While the delegates walked the show floor, Terry Scannell worked it. A digital signage consultant, Terry was preparing an article for aka.tv, an industry website. Part of his process was interviewing attendees about what they saw, what they heard and what they thought. The show had expanded, but the size remained quite manageable, and two days proved to be more than adequate to check out the new toys, chat with vendors and colleagues, and draw conclusions about the Expo and the business overall.
On day two, Terry asked me for impressions. I had the same take as the rest of the crowd regarding Google: disappointed that they didn’t touch the subject of digital signage but fascinated by the uniquely-Google spin on innovation. About the latest, greatest gear on the show floor and the industry overall, again, I think I spoke for the majority in saying that we saw assorted cool stuff and felt a degree of energy and buzz. Extraordinary breakthroughs? No. Encouraging progress? Yes.
Then we started talking about content. And that’s when I opened my big mouth.
At these shows it always seems like the hardware looks great, but the content on the displays is mediocre at best. The phrase, “content is king” has been used and abused to the point where it doesn’t mean anything anymore. With my second cup of coffee kicking in, I vented my frustrations about the state of content in the digital signage world and said “stock tickers and weather reports aren’t content” which Terry jumped on like a bloodhound on a t-bone. He included that quote in his report.
First, the apologies: to Accuweather and any and all companies who provide weather and stock ticker information.
No offense intended.
It is content.
News you can use.
We all want to know if it’s going to rain or if we’re making money.
So it is content.
But in some cases, it comes off like a crutch.
Every out-of-home digital network shares one thing in common: we have screens. Lots of screens. Screens that are on 10 to 12 to 14 hours a day.
Fill them, we must.
But let’s have a show of hands: Who among us is consistently filling those screens with specific, targeted, strategic messaging that promotes our brands, our products or our services?
Don’t know about you but my hand is not up.
That “right message at the right time in the right place” ideal is unrelenting. At Nike, we struggle with it every day. Do we ever default to content that’s not quite ideal but is “better than a blank screen”? Who hasn’t?
That’s where we have to get better as an industry. We have to get beyond “defaulting” on the content side. It is truly surprising to hear from suppliers who claim to sell everything needed for a digital signage network to retailers who have given no thought to a sustainable content strategy. Why are retailers rushing into deploying networks? “Because everyone else is” seems to be the standard answer.
Here’s an idea: let’s plant a bunch of nice, expensive trees but not bother feeding or watering them. Know what will happen? They’ll look good for a while. Then they’ll die.
I think we can all agree that the digital signage business has cleared an early life cycle hurdle. It isn’t going away, it’s on its feet. But it’s still wobbling back and forth, and it needs to take the next step forward to maintain momentum and credibility.
It needs a boost, and that boost won’t come from a new and improved media player, touch screen or network management tool. It will come in the form of new and improved content. Everyone keeps talking about the medium’s great “potential,” but a lot of people really don’t appreciate what we’re capable of yet. Having the power, through digital signage, to inform, entertain and engage the consumer within arms reach of the product? Are you kidding? The potential is staggering.
But the industry has to close the loop. Content and technology must be treated as equals, receiving the same focus, attention and support. We have to give our customers a reason to watch. We have to give our networks a reason to be. If we come close to that, digital signage will begin to reach its potential. The payoff will be huge. And maybe then I won’t have to apologize for opening my big mouth anymore.]]>
Zen and the art of the elevator pitch
There’s more to success, of course, than merely honing and delivering the perfect elevator pitch. But that pitch can go a long way toward getting the relationship off to a great start. Or killing it before it ever gets started. Walking the floor at the DSE in Las Vegas, you couldn’t avoid it. The pitching was pervasive. Every single one of us played one of two roles — the pitch-er or the pitch-ee — in a numbing yet necessary exercise, kind of like the business version of speed dating.
Some found it to be exhausting. They peeled off to take haven in either Starbucks or that mediocre cafeteria with the unfortunate combination of long lines and inflated prices. But none of us schlepped all the way to Vegas just to drink coffee or eat pricey, mediocre food. We were there to fact find. With all of the industry players back-to-back and booth-to-booth, fact finding should have been no problem, right? Not exactly — at least not for me. The DSE show floor (and virtually any trade show floor, for that matter) comes off like a sea of sameness. The challenge for exhibitors: how do you make your pitch stand out? The challenge for attendees: how do you cut through the crap?
