Seeing signs: a how-to guide to ‘place-based media’

It’s about time we faced up to reality. We have a burgeoning digital signage industry in Australia and New Zealand that’s set to become part of a $2 billion global industry, but there are a great many confused brands and retailers. Recent Trans-Tasman research conducted by n.gage has uncovered 71 percent of brands and retailers are willing to look at digital signage models if they can understand the return on investment. However, a staggering 86 percent felt trans Tasman digital signage companies, on the whole, were not addressing digital signage from a holistic business viewpoint. So just how do we help these brands and retailers assess the role of digital signage at retail?

Let me share a story of a recent conversation I had with a marketing director of a well-known Australian and New Zealand retailer. Returning from a recent overseas business trip, the chief executive had briefed the marketing director to look at the possibility of earning revenue from digital screens provided free by a media company in exchange for running advertising. It seemed like a great option. It’s another revenue stream.

The marketing director had been investigating a digital out-of-home network and he wanted phdcreative’s opinion on whether this was possible in Australia and New Zealand. The good news is there are many DOOH companies who offer this free model. However, nothing in business is really “free”. You pay downstream. This model would come at the cost of supporting his own brand and of enhancing and supporting the in-store environment.

Furthermore, consumers are currently suffering from “digital blanking” as more and more companies choose irrelevant content to show within the store environment. However, there is a way of navigating through the various signage, software and hardware companies to find a partner that approaches digital signage in a more holistic, customer-focused way. And it involves six key steps: Assess, Involve, Engage, Brief, Create and Test.


Identify the business objectives. Is it brand building, sales uplift, entertainment, cross promotion, up sell, or loyalty promotions? Clarifying the objectives for using digital signage will help you assess the right digital signage model, as well as assisting in building the content strategy. It will also allow you to set the correct parameters up front for evaluating your signage.


One of the biggest problems we see is when our retail clients hand responsibility to one department without the continuous involvement or buy-in of the others. Given the potential capital expenditure as well as the on-going IT connectivity requirements, it is understandable why these departments may take control, however it is ultimately about what goes on the screen that will meet the business objectives. As such, the involvement of the marketing department is crucial.


Recent research by IBM conducted with over 30,000 consumers clearly identified that the tables have turned. Consumers no longer want to be dictated to. Instead they want you to listen to them, serve them and empower them. They will tell you what will enrich their experiences on the in-store screens and it is highly unlikely to be another advertisement from a credit card company. Your research will uncover whether they move left, or right, whether there is a queuing “issue” and what offers will they will respond to. Keep listening to them once the screens are in place, as they will continue to assist in your content strategy.


Brief a media neutral digital signage company, one that can offer media, proprietary or a mix depending upon their strategic recommendations. Ask them to assist you in building the business case and calculating your return on investment (ROI) and your return on experience (ROE).

This neutrality means you will receive a strategic proposal that will best meet your business objectives. It further enhances your opportunity to consider different hardware and software platforms that will be the best for your business. Consider a company that has strong links to research and content design companies so they can collaborate to bring you the best result. This company will also assist you in all aspects of the brief from hardware selection, IT integration, software, installation and maintenance.


A good content design agency will be able to map your customers path to purchase and understand what messages belong on which screen depending upon their placement. They will also be able to create messaging that entices customers with offers at the correct times of day. Do your homework to find a retail agency that can not only recommend the right content strategy but also manage your content on a day-to-day basis.


We advise all our clients to run a digital signage test in different store layouts that will most represent the final roll out. The most appropriate time to test digital signage is when you are opening or renovating new stores. Investing in good content strategy up front, even if it’s only for one to five stores, will provide the most accurate sales results to establish a case for the roll out.

In conclusion, brands and retailers may not be up to speed with the power of this medium, but they soon will be. Frost & Sullivan has forecast that the Australian Digital Signage industry will grow to A$58.4 million by 2013. With that much capital being invested, it is imperative that retail screens give back.

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