Blog: Ron Bowers 

Ron Bowers (bio)
SVP, Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates

Tuesday, 31 May 2011
It has been my pleasure over the past 28 years to be an active participant in the interactive marketplace for retail, education, services and the government sectors. Prior to the CETW show, in San Francisco last month, I was honored at the Board of Directors meeting for the (DSA) Digital Screenmedia Association to be among a group of industry leaders and friends elected to the posts of ambassadors for our industries. Brian Ardinger of Nanonation was named DSA President; Jared Miller, managing director of self-service & emerging technology for United Airlines was named executive vice president of mobile; Lou Giacalone, the founder CoolSign, Haivision, was named executive vice president of digital signage, and I'm honored to represent the kiosk industry as executive vice president.

The Digital Screenmedia Association is the trade association and educational advocate for the digital merchandising industry, kiosks, digital signage and mobile. Our partnership is timely and valuable because of the significant changes our economy, industry and major channels of consumer interaction, have gone through over the past three years. All four officers of our industry trade association agree that there has been a major paradigm shift in the marketplace.

The top-down brand model is dead! Brands that will survive and be successful in the new marketplace are focused on bottom-up customer engagement. The new customer wants to engage, not just buy. This new model forces brands to move from managing perceptions and controlling the message, to inventing new ways to get customers to engage with their brands.

Welcome to the digital interactive experience at retail. Consumers through ever-changing improvements in technology can evaluate the value of products and services like never before through kiosks, digital media signage and mobile. These changes have created a brave new world where mass collaboration and open innovation have turned old marketing and retail models upside down. The precondition for the new customer, more than ever in the past, is trust in brand integrity. The brand must provide value and exhibit integrity and transparency as part of its corporate DNA! The brand has evolved from being an image to becoming a relationship.

We've had a whole generation growing up digital and now we have a new formula for radical change in marketing and merchandising. Given this generation's propensity to ignore advertisements in traditional media, their growing ability to scrutinize companies, and their surging power in the marketplace, they are driving the change to customer engagement, brand collaboration, and in some cases shared brand ownership! They interact through multi-directional, one-to-one, and highly tailored digital communications media. They choose the medium and the message.

What is the resulting impact of this shift in consumer power? Better value for the customer and higher customer loyalty through the participation and engagement of the customer.
What is the resolute brand effect? In "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff make the math pretty simple: engaged brands are growing their value by 18 percent; those that don't engage are declining by 6 percent. From a brand marketing strategy the future is obvious, engage or parish by a slow and costly death tied to old legacy attitudes of brand development. It's time to understand and embrace that the customer of today and of tomorrow is trending to engagement, not just buying!

We as an industry have a great opportunity to participate in the expansion of this consumer trend toward retail engagement, but with that comes a substantial responsibility for establishing industry standards and best practices that will benefit the consumer, brand marketer and the retailer equally for the benefit of all and the good of the marketplace. Our new economy is expanding at a slower pace than in the past and with that comes more questions and second-guessing, but there is no second guessing the consumer's attitude going forward.

Consumers are embracing the marketplace that will afford them the opportunity to influence and participate in how they will be marketed to. Consumers still want to shop; this has not changed. However, consumers understand the significance of their ability to have, through new technology, more choices, more convenience, and more say in how they are marketed to, where that is, and when that is. The brand has the ability more than at any time in history to create success and growth in the marketplace as long as the brand maximizes its true destiny, consumer engagement through customer experience!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 07:30 am   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Before the crowds poured into Customer Engagement Technology World in San Francisco last week, I stood in FMA's booth and pondered the power of self-service technology to positively impact millions of lives. We are an industry with staying power that now engages so many aspects of daily living. Where we once described ourselves as a non-traditional, we are now clearly mainstream to consumers and essential to the success of retailers.

In our booth alone, we showcased kiosks that can facilitate access to health care for millions, reduce anxiety and smooth the journey for busy travelers and streamline the experience of time-starved grocery shoppers.

The KEO Connect Mobile Phone Charging Kiosk, located in Major Hudson News stores in airports, keeps travelers engaged. It is an interactive free-charging, digital display and information kiosk, equipped with updatable video content and touch- screen technology. While their phones are charging, travelers can access flight information, news, weather, entertainment, concierge services and download digital music, movies and e-books on the kiosk or can shop, browse and dine in another airport location.

The KEO kiosk's enclosure is straightforward, bold and scaled for an airport concourse. The unit is designed to make an instant impression on a moving target: airport travelers.

The Industry Award-winning, SoloHealth Station unveiled at CETW facilitates access to healthful information for those who may have limited health-care options and are looking for the path to a healthful lifestyle. It is being developed to provide free self-service health screenings of vision, blood pressure, weight and body mass index. It delivers an overall health assessment and access to a database of local healthcare providers that can be contacted through the kiosk to make appointments – all in a matter of minutes. Users can track their results over time.

The SoloHealth Station is engineered to educate and communicate with digital signage from advertisers on top, changeable stationary graphics on the side and an interactive touchscreen for users.

