I took my boys to see Star Wars today with one of my dad friends. We had to travel ~45 minutes away to the theatre we wanted to go to. All along the highway were traditional and digital billboards.
My friend is a CFO – he’s not one that likes to think that he thinks like a marketer or even a connector, whatever those two might mean. He’s a very practical thinker and self-proclaimed non-creative. But all of that really doesn’t matter – he’s a person who’s in tune with the effect of technology on our lives today.
So, we were talking about – as a brand – connecting with consumers through technology. And he said, “look at these – (pointing to the billboards on the side of the road) – will you remember what you saw a mile back? Much less ten minutes ago?”
We riffed on that and then he said more that stuck with me.
“I mean, they’re just not…personal. Even when you want to mass market to people, it’s really critical for it to be personal nowadays.”
This, from someone who doesn’t breathe this every day, someone who doesn’t try to solve problems around this very thing, someone who could care less, at the end of the day, how or what is done, as long as it’s profitable. But even this kind of someone understands the simple tenant to creating engagement – it’s got to be personal.
So, we can throw all the technology in the world at any sign or billboard or poster or other real-world object, but that technology is not realizing its full potential if it’s not doing something to create personal engagement.
The more technology is introduced into our physical worlds, especially on account of brands, the more critical that supporting campaigns will become. It’s not enough just to introduce a new machine, system, or even engagement based on a new technology and expect that the mass will conform, use it, and god forbid, actually like it enough to use it over and over. It has a much better chance of succeeding – given the assumption that the machine, system or engagement is technologically sound – if brands use other channels, communications, and ultimately dollars to raise awareness and drive engagement.
I’ve written before about Coke’s new touchscreen soda fountains – the ones loaded with 106 flavors. They’re pretty cool machines – efficient, easy to use, and a little fun, but they sure do take up a lot of room, especially given the fact that they only service 1 person at a time. These machines are a fairly drastic departure from something (the “standard” soda fountain machine) that has been around for years and that the public is conditioned to use. These machines provide a new way to accomplish a pretty important task, one that is taken thousands of times per day.
Now, on one hand, I don’t know if the public cares enough about how they get their soda when they’re out and about, and even further, if they would ever care enough to form an opinion. If I didn’t geek out about things like this, I wouldn’t. But on the other hand, one thing that I’ve learned over the years is that, despite what I care about, there’s someone out there – and usually a group of people – who have their own likes and dislikes and care about things like soda fountains. So, there’s a faction of public opinion at play here that could ultimately surface in one way or another.
Now, the truth of this is that, unless public opinion was/will form into a complete backlash against these machines, they’re not going anywhere. They’re only going to be distributed to more movie theatres or restaurants as time goes by. So on some level, the public is going to have to deal with this new way of getting soda from a fountain, regardless of what they actually think of them.
Here’s where Coke is really good. They recognize the need to gain support of this new way of doing things. So, the first step is to raise awareness, but their approach is to not raise awareness of the machine itself; it is to raise awareness of the benefit that the machine provides. This one machine can give you any flavor out of the 106 in its system and/or any combination thereof. No more being limited to the top 6 in its lineup because that’s all the “standard” fountains had room for. Yes, you could make a cool suicide (mixing all the flavors into 1 cup) then, but now, you can make an AWESOME suicide. Seriously.
Enter the creative campaign that they’ve launched – in the social channels and on mobile – to support (and gain support for) these new machines. Their Coca-Cola Freestyle application on Facebook gives users the ability to (virtually) mix any drink they want from the myriad of flavors, give it a special name, and share it with the world.
Trivial? Perhaps. But it’s fun. And it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s super simple to use, and it’s catchy enough to get other people interested. After I made my own drink, I posted it on my Facebook wall and a couple of my other friends got involved and made their own drink, too. Right now, the page/application is at 41,000 strong. Modest numbers, but I think this campaign is centered around deeper engagement, given that someone has to download an app and make a drink to really get involved. There is a barrier of entry, so to speak, that takes more active participation than say, a standard tabbed page in a brand’s Facebook presence. So, while raising awareness to as many people as possible (quantity) is key, creating a relatively deeper level of engagement (quality) could be more important to Coke. The campaign shouldn’t be judged by number of fans/likes alone.
In addition to their Facebook application, they’ve also created a mobile application – a game called PUSH! + Play. This game’s engagement is different than the Facebook application. This is a memory game where you’re introduced to the heap of flavors (still driving the benefit) and you have to “playback” the sequence that the computer gives you, in as fast of a time that you can.
The game is fun, too. I actually think it’s perfect for a train ride or a waiting room or even on your way up/down the elevator (because everyone has to be doing something at every waking moment, even when riding the elevator!) It’s casual enough to get started immediately and engaging enough to keep you playing over and over, to best your time and move up the leader board. (Leader boards are an effective “sticky” tactic. I think it’s one of the better improvements that Foursquare has introduced, but that’s for another post.)
It’s not all fun and (casual) games with the two of these applications. Yes, they do a good job of engaging you, but they also do a good job of informing you, too. They allow you to see where these machines are located near you.
