving any level of engagement when connecting with consumers outside of their homes. They’re efficient, convenient and potentially rewarding. That is, they’re easy to use and they can unlock rich content.
This is the hate side of the equation. Bad QR code executions are commonplace in the real world. Brands don’t know where to put them, should they go on TV or other digital screens or just be confined to print materials? Brands don’t know what content to put behind them, should they just unlock a website or an entry form or some sort of rich, multimedia content? But most of all, brands don’t seem to understand consumers’ awareness and comfort level with them, should they include instructions or an alternate way to access the information or just leave it to consumers to figure out how to use them? These are all general statements, I know. Yes, I have seen my fair share of quality code-based initiatives over the past year and a half, but they pale in comparison to the poor executions.
I believe now we’re seeing something that normally happens with any sort of technology that doesn’t wash out to the ocean of nothingness. On the consumer side, there is awareness with what the technology is. On the brand side, there is a drive to understand how best to use the technology to impact behavior. This adoption/impact wave is a long one. Right now, we’re just seeing brands actually understand how to best use social media to build relationships and impact consumer behavior. And social media (er, Web 2.0) was only introduced 5-6 years ago. That’s not to say QR codes will take 5-6 years to figure out, but adoption of technologies and new ways to utilize them do not happen overnight. They also require a fair amount of deliberate thought. They’ll hardly work if they’re just thrown out into the world for everyone to figure out.
This is what I’ve seen more often than not with QR codes.
So, it was refreshing to actually see a brand utilize traditional media channels in their marketing mix to raise awareness of their QR code campaign. A couple of weeks ago, I saw this Macy’s commercial on TV.
I did a double take. I had to rewind it to make sure I was seeing this right. A brand devoting a national TV spot to their QR code campaign? Brilliant.
I think the true brilliance is in the spot itself. It doesn’t just highlight the technology, it explains it. It explains what it is, where to look for it, how to use it, and most of all, what consumers can expect to get out of it. It also doesn’t limit this content to QR-code-only access. Have mobile phone? Can text? Then, not to worry, you can still experience this same content.
Now, when consumers go anywhere near Macy’s and see one of these pixilated stars, they at least have a better chance knowing what it is and what they can get out of it – two critical pieces needed to drive adoption and result in success.
And they’re not just focused on TV. They’re using many channels in their ecosystem to introduce, educate and drive engagement with this star. Like on their Facebook page:
On their windows:
And of course, in their store:
These methods, along with print ads and lanyards worn by Macy’s staff, explain how the program works, what the codes are and how deliberate they want to be with this campaign.
Who knows if it will work? And more, who knows if QR codes, as a technology, will endure time and actually become adopted by the general consumer. In 5-6 years, we’ll know, right?
But this much is certain, and has endured over time – whoever reaches consumers at the right time with the right content will win.
The problem is we’re living and consuming media in an evolving world. Consumers are on-the-go, out-and-about more than ever and technology is not the barrier it once was. It seems as though everyone is connected and the rules have changed. The right time to reach consumers is different for everyone and it’s typically when they’re not in the confines of their homes.
Traditional broadcast channels such as television are still great awareness channels, regardless of what you say about DVR. Nontraditional, emerging channels like Out-of-Home (OOH) and mobile are more and more becoming great engagement channels. Everything needs to work together. And Macy’s, much to their credit, has recognized this and is actually doing something about it.
I know the jury is still out on QR codes so I’d be interested to know if you think even a full-out marketing blitz like this will move the needle, in terms of QR code adoption and engagement? What do you think?