Ergonomic design is a key element in this health-screening kiosk. It features a bar that serves as a back rest and stability aid; a seat that accommodates a range of body types; a blood pressure cuff that is flexible; and soft, curved lines that are inviting.

The Giant Foods Loyalty Shopping Solution Kiosk allows customers to create their own personal shopping experience. Shoppers can gather a shopping list, get assistance in meal planning, receive personalized offers and reference information on their loyalty card. They can also check prices and locate items on their own.

The Giant Foods Shopping Kiosk makes the shopping experience more efficient, and its sleek design is in keeping with this objective. It was engineered with economy of space in mind.

What binds these kiosks with such diverse objectives together is the human engagement and retail experience elements that I think assure their longevity. To be clear, they also deliver on the objectives of their deployers, who are our customers.

They focus on authentic consumer needs and give us a sense of control. Users are empowered to meet the essential requirements of their lives. There's no fluff involved in charging your cell phone, getting where you need to go, obtaining basic information that facilitates well-being or feeding your family.

All of these kiosks employ the sticky and engaging user interface I talked about in a breakout session. The interactions are unique and personal. They are, wait for it...Engaging the consumer in a Retail experience that is intuitive, helpful and satisfying, first time every time that has created trial and now loyalty for the consumer.

They integrate services with powerful messaging. Every kiosk quickly and succinctly delineates what it can do for the user. Self-service and digital signage work in combination to draw passersby into exploration and usage of the unit.
Finally, form follows function. The design flows from a thorough understanding of purpose, customers' needs and a consideration of location.

How we deliver customer interaction from a technology perspective will continue to evolve. (The presence of the new multi-touch integration by Nanonation and Touch Revolution in our booth is proof.) Adhering to the core elements that define success of self-service projects will ensure we continue to deliver the holy grail of meaningful interaction that our customers seek and our ultimate users have come to expect.

Looking ahead we are designing and engineering for a new generation for whom reliance on screens of all types is intuitive. Ed Crowley, principal and VP for EuroTouch Kiosks, coined the demographic for our industry at the pre CETW Board meeting in San Francisco; the generation coming up can be thought of as "Screenagers." Ed nailed the future call to action we will all be addressing for our clients and their consumers moving forward.

To this new call to action, I would like to coin my own Metric for the Millennia. I suggest we will be measuring the success of our deployments not in ROI, Return on Investment, but more by ROE, the Return on Engagement that our solutions will offer millions of consumers.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:11 am   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 03 May 2011

The economic downturn has permanently changed the way consumers shop. More shopping trips begin online and at in-store kiosks, and price comparisons and coupon searches are even more common. Coupled with the social media explosion and breakthrough interest in mobile shopping, 2011 is poised to be the year e-commerce convergence moves from the sidelines to the heart of a retailer's strategic cross-channel-execution.

Retail technology solutions are at a major tipping point, paradigm shift or whatever game-changing catch phrase applies.

"The use of multi-touch technology allows the kiosk designer to make the system an extension of what people have with them every day," said Gene Halsey, director of Product Line for Touch Revolution, a projected capacitive touch-screen manufacturer. "By integrating the experience of Smartphones with the interface of multi-touch, kiosks now become as natural and easy to use as the fastest growing consumer products in recent memory."
There are a multitude of benefits to the multi-touch technology, many of which focus on the user experience. Taken together, these elements result in more-informed, more-efficient and more-engaging interaction.

Key elements to a multi-touch "gesture experience"

Familiar Interface
The familiar interaction of a smartphone touchscreen lends itself to redefining the user interface. If you know that the person walking up to the screen will know what to do when he touches the screen – you don't need to design large buttons or other "old" interface characteristics in the software. You can also place icons in such a way that people naturally think they are using their mobile devices. The kiosk then becomes an extension of what people have with them every day. This is a radically different way to think about kiosk design.

The projected capacitive technology also provides the ability to add multi-touch to the interface. Now adding familiar gestures to the interface is possible when designing content. It is natural to "swipe a finger" across the screen to flip the page. It's natural to "draw a circle" with a finger to scroll through options or "pinch a picture" to make the image larger. This frees the user from next-page icons, scroll bars and zoom buttons. The result is an opportunity to create content that is dynamic and fun to use.

"Today, the rules have changed and the power has shifted," said Brian Ardinger, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Nanonation. "Luckily, today's technologies like digital signage, kiosks and mobile will be key factors in engaging customers and differentiating offerings. These technologies will create the in-store experiences that resonate with today's consumer."

Clean, industrial design
Removing the front bezel from the monitor allows multiple design and installation alternatives. A multi-touch monitor can be embedded into the wall or other flat surface. Imagine creating a kiosk in a countertop. When visiting home improvement stores, customers can use interactive content within the kitchen design center layout — not at a stand-alone kiosk — but actually embedded in the kitchen product display.

Without the bezel on the monitor, it is possible to create interactive-video spaces within traditional retail environments. Monitors can be tiled together to create content that is bigger than a single monitor — without a concern about the interruption to the visual continuity caused by the bezel.

