Thursday, May 31, 2007

More mini-projection systems on tap soon

Much like this miniature projector designed for cell phones that we mentioned back in April, this article from the Visual Technology blog features a new offering from Light Blue Optics designed to deliver highly portable projection technology "really soon." Supposedly:

Only LBO’s novel approach to projection can simultaneously deliver a unique combination of features: ultra-wide throw angle, in-built speckle reduction, infinite focus, low power consumption, and a robust design with no moving parts that lends itself to miniaturization and low cost manufacture.
Obvious uses include automotive and consumer electronics, as well as digital signage (of course). I'm still waiting for something -- anything -- this size to become commercially available so that we can start playing with them to see how they actually would perform in a retail or other out-of-home environment. Unfortunately, it's all been prototypes and engineering samples so far, and it looks like LBO's offering will be the same way in the immediate future.

Tags: digital signage, projector

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Alternative Out-of-home ad spending continues to grow

That's not news in and of itself, since OOH has been on a tear the past few years. But taking a look at this chart from eMarketer really gives an idea about the amount of money we're talking about now. Alternative OOH, which includes mostly digital media like in-venue digital signage and advertising networks, has seen better than 20% growth for the past four years, and better than 25% growth for the past two, and was worth almost $1.7 Billion in 2006. Granted that's still a teeny tiny piece of the overall advertising pie (worth over $150B), and sure it's only about 10% of total online ad spending from last year, but for a relatively new industry we're seeing the kind of growth needed to sustain early networks and encourage further experimentation in the space.

The funny thing about all this interest in digital advertising networks is that so far there are relatively few big success stories. Sure, companies like PRN, SignStorey and others have made lots of noise about getting their networks up and running, and it certainly took a lot of time, money and expertise to do so, but even counting these networks as 100% successful, that still leaves us with a grand total of two players. I know there are quite a few smaller networks around, say on the order of 10 - 50 screens, and I do think that local advertisers are still the ideal target for most OOH networks, but that's definitely one part of our industry that continues to seem unduly hyped.

So what's going to fuel digital signage growth over the next few years? What's going to keep us in the high-twentysomethings for CAGR? Ad networks continue to attract venture capital dollars, and one of these days, somebody is going to find that magic formula for building a really successful, homogeneous, non venue-specific OOH signage network, so there's certainly the possibility that enough of these guys will continue to coast on equity dollars until they figure it out. But until then, it seems like new projects in chain store retail, transit, health care and hospitality spaces will continue to lead the way with more understandable and vetted business models.

Tags: OOH advertising, digital signage, retail media

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nokia uses interactive signage to engage passers-by

Interactive games have been on the small screen -- cellphones and PDAs -- for a long time now, but putting interactive content onto a digital sign in a public environment is still pretty novel, and Nokia has done a great job of demonstrating how compelling such an offering can be. The YouTube video above features one of Nokia's newest campaigns for their high-end N95 phone, in which a user plays a tile matching game on a touch-enabled LCD screen mounted in a London-area bus stop. As the submitter notes, the buses there tend to run a bit late, which is a good thing for the branding-oriented promotion.

Tags: digital signage, out-of-home advertising, public display network

Digital signage and feature creep - can we break the cycle?

The New Yorker has a great article on feature creep that really hit home with me, especially after spending a few days in the presence of a few hundred of my closest competitors at the DSE show last week. The argument made in the article is essentially this: "buyers want bells and whistles but users want something clear and simple."

That's exactly the problem that we deal with at WireSpring day in and day out. Since we're a relatively small company, my job is to mediate between all of the different groups of people working here, and try to figure out what our best course of action is. Our sales guys want more functionality so we can stack up better in a head-to-head competitions. Our support and QA folks want less functionality, since more bells and whistles lead to larger user manuals and more tech support calls. Our programmers want to know that they have job security, so more development is always looked upon favorably; but of course expanding the development team to get more work done faster is an expensive -- and eventually unsustainable -- proposition for management.

I sit in the middle of it all, guessing at which features will be important and which will not. I personally tend to side with the "less is better" camp, and in fact we frequently sit down and try to figure out what functionality we can remove from FireCast apart from what new stuff is going to get put in. But still, there are always those features that you simply must have if for no other reason than the customer expects to see them in a demo. My personal favorite? The scrolling text ticker. I've never -- ever -- seen a good use of a text ticker in a retail digital signage application, yet time after time customers and prospects ask if we have the capability (we do). They'll then trial the product, do a pilot project, and eventually deploy the network. But by that time, the text ticker will be long gone, typically replaced by simple, full-screen video. For many applications, this, the most simple of applications, is really the best.

So I suppose the whole point of this rant is to compel those people considering a digital signage project to not confuse "complex" with "good." As a product guy, I still have to remind myself of this constantly (heck, there's even a post-it stuck to my monitor that says simple = good), and as I said before, I'm certainly coming to the point where we always try to come up with the simple solution first. As you go through the process of getting your project together, consider your overall goals, and let them determine what functionality is really important.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Harley-Davidson, Brookstone chime in on the role of digital signage

It's still somewhat rare to see VPs of marketing, merchandising and store design publish their thoughts on digital signage and retail media in general, so it was somewhat surprising to see this article/interview published by VM+SD last week, which featured veterns from Harley-Davidson, Brookstone, design organization the Design Forum, and an unnamed fashion retailer get together to discuss the pros and cons of in-store networks.

All four agreed that while digital signage system can improve the in-store environment, they don't necessarily have to. Some combination of physical design integration (e.g. embedding screens into existing retail fixtures), merchandising considerations, and of course, great content is necessary to make sure that the screens add to the overall ambience of the store, instead of just adding more clutter to an already busy visual environment.

When it came to listing the current problems with digital signage systems, it's clear that each interviewee had had his or her own experiences, and none of them were quite pain-free. However, the most informative quote came from Harley's Visual Merchandising Program Manager, Lynn Knutson, who noted that, "creating content for the screens [was] the biggest challenge. The amount of content needed to keep a program fresh and relevant to customers and sales staff is tremendous. The time and resources needed to manage a program can be difficult to justify when you cannot tie ROI directly to the program."

It's just amazing to see the number of companies -- and I'm talking established media companies with some considerable successes under their belts -- who still don't realize how challenging/important/necessary it is to keep fresh, compelling content on those screens at all times. At WireSpring, we call it "feeding the beast," since it's the hidden monster that can shred an ambitious digital signage project to bits unless it is planned for starting from day 1.

But for all those who read the last paragraph and are thinking "if it's so much work, maybe I shouldn't bother," Knutsun has a response for you as well: "You need to look beyond the metrics to see how the program improves the overall shopping experience for customers. If you can put your customers into an emotional state of mind when shopping versus an analytical state, then you will sell more product. As the saying goes, when in Rome...!"

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