Many key ingredients are coming together in the world of digital. First, the penetration of smartphones is very high and likely to approach 80 percent or higher, at least in developed nations. Secondly, the cost of digital media and digital displays is plummeting, making them pervasive in all areas from retail to outdoor to corporate and university environments. Third, the cost of data rates for end-users means they will be using their favorite devices even more for many more aspects of life. And, finally, sophistication of mobile and social apps and utilities as well as users’ propensity to use them actively (not just try them once) means that there is a desire and demand for ever-more sophisticated applications. And if the end-users request interesting use cases, the brands (and, by extension, agencies and media owners) will stretch the envelope of what is possible.
1. More digital everywhere
Increasingly, the world over, there are many more places to consume digital media. From outdoor spectacular digital billboards, to indoor displays at airports, shopping malls and schools and universities. Retail is particularly poised for a digital media overhaul because there is an opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to provide an experience that might be possible with online retail—the main competitors of brick-and-mortar folks. Cutting edge retailers will not only use tablets as displays for retail-time attractive content changes, but will start introducing electronic shelf labels (ESL) or eTags to be able to dynamically change prices based on inventory levels, popularity or other factors, without having to send someone down the aisle.
APN Outdoor in spring of 2014 installed some of the first digital billboards in Auckland and followed with the largest billboard at the entry point of Auckland Airport with many more APN Outdoor digital displays inside the airport, some of them 4K variety. The density of digital displays is only going to grow everywhere.
2. More interactive applications
Unless brands, agencies and media owners cater to the needs of end users, more digital media might mean more clutter. End-users tune out if it is the same all the time, something I call “visual wallpaper.” Unless you allow or, indeed, challenge end-users to do something and reward them for their time, they quickly tune out the digital message after an initial interest. Hence, there is a strong need for interactivity: via touch, via social, via mobile.
Touch, especially one-to-one touch, is appropriate for single-service systems like banking, printing boarding cards, vending machines, etc. But rather than one-to-one interaction, many-to-one interaction works much better to engage larger groups—multi-touch screens are ideal, but expensive and hard to maintain (most touch screens need to be calibrated). This is where social media or mobile apps come in. Wouldn’t it be great to play a game of pong on a large screen at the airport while waiting for the plane using end-user’s own smartphone as a controller? Of course, these can be sponsored so even though it may be free to the end user, the media owner and/or venue owner can benefit. And the end users (both players and viewers) can be engaged and entertained by the sponsoring brand.
How about allowing end-users to send in pictures of their favorite holiday destination while waiting for the plane at the airport, or waiting for the bus at the bus stop and allowing the call-to-action to be a Twitter hashtag?
Of course, if user-generated content (UGC) is used, a content moderation engine is indispensable. System moderation (to weed out expletives or unwanted words from large, configured dictionaries) assisted by human moderators for images, videos or overall meaning should be the norm. From our experience in executing UGC campaigns for many world-class brands in Times Square for the last eight years, we have yet to see truly inappropriate content (e.g. nudity). What is more common is people trying to advertise something in the image being sent or sending multiple images thinking they can hog the display. End-users do not send in inappropriate content, just because they can.
3. More value to end-users
End-users are finicky and demanding. Yet interesting applications that deliver value keep their attention. While most apps on mobile devices are just a mobile portal to a single service (e.g. travel site, banking, casual games, etc.), increasingly there are more complex connections and integrations that will deliver better value. Just like multi-user games might provide a bit more entertainment than playing a casual game with the system, if there are more cloud-based mechanisms that allow end-users to connect with other end-users, effect change on a remote display or have a system provide real-time data, that holds much more interest than canned videos, no matter how well produced. Again please avoid “visual wallpaper” videos/image—they are a pure waste of your resources.
An application that combines proximity sensors with content that an end-user has requested via permission marketing will be truly engaging and value providing. What if the door of a beer cooler in a liquor store were replaced with a digital screen that provided very relevant content based on sporting events of the next day or two or based on the temperature outside. To take it one step further, what if the content changed for the person who has downloaded the brand’s app and also allows the drinks cooler to change content based on the user’s own likes/dislikes. What if the user allows the cooler to address him/her by his/her first name? Some users may raise the privacy flag, but brands should be aware of pure permission marketing—do nothing without user’s opt-in. If the end-user indeed allowed the brand, at app download time or later, to change the content based on his favorite sporting team and also send back a coupon for immediate purchase of a merchandise or a free song or a chance to play trivia with a few other fans?
4. Mind the security features—attackers prowl
With the density of digital media growing, it is very important to note that the attack vectors for those looking to compromise systems are growing exponentially. With systems that are made well by knowledgeable people, the risks can certainly be mitigated. In the US and world over, there are ever more security breaches affecting ever more end-users. While, some end users have modified their habits, particularly usage of credit cards, even with constant credit card breaches from banks and retailers people have not stopped banking or shopping. Any security breach, however, would be unsavory for any brand—and depending on the severity of the compromise, it could be a PR nightmare or worse. It is, therefore, wise to use very knowledgeable teams and well-designed systems and continue to monitor constantly. Brands and their agencies only see the ideation and execution functionality and creativity—they need to put a lot more credence on security aspects—otherwise the alternatives could spell disaster. Typically, the weakest security links are where humans are involved and also at the interfaces of various systems. As the complexity of interactive campaigns grow the security attacks could also grow, but it all depends on how brands and media owners design their system.
It is an exciting time. The number and cleverness of digital executions are only limited by the imagination. From sophisticated computers in our pockets or purses to beautiful display canvasses in the street, shopping malls, airports, universities and even convenience stores and bus stops, all being connected via the cloud, we are in for a great year in 2015 for digital media.
- Sanjay Manandhar is founder and chief executive of cloud-based digital signage platform Aerva.