Stories from the floor
Jennifer Nye leads the in-store digital marketing solution program for Harley-Davidson dealerships. In other words, she’s a retailer. And at DSE, retailers are coveted. Highly coveted. Like gold. “I don’t even listen to elevator pitches,” Jennifer says. Pity the rookie retailers walking the show floor for the first time who might not know what they’re in for. In my days with Nike, I quickly learned to play defense. I flipped my badge
backward to maintain anonymity. Jennifer agrees. She employs a proactive strategy at DSE and all trade shows. She does her homework, pre-screening specific exhibitors who have products and services relevant to her business. She’ll seek out those exhibitors, and only those exhibitors, limiting her exposure to the pack. “I like the way the DSE floor is organized but I won’t walk it (the floor),” Jennifer says. “Everyone’s software will do everything. They all tell you what they think you want to hear.”
When people like Stuart Armstrong and Rebecca Walt hear comments like those, they recoil. And they sense opportunity. Stu, President of EnQii North America, and Rebecca, VP Professional Services at Reflect Systems, take a completely different tact. For them, it’s not what they say, but what their clients say that matters most. “We provide solutions,” notes Rebecca, “and you can’t provide solutions unless you listen to the problems and goals of the client. How big is their network? What are they trying to accomplish? How do they want to speak to their audience?” Of course, Rebecca still has a pitch. Stu does too. But they both know when to weave it in and when to hold back. Experience has taught them to avoid leading with a cookie-cutter “our widget is better than their widget” approach. That comes much later, if at all. “I have no problem in telling a prospect,” Stu says, “that if our solution isn’t appropriate for them, I will recommend one of our competitors.”
When your reputation doesn’t precede you
Reflect Systems and EnQii, along with a mere handful of others, are proven players with solid track records. And when you’re proven, the first impression precedes you — the elevator pitch is not do-or-die, as it might be with newcomers to this space. Or as the great philosopher Yogi Berra might put it, “If you need a good elevator pitch, you probably don’t have one. And if you have one, you probably don’t need one.” But what are those newer companies that might lack a positive reputation, track record and client list to do? How about those like, well, like me, Pat Hellberg, and my newly-formed Kaicon Consulting group? In the space of three days at DSE, I delivered a couple dozen variations on my own pitch. Each time, I tried to adjust to the audience, zigging and zagging according to the tell-tale signs: body language, eye contact and verbal interaction. Each time, there was a personal post mortem, ranging from “I nailed that one” to “I didn’t really say that, did I?”
We always think we can improve. Our distinguished blog host, Bill Gerba, has been in the digital signage game for nine years and says he’s still fine tuning his own elevator pitch. As for me, I’m also more than ready to admit that my own pitch is a work in progress, and probably will be forever. But combining some tips from the pros (there are literally hundreds of books and web sites chuck full of tips, like The Closet Entrepreneur, Twitpitch and TechCrunch Elevator Pitches) with my own personal experience (what has resonated vs. what has fallen flat), my working draft reads something like this:
Clients fall in love with the technology. They buy the hardware and the software. They hang the screens and turn ‘em on. The clients have the first three days covered for content. But they don’t know what they’re going to do for the next 362 days and beyond.
It’s like buying a great new car but only having enough left over for half a tank of gas.
I use the experience and expertise I gained in running Nike’s network to help clients craft a sustainable content strategy at a reasonable cost. And I have the resources to help them produce the content if needed.
A DS network represents a serious investment. A sustainable content strategy will ensure that the
investment pays off. By elevator ride standards that’s about 14 floors worth, depending on whether I’ve had any coffee.
A pitch that maybe we all can agree on
Take the idea of the pitch and expand it to the entire digital signage/DOOH industry. Ultimately, our business is all about grabbing someone’s attention in a small amount of time, and then providing content that engages and motivates them. When they leave our tiny sphere of influence, hopefully we’ve left them with an impression, a few small, memorable tidbits. In a way, all DOOH content is essentially thousands upon thousands of elevator pitches.
