Archive for April 2006

Another retail design firm jumps in

April 28, 2006

This has been percolating for the better part of a year, but Atlanta-based store-design firm Miller Zell has made it public that they have hooked up 3M, NEC and Waterloo, ON-based DDC on a strategic one-stop shop, turnkey kind of thing.

3M does the software, through Mercury Online and the old FRED systems platform, NEC does screens, DDC (which has been in this game forever) does content and Miller Zell does retail-merchandising strategy and execution. Together, it’s a pretty compelling offer for retailers who are trying to choose a vendor. There will be a fair amount of basking in reflected glory going on with this collective pitch.

On the down side, there are more than a few clients who don’t buy into the strategic team thing and want, as they say, “one throat to choke” when things are going sideways. Somebody has to be the project lead, and that’s where it can get messy.

Congratulations to Stuart Kirkpatrick and Steve Harris at DDC for getting this done. They are genuine pioneers in this space, and I suspect the opportunities ahead far outweigh the challenges.

Look for more of these sorts of alliances.

Retail design giant gets involved

April 20, 2006

Don Watt has a well-earned reputation as one of the great minds in retail design and strategy.

He's the guy originally behind the President's Choice strategy that Loblaw's has grown and grown over the last couple of decades.

Watt is still active, and through his Toronto firm DW+ Partners has started a digital signage strategy offshoot, called Innovus. Led by Graeme Spicer, Innovus pretty much parks the software and gadgets and instead provides a technology-neutral consultancy on the real issue – the strategy and efficacy of these networks in retail.  

Watt told The Wise Marketer recently that "the message conveyed to the captive audience of customers in the store is often not beneficial, either to the customer or to the retailer."

He notes, correctly, that a lot of what's out there to date was put in by technology-centric companies who've treated the message as secondary.

"Retailers, marketers and brand managers should start, Watt suggests, by meeting known consumer needs, and by using digital signage to actually enhance their shopping experience rather than force-feeding them with irrelevant messages."

I have spent a little time with Watt, his business partner Geoff Belchetz, and Spicer. They're extremely bright and experienced, and will add a lot of credibility to this space. They'll also go a long way in ensuring that when a client retailer takes the digital signage plunge, it'll get done right.

An alliance

April 19, 2006

Vancouver entrepreneur Calen Saress sees strength in numbers and has started an organization he hopes will roll up smaller digital signage plays into something much bigger – particularly on the ad buy side.

The International Digital Media Alliance is just getting its feet under itself, and so far includes networks installed in pharmacies, doctors offices, sports venues and golf stores, as well as an ad sales rep house.

The site could use a little — ok, a lot, more detail — but from e-mails and chats Saress clearly has a passion and drive for this. And there is certainly an argument to be made that media buyers and brands will pay more attention to an aggregated offer than an endless line-up of small networks all fighting for table scraps.

Strangely familiar

April 19, 2006

I founded a company about three years ago, along with a very patient friend, that put screens in the bustling PATH system in downtown Toronto.

The concept was, and is, simple – treat busy walkways like major roadways and line them with digital billboards. It works, though admittedly if it was working THAT well I would be semi-blotto on a beach … in perpetuity.

Now, three years later, someone else has picked up on this.

Last Mile Marketing of the Minneapolis area has started installing screens in the parking structures and skyways leading into shopping areas in Indianapolis and St. Paul. They have a series of LCDs playing out ad spots, as well as weather, traffic conditions, sports scores and financial news.

We'll see how this goes.

At 30 seconds, and even 15, the ads are quite possibly too long for people buzzing along. And the guys behind this will have a tough go selling on audience numbers. The busiest stretch sees 600,000 people a year, which sounds like a lot. But it's really just 1,650 a day, or 100 or so an hour if the walkway is open 18 hours a day.

With Concourse Media, just one of our walkways gets 124,000 people a day … and the media planners aren't bowling each other over to buy in just yet.

Things are changing. Advertisers are getting it. But you absolutely need a lot of eyeballs, or some very well-positioned ones right at the moment of decision.

I like the Last Mile name, but I am not convinced a walkway leading to a downtown mall qualifies. Nonetheless, best wishes guys!

New name … same blabber

April 14, 2006

My CEO is a brilliant guy, and I tend to listen to what he has to say.

So when he kept insisting digital screen media is a more appropriate handle for this industry, I went with it. Trouble is, nobody else has. My company tracks its Web site traffic and watches how people find us. By a huge majority, people search by digital signage. Very few search by screen media.

I see the same pattern on the stats WordPress provides for this blog.

So … I have changed the handle to sixteen:nine – the digital signage blog. I think sixteen:nine represents where screens are going in this space, and if I were starting another company in this business, I’d use that name. But if I did another start-up, homicide detectives would be interviewing Joy and asking why she did it.

A big media concern invests

April 14, 2006

I picked this up from the Media In Canada newsletter:

"Transcontinental has purchased a majority interest in in-store digital advertising company, Enixa Media of Montreal. With the influx of cash, Enixa will be expanding from 400 in-store digital ad displays to approximately 2000 flat screens across Quebec over the next two years. Enixa displays are currently in 45 Metro and other grocery outlets but expects to be in about 200 grocery and other retail stores at the end of its growth spurt."

These guys — yet another company that's been operating completely under the radar — do the screens at the grocery checkout thing. I've mentioned before that the rationale for that is a complete mystery, but people keep on doing it and retailers keep on allowing it.

The medium itself, which is a string of 15 or 17 inch consumer grade displays – exposed control buttons and all – pole mounted in the checkout lanes, is not what interests me.

What's worth talking about is the new majority owner, which is a very large media conglomerate with lots of community newspapers and consumer magazines. Quebec-based like Enixa, they are also one of the biggest printers in North America and big on coupon packs.

In a company news release, Transcontinental’s President and CEO Luc Desjardins says, “Working with Enixa, we are offering our advertisers yet another complementary medium to our newspapers, magazines, flyers and websites by which they can reach consumers. This extension of our presence on multi-channel platforms is in line with our Evolution 2010 business plan. I have every confidence in the rapid growth prospects of this innovative business model, especially given the quality of Enixa’s product and its solid management team.”

I have my doubts if the grocery checkout thing is the cornerstone of the business model, but if it is a Trojan Horse way into a serious grocer like Metro, and they start putting screens in places that will actually have an impact, then they've got something going.

A sniff of an idea

April 11, 2006

One of the many companies whose people I spoke with at GlobalShop was a little one from Mexico that worked with scents. They were interested in ganging screens in store with their scent products. In the blur of all the chats you have at those shows, that conversation pretty much left my head. But now Iam thinking about it.

Companies like Scent Air have little scent blasters that puff out a month's worth of an aroma into a store environment, usually a well-defined area. Now you can imagine how the smell of freshly baked cookies would send people over to a part of a grocery, even if the cookies in the display were all sealed.

But when I think about it, it would be pretty cool to marry LCD displays in POP with an affiliated scent. It's one thing to better explain a product using video and stills, but imagine if you could also get a scent that creates the right "warm fuzzies" happening right at that fabled "moment of truth" when a shopper decides to buy or move on.