I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the Digital Signage Expo (DSE) last month. Despite the lingering impact of the recession, turnout was impressive, and it's clear that this remains a dynamic growth industry. Walking the trade show floor and attending several of the seminars brought a few consistent themes and trends to the forefront.
The Content Imperative
For whatever reason, even as network operators invested heavily over the last few years in infrastructure, content seemed for the longest time to be an afterthought. But I think we've started to turn a corner here. Several networks were talking about the importance of content, having finally realized that people won't necessarily look at a screen just because it's there. Quality content is the key to a compelling experience, and is absolutely a must to create an appropriate environment for advertising. RMG Networks' partnership with The New York Times is one example of networks seeking to bring more compelling content to their screens.
Measurement is another must-have for any ad-supported medium. The Out-of-home Video Advertising Bureau has made progress in the last 12 to 18 months, and has been gaining traction for its Audience Metrics Guidelines. Beyond basic measurement, several companies have been developing software that enables a camera, mounted near a display, to determine when people are actually looking at the screen, bringing another dimension to measurement. The technology was again on display on the show floor this year, and is really beginning to grow into its own.
Relevancy and Usability
Some eye-tracking systems are also able to determine certain characteristics of the audience looking at the screens - things like age, gender, and even ethnicity. I watched in fascination as one demo screen accurately counted the number of men versus women looking at the screen, and then fed instructions to the content management system, tweaking the messaging to be most appropriate to the dominant gender currently looking at the screen. It's not quite the retinal scanning out of Minority Report, but it's certainly a step in the right direction for advertisers wishing to deliver the most relevant content. The privacy issue is already beginning to come up with these kinds of technologies, but the major trade organizations are aware of the potential risks and challenges, and seem determined to proactively create privacy-friendly guidelines.
Another interesting use of cameras was on display at the Intel booth. It had simulated a retail storefront window with a projected touch screen interface on it. It allowed for basic product browsing, and aimed to help shoppers find the physical location of objects in-store. The role of the camera was interesting - it could be used to adjust the height of the projected interface on the window, so that even a small child could reach the controls.
It's nothing new, but there was an explosion of touch screens on the show floor, ranging from small free-standing kiosks to gigantic flat panel monitors like the 80-some incher on display at the Intel booth. Major manufacturers from LG to Samsung and more had touch-enabled units on display. I was a bit surprised at the technology's inconsistency, though. You expect it to work like the iPhone or Microsoft Surface. Instead, some screens were just not all that accurate. In fact, I found myself frustrated by lack of responsiveness or utter mistracking more often than not. Clearly, this needs to be a consideration when making choices for installations. Turns out that all touch screens are not created equal.
I've always been a fan of the interaction between digital out-of-home screens and the mobile phone. Again, the technology isn't new, but it continues to evolve and grow. LocaModa launched its new digital-out-of-home app store just before DSE, and was showing off a new partnership with location-based social network Foursquare both on the show floor and on big screens at Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile shops. Lots of great stuff was on display, but we're just scratching the surface here. I'm betting this will be one of the biggest trends of 2010 - increasing interaction between the small screen in your pocket and the larger ones proliferating venues everywhere.
These trends and ongoing technology advances make the digital signage space all the more interesting from a marketer's perspective. Already, we've seen impressive results from DOOH media buys and custom interactive installations we've done for clients. These new and evolving tools will only help us to design better and more effective marketing experiences.
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Jeremy Lockhorn leads the emerging media practice (EMP) at Razorfish. The team functions as a think-tank on new technologies and next-generation media, and operates as an extension of current client teams. EMP is focused on driving groundbreaking marketing solutions for clients. Jeremy is a filter, consultant, and catalyst for innovation - helping clients and internal teams to understand, evaluate, and roll out strategic pilot programs while reinventing marketing strategies to leverage the power of emerging media. Jeremy joined the agency in 1997 and is currently based in Seattle, WA. His Twitter handle is @newmediageek.
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