Archive for April 2007

Engaging at the bus stop

April 29, 2007

Nokia’s smartphone, the n95, is being peddled in London using what sound like very cool bus shelter screens.

The application uses a take-off on an old tile matching game — probably driven by Flash — to get and keep transit riders’ attention.

The conference I was at last week had endless pleas to make signs more engaging. This certainly fits that bill. But judging from the video, the Nokia brand isn’t exactly prevalent.

I had no luck embedding the video, so click here to view it.

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Whatever happened to GSBC?

April 28, 2007

For a company that was beating its chest about essentially taking over the digital signage industry just a few weeks ago, things sure are quiet.

When the excited pronouncements about takeovers and massive revenue expectations from Ronald Flynn (left) first popped up in the new year, there was a Flash website that kinda, sorta had some vague information.

Even after the “takeover” by Digicurve, a one-man Las Vegas company in the business of selling snapshots of female bodybuilders in their skimpies, there was still a GSBC website, albeit different.

So now they are trading on the NASDAQ OTC, and the GSBC website is one line of text on a white screen (“Welcome to GSBC Global. We are a company dedicated to the digital signage business. We are planning to come to a screen near you soon“) and Digicurve’s corporate presence online remains: “Welcome to Digicurve.”

Now, this could all be a simple reflection of the firm’s deep affection for minimalism.

They could be just re-doing the company website, but it would be strange to strip it back to nothing in the interim.

Or perhaps they are laying low. The tough thing about hyping the living daylights out of a stock play is that with the Internet, people can quickly gather information about companies and make up their own minds about how real or imagined the business plans may be.

Personally, I’m missing the guys. There are lots of companies out there calling themselves the best and the leader. But these guys are/were another thing altogether.

UPDATE: Found another website with all kinds of things spinning on it. Whoever does it could sure use a spell-checker.

You can’t shoot pictures in here!!!

April 28, 2007

nopictures.jpg

Skechers store, Times Square, April 26

Not sure what was running on the screen because, well, she was bigger than me and I chose to beat a hasty retreat. But I liked how the tiled screens dominated the space. 

Strategy Institute Media Summit follow-up

April 28, 2007

A meeting in New York kept me from attending the second day of this event, but I had notes kicking around from Day One that I thought were still worth posting.

Graeme Spicer leads the digital signage practise at DW+ Partners in Toronto. He used his mike time to shake things up a bit — pouring a little cold water on what was mostly a warm group hug session about the great state of the industry. “Digital signage,” he told the crowd, “has not lived up to the hype.”

He pointed out Tesco TV has been somewhat less than a home run hit for ad sales. He suggested PRN‘s Wal-Mart TV offers no real value to consumers, or advertisers – noting there are lots of quiet conversations going on among vendors who feel olbliged to be on there, “but given the choice they probably would not advertise.”

He also booted around Kroger for suggesting its in-store network, dubbed The Perfect Media, is a media company that gives advertisers great reach and frequency. “Kroger is not a media company. It is a grocery store chain.”

He chided network operators for crappy content. “This is not about taking a product shot from a flyer and making it spin on the screen.”

And he said too many operators are using a simplistic model that involves hammering people relentlessly with the same short loop of spots. “The idea that repetition is the answer is wrong.”

Spicer said the real keys are content, engagement and receptivity.

On the positive side, Spicer said business models are evolving and growing more sophisticated, suggesting the industry is moving into what he calls Digital Signage 2.0. Particularly encouraging, is that the interest from companies is no longer just coming from the marketing and IT departments of major companies. The C-level guys are finally getting it, and THAT’s an important advance.”

I was supposed to fill in at the last minute for an AWOL speaker on a panel right after Graeme, but the organizers read the crowd and realized there was way more interest in the day’s end cocktail party than another panel. Before that tanked, I had been pulling together my own thoughts for my mike time, and realizing a lot of what Graeme was saying was stuff I would have also said.

He’s right. We’re not really there yet. There are few truly good examples of networks, private or ad-driven, that really nail the model and deliver on the promise.

When I spoke in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, I used the line “If content is king, he rules a banana republic.” Now technically, kings don’t rule republics, but you get the idea. Way way way too much of what we all see on screens is just repurposed TV, or predictable, template-driven motion graphic spots that are not particularly massive advances beyond those dreaded animated PowerPoint slides we’ve all endured in meetings.

Like Graeme, I think PRN’s content and display model (and granted, they are changing it) works only because it is in Wal-Mart. Sprinkling a few screens around a store with no real context or value is a bit of a wasted effort. And I think many of us who have built and operated networks, or are helping others start them, have lingering concerns about the repeating loop model, particularly if the content is not fine-tuned.

One thing I found really interesting among speakers at the event was how none of them, when citing examples of stuff that excited them, mentioned anything that I would describe as conventional digital signage – screens hung around stores or public places. I can’t rattle off a whole bunch either, though good ones do indeed exist (like Bell’s network in Montreal’s Trudeau Airport).