Having said that, it will serve us well to continue to evolve the pitch about ourselves, about our companies, and about the business in general. We still lack a meta-pitch that’s suitable for the industry as a whole. Are we in advertising? Storytelling? Information exchange? A killer pitch can be an important tool as we move this industry forward, even as more people outside our circle of “in the know” experts become familiar with what digital signage and DOOH really are.
Or we can hold out for a magic lamp.]]>
If a recent visit to Germany is any indication, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, even in the digital signage industry. Our European counterparts seem to think we’re executing better than they are, even though we usually hear just the opposite here on this side of the Atlantic.
I was in Frankfurt for Viscom, a well-known international trade show with a focus on conventional/traditional signage, to speak about digital signage content and creative services, my area of expertise. It was a trip to look forward to, having never been to Europe on industry business. (While in Italy over the summer I did make a fascinating, industry-related discovery: the Vatican City has a digital signage network. But we were in vacation mode and our research was devoted not to emerging media but to finding the best gelato in Rome.)
I had heard from industry colleagues in the US that the Europeans have been making great gains in digital signage, surpassing the US in quantity and quality. Sure enough, just moments off the flight while waiting for the downtown train, I came across an effective execution. Mounted perfectly at eye level between the tracks stood a large, high resolution display showing a nice blend of news, weather, local event information and ads. It worked for me, even though I don’t understand a word of German.
I immediately thought about my presentation. What was I going to tell these people that they didn’t already know? ‘Could be a tough gig’, I thought to myself.
Thomas Dockter, a marketing consultant based in Cologne, did a terrific job pulling together Viscom’s digital signage program. The highlight was a best practices contest, showcasing entries from Lufthansa, Audi, Deutsche Bank and others. There wasn’t a dud in the group. The winner came from Sixt, a European- based rental car agency. Marrying the best of the kiosk and digital signage worlds, the Sixt execution resembles the airline check-in process. The customer starts the process with his/her credit card, triggering a behind-the-scenes explosion of data specific to the customer, lot inventory, local promotions, etc. I can’t recall all of the details but I do remember the most important: Sixt reports a 20% increase in successful upsells with the program. Say no more.
Seeing and admiring the contest entries the day before I was scheduled to speak made me wonder, again, what I was going to bring to the party. Nonetheless, my dog-and-pony was well-received. The war stories about starting Nike’s digital signage program and then managing the day-to-day and feeding the content beast for seven years transcended any language barriers. (Truth be told, I was the only one faced with barriers. The audience had few problems understanding English.)
“Tell us about those big, successful networks in the States.” Certainly, there are large deployments in the US, I said, but size isn’t everything.
“Who’s doing it well?” Sure, some are better than others but I couldn’t name a single US network that absolutely nails it, day in and day out.
“Tell me about business in Germany, which, judging by the entries in the contest, must be thriving.”
Yes and no, I was told. The contest entries represented, for the most part, small networks, and in some cases, pilots.
One retail executive explained, “Germany is not easy to convince in DS.” It’s no picnic in the US either, I thought to myself.
The more we talked, the more we learned. The misconceptions faded away and became irrelevant. We were too busy comparing notes to care about who is bigger or better.
The conclusion is clear. No matter our language or location, we all share the same mission. We have to create relevant, compelling customer experiences. We need to promote brands, move product and, ultimately, boost the bottom line. To do that, we must give consumers a reason to engage, over and over again, with our digital signage campaigns.
That holds true regardless of which side of the fence — or the Atlantic — you’re on.]]>
Bill recently published the results from a survey, asking network operators (or those contemplating DS networks) if they handle essential digital signage services in-house or outsource the execution of those services. For the record, the list of services (generally accepted as necessary, if not flat-out required, for successful DS network operation) included logistics management, strategy consulting, project planning, content strategy consulting, content production, content management, network/operations management, initial project management, ongoing project management, and installation services. And the winner, by a landslide, was:
“We do it in-house.”