Multi-user options
The natural extension of multi-touch screens is the ability for multiple users to touch the same screen. This accommodates a system design with four different screen regions built around different information. Each of those regions can now be active at the same time —in essence creating four kiosks out of one screen. Systems become playful — one person can flick images across the screen to another. Another interesting option is to design games for multiple people to play in amusement situations. Imagine an amusement park with way-finding stations that can switch to a game station that the whole family can use. The traditional amusement kiosk game "one-trick" pony can now be a multi-function device that can do things that weren't possible only a couple of years ago.

When the entire surface of the touch monitor is glass, the kiosk cleanliness factor improves significantly. No longer are there dust collectors and crevices all around the surface of the touch area that need to be constantly cleaned. Customers and employees don't have to worry about the grease that has visibly collected around the bezel when you put the self-service ordering kiosk in the fast food restaurant. It is very difficult to keep dirt and grease out of old bezels. Take away the bezel — take away the place for that junk to collect.

A projected capacitive monitor can be put in a range of places that weren't practical for touch input in the past. Even with surface damage, the projected-capacitive screen continues to work. Even at the extreme case of breaking the cover glass, the screen can continue to work. It becomes a different definition of uptime for the machine operator. It reduces concern about machines going down as often. Many people have dropped iPhones in the past and continued to use them for days, weeks or even months before getting sensors replaced. The same can now be true for the public-use interactive kiosks.

Focus on the user experience
According to Forrester Research, the public now spends as much time on the Internet as watching television. This behavior is facilitated, in part, by the use of mobile phones. Adults are just as likely to have a mobile phone as a computer.

Price Waterhouse Coopers studied post recession shoppers In "The New Consumer Behavior Paradigm: Permanent or Fleeting" and found that retailers must leverage their marketing, merchandising and positioning to push their offerings that are "need to haves" and build a case for the "must haves." Although most people rely on cell phones in their everyday lives, this is a tall order in the context of a 2-inch screen. This goal is attainable when elements are integrated and retailers employ a variety of digital media, kiosks and in-store merchandising.

This brings us to the real success at retail — collaboration across channels. Consumers post The Great Recession are looking for trust relationships with retailers. They are guarding their resources and have changed their shopping paradigm to a direction that is more selective and targeted. It is generally THE BRAND that has brought consumers back to the shopping environment. It is THE EXPERIENCE at retail that builds loyalty and will keep them coming back.

Consumers are expecting that all contacts with the brand, across channels, on-line, in-store or in-hand will be consistent and coordinated. They are expecting their needs and brand access to be met without limitations on a particular channel. The "BRAND" means more today than it did as little as just three years ago, and it encompasses all the interactions — digital and physical — that consumers have with retailers. Consumers have finally embraced the true success of the retail shopping experience, The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!

A strong retail kiosk merchandising company can successfully marry the key elements of brand marketing, customer interaction, design, engineering and technology. The product of collaboration and experience in all of these areas is far more important than the features or price of an individual piece of technology. Paco Underhill, in "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," warns not to "get lost in the technology." It isn't the individual ingredients but the strategy of the whole that produces a winning solution.

In analyzing the results of their study, The Customer Centric Store 2010, RSR found that the No. 1 opportunity in the current market is to refine the customer's in-store experience. And the No. 1use of in-store technology, identified by 76 percent of retailers was to "maintain and/or improve the customer experience."

Interactive merchandising, whether delivered by a kiosk, an iPad app or digital signage, is no longer an add-on option for the early adapter. It is a crucial differentiator in the retail setting.

All retailers and brands have access to the same marketing, merchandising and technology resources. It is the savvy and experience with which they employ these means to create awareness, satisfy and delight consumers, and convert shoppers into loyal buyers that will translate to success.

Critical Takeaway Tips

  • The kiosk is an extension of the consumer's experience in the retailer's store. The design of the kiosk needs to reflect the "brand" that is the retailer and offer a "call to action," an engagement, that is consistent with the retailer's marketing and merchandising strategy. The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!
  • The software interface must be designed for the multi-touch experience and leverage all the potential intuitive tendencies of the consumer's interaction. If the software is not engaging the gesture interface intuitiveness and flexibility, why use the multi-touch screen?
  • Projective capacitive multi-touch is the logical choice for retail or any consumer interactive self-service deployment. Cost, flexibility and longevity can deliver a generous ROI.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  
Add to favorites

Our members are among the most prominent and respected suppliers of digital signage, kiosk, self-service and mobile technology solutions.

Request project help from DSA members

“Participating in the Digital Screenmedia Association enables us to keep a pulse on the industry. It gives us access to a wealth of experts to share ideas and enables us to build more effective solutions for our clients.”

Brian Ardinger
Entrepreneur in Residence
NUtech Ventures, Inc.

Tweets by @iDigScreenmedia

Digital Screenmedia Association | 13100 Eastpoint Park Blvd. Louisville, KY 40223 | Phone: 502-489-3915 | Fax: 502-241-2795



Website managed by Networld Media Group