On the other hand, there are many, many positive things happening in this space and we’re all getting far smarter about how we’re approaching the business. It reminds me a lot of 1996, when I was running new media at a big daily newspaper and everybody was jumping into the Web business. It was chaotic. Some of the business models weren’t much beyond cocktail napkin ideas. And new companies kept popping up every day.

Back then, from chaos came order. The people with real business models hung in there and prospered. And an awful lot of high-flyers that were way more hype than substance ran out of VC money and disappeared.

It looks like we’re going to see that movie again.

Media Summit – UPS Store Roll-Out

April 25, 2007

Malcolm Houser, the COO of the The UPS Store chain in Canada, ran through a brisk presentation about what his firm has been up to and why it works.

It was interesting because his company put a LOT of thought into it and dismissed a lot of the things that many other companies have ended up doing, often for no other reason than  copying what was out there.

They looked at 3rd party advertising, and even went into retailers that had that model, and then dismissed it — seeing no real value.

They looked at loading up the screen with stuff like news headlines and weather and stocks and on and on, and dismissed it — seeing no point amd wondering why other network operators insisted on distracting consumers from the key message. Hallelujah! SOMEBODY gets it!

They also decided there was no cookie-cutter approach to placing screens, and have made that determination store by store.

And they kept the loop down to 2.5 minutes — though I could make an easy argument the 30 second spots he showed were toooo long. Fifteen seconds is heaps.

Houser pitched franchisees on the offer, boiling it down to simple options: purchase the gear and pay a monthly fee, or choose from 3 and 5 year leases that roll in the recurring monthly fee. He got commitments from 72 stores out of the gate and now has 77 installed, and expects to about double that by year’s end.

The thing that is moving store operators is the measurement results: “Stores which installed digital signage increased sales an average of 8.92% – an increase of 3.99% over the rest of the network.”

Using my statistics decoder ring, I THINK what that really means is sales were up just a hair shy of a net 4% because of those screens.

That’s a good story and Houser is to be thanked for sharing that. As we all know, we hear all kinds of anecdotal stuff but few retailers step up and actually share it.

Media Summit – The Word From Agencies/Buyers

April 25, 2007

Three fairly serious guys from the agency world sat on a morning panel to pass on their observations about our industry, the most vocal and senior of them Doug Checkeris, who runs the big media planning group, The Media Company.

He talked about the Good (people spend a lot of time out-of-home, they find signage useful and the things do indeed lead to unplanned purchases).

He mentioned the Bad (network operators stull fixated on the gadgets).

And he pointed out the Ugly (particularly the fragmentation of media and the lack of scalability).

All three of the guys went on at length about the challenge of being a media planner besieged by new networks that seem to pop up by the day.

Checkeris said it was as simple as looking at the amount of available hours in a day. He wondered how much time can be invested against a medium that is still very new and still lacking in measurement and content standards.

What would help, all three said, would be a central buying source representing multiple media properties. “The easier it is, the more likely it is to be accepted.”

That would have been music to the ears of companies like Adcentricity and SeeSaw, who are trying to roll up media properties to enable single source buying.

News from the front: Strategy Institute Media Summit in Toronto

April 25, 2007

OK, my day at the Strategy Institute’s media summit up by the Toronto airport is behind me. Lots of good stuff. Few self-serving, irrelevant presentations. Lots of new faces. And a decent number of vendors and attendees. Organizer David Laird said he had 100-plus people there, though it actually seemed like more than that.

First up was Bob DeSena, managing director of iO Global Limited, which does … something. The corporate site talks about software and hosted services for mobile platforms.

DeSena spoke about the importance of engagement in this and really all advertising mediums. He noted that hundreds of millions of ad dollars are starting to shift from conventional media, and what advertisers are looking for are ways to engage consumers. “Engagement is about knowing your target audience and understanding your target audience and then finding your target audience.”

DeSena’s firm is part of a steering commitee of big media and brands that is pushing the importance of engagement and trying to back that up with metrics that will “move the business forward.”

The idea, he explained, is to turn on a prospect (read consumer) to a brand idea (read marketing/advertising) that is “enhanced by the surrounding context.”

The point is to move all the stakeholders well beyond the way things have been done forever, which boils down to the simple opportunity to see an ad or marketing message. “Engagement means opportunity to do something,” he explained, laying out some key questions.

1 – Who is my target?
2 – Where can I meet them?
3 – What will I say and do?
4 – How will I capture, remember and use what I have to establish and maintain a relationship?

The take away here — If your network is just relentless blasting ads at consumers, with little relevance to the environment, and offer no real way to engage these consumers, you’re going to struggle in a fast changing media landscape that offers all kinds of devices — like wireless phones and PDAs — that enable that engagement, data capture and ongoing engagement.