In only one of the ten categories (installation services) did the majority of operators say they outsource the work. Every other service, the majority of respondents said, is handled in house. Maintaining his objectivity, Bill did not pound the table on this subject. That doesn’t mean other digital signage pros can’t. “In other parts of our lives, we make rational decisions,” says Tom Percich, vice president in charge of business development for Diversified Media Group, a leading integration firm that has planned, installed and maintained dozens of networks. “But when it comes to digital signage, people go a little crazy and think they can do it on their own.”
Why? You know why. And you know who you are. You’re trying to cut corners and save money. How’s that working out, if you don’t mind us asking?
Tom notes the example of a client who bought cheaper off-the-shelf monitors at a department store, rather than going with a slightly more expensive pro-recommended industrial model. Sure enough, 7 months later the consumer-grade screens started dying. There was no warranty (it was voided by industrial use), and the client had to replace the consumer clunkers with industrial models at their own cost. The client thus paid for about twice as many screens, without the benefit of actually having more screens in the field. The installation fees were also doubled, of course.
As Tom says, “You don’t know what you don’t know… there’s information everywhere. You can learn how to do open-heart surgery online. But if I needed open heart surgery, I would tend to go to a doctor.” Similarly, he notes that any reputable pro will stand behind his or her work. “We have to eat our own dog food — if we manage the network, we have to live with our recommendations. But that’s fine. Those recommendations are based on years of experience. Our expertise combined with that experience usually results in cost savings. We’ll live with that.”
Another result of the survey, which is borderline stunning, is the percentage of respondents who say they “don’t bother with” some of the essential services. Like network management. And project management. And content production. Really? How do you even have a network without those things? But we know that plenty of people will try. “Content is the last thing discussed, which drives me mad,” says Stephen Ghigliotty, who for the past two years handled content creative and strategy for Artisan. But a quick survey of many of the screens you run into on a day-to-day basis emphasizes his point: people just aren’t thinking about it.
Coming up with a workable strategic operating plan is another service that, when delivered by a knowledgeable professional, is worth its weight in gold. But all too often, the dialogue at the client planning meeting goes something like this:
The deliverable is a long-term plan, a strategy. The goal is good content on budget and on time. We’ve got a lot of sharp people on staff. They can knock out this strategy thing before lunch.
Stephen tells the story about one sharp client, with no digital signage experience but ample experience paying broadcast-spot production rates, who commissioned a single (read: one) broadcast-quality piece for their digital signage network. The piece was visually gorgeous, but the client burned their entire content budget on that one spot. Consequently, they played it over and over and over again, leading to burn out, tune out and flame out.
Brian Ardinger is the marketing director for Nanonation, a veteran digital signage software provider with years of expertise and experience. By keeping the big picture in mind, pros like Brian can help novice clients navigate the minefield. “We have a good understanding of all the parts, the good, the bad and the ugly,” he says. “For example, we don’t hang the screens but because we’ve been involved in so many networks, we know who to call to hang the screens.” Brian and the others share a common insight: there are many links to the digital signage chain. One link breaks, and there goes the chain.
But enough already. By now, you’ve figured us out. We’re just self-serving vendors who want to charge crazy rates for work you can handle yourself, right? Well, that’s partly true. We do like to get paid. But anyone charging crazy rates in this business does not last long. The true digital signage pro wants your network to thrive. Every blue screen of death, terrible piece of content and blurry display hung 12 feet off the floor where no one can see it drags down our entire industry. We cringe, grind our teeth and lose sleep over these things, whether we had anything to do with the offending network or not. Our goal is most definitely not to gouge. Our goal is to lift digital signage to a new level.
Still, plenty of do-it-yourselfers will continue to get started on a shoestring budget, doing whatever it takes to get their screens out at the lowest cost possible. And when they have problems, we’ll still be around,
ready and willing to lend them a hand. Some will be fortunate enough to get everything right and wind up with networks that function well for years. Others will quickly hit the wall of frustration, and will ultimately wind up spending more for repairs and replacements than they would have had they enlisted the right help from the start. It’s just the luck of the draw. So as Detective Callahan in “Dirty Harry” might have said, “You have to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”
Well, do you?]]>