For me, personally, these wouldn’t drive me into a new place, but they would drive me back into a place that I have frequented before, perhaps sooner than I had planned to. It elicits the response, “oh yeah, that will be cool for the next time I’m there.”
All of this to say that Coke is being purposeful about how they’re introducing this new way of doing things. I think this is what we can all learn from, especially in the “new” Out-of-Home space where technology is transforming our physical worlds into new things everyday – it’s important to compliment new machines, systems, and/or engagements (and content) with some sort of supporting campaign. Generally, the public will adapt to whatever is introduced, but the adaptation can be helped along through other efforts, like social and mobile engagements. Or print pieces. Or TV spots.
Too often, brands, marketers, and communicators of all sizes, struggle with cross-department and channel coordination. An easy way to bridge the gap is to ask, “What else are we going to be doing that helps this succeed? Is it a campaign? Is it a supplemental piece of content that someone might see outside of this particular activation? How is this going to be experienced elsewhere?”
More and more, the public consumes and shares media across various channels. This presents great opportunities to introduce and immerse them into the new “thing” that we want them to be aware of and participate in/with. And if we do it right, gain support, enough to accelerate change.
So, what do you think? Does Coke’s cross-channel support work in this case?
I read a great article the other day about a regular creative practice that is incredibly selfish, but incredibly brilliant, especially for those of us who just want to create. It boils down to a simple practice where you just get thoughts out of your body and down on paper. So, there might be some times here – like today – that I just write down some thoughts, more stream of consciousness than anything else. They’re not refined and they’re not packaged. Some of them might not even make sense. But they’ll be out. And hopefully, you might be able to take some nuggets away, and even more than that, hopefully they’ll serve as an inspiration for me to create something better to share with you guys. Here goes…
Next time you’re outside of your home, stop and look around. How many screens do you see? How many places/things turned “on” do you see? Screens are all around. In fact, what does the term “screen” mean anymore? What about the mobile screen in your hand?
Once upon a time, engagement was confined to a TV set or billboard. For the longest time, it was a passive experience. Then, along came computers, which enabled an instant connection to the information customers were searching for. This created an active experience. But time soon showed that the instant connection was no longer fulfilling people’s needs. So, enter the open web and social media, where the connection actually became a two-way interactive experience. But still, people were confined to their homes or offices with their tethered devices. At the same time, they were spending more and more time on the go, outside of those homes and offices. Those tethered devices were becoming more and more limiting. So, enter the mobile phone, where quickly, it became less and less a phone and more and more a device that enabled instant connection to information, people, and brands. In the process, those connections enabled experiences – dynamic, two-way interactive experiences. And here we are today, where passive experiences are a thing of the ancient past.
We’re living in a world where engagement extends far beyond our living rooms and offices. It’s everywhere we are. Out and about. On the go. It’s the world. “Out-of-Home” has taken on a new meaning.
It’s no longer a mass-awareness blanket, it’s a mass-engagement canvas. (Now there’s a thought, an inspiration.)
In her classic book The Artist’s Way, creativity expert Julia Cameron shares a practice she stumbled upon while living in New Mexico and recovering from yet another in a series of career disasters. Every morning, she writes out three pages, longhand, of pure stream of consciousness.
What Cameron is advocating through the practice of Morning Pages is the actof “Unnecessary Creating.” That is, creating for ourselves rather than for others.
A few key qualities of Unnecessary Creation:
You set your own agenda.
You have permission to try new things and develop new skills.
You can take as much or as little time as you need to get it right.
You can stretch yourself, explore fringe ideas that intimidate you, and make things that no one but you will ever see.
If you fail, it’s no big deal.
When we spend all of our time and energy creating on-demand, it’s easy to lose touch with the passions that fuel our best work. We grow used to leveraging our abilities for the sole purpose of meeting others’ expectations rather than exploring new possibilities and taking risks.
What a past couple of weeks it’s been for the digital signage industry. I don’t even know if I’m referring to the industry correctly anymore, given one of the key figureheads recently proposed renaming the term “digital signage” completely. Truth be told, I’ve never been clear on what to call this industry and even whether or not to call it an industry, much less what the industry is defined around. But in the end, I come back to the same thing – it’s the digital signage industry. Because it’s centered around digital signs – er, signs that are digital – and the industry is larger than a group and busineses are made around the components to run digital signs. So, it makes sense and it’s easy. I say “digital signage” (with or without industry) and everyone I talk to understands what it is, at least on a basic level. Semantics.
The true waves – those that could have a real impact on changing the face of digital signage, far beyond words – are being made by the people running business in this industry. Three major players, rVue, RiseVision, and Screenreach, have all recently hired individuals who live and breathe engagement. Not digital signage. Engagement. These are individuals who will benefit the industry because they have specific digital signage experience, too, but they are not about the sign. They’re about the engagement. That is an important distinction, especially for an industry that ironically seems to behind the technology-enabling-engagement curve. These individuals are awesome for the industry.
I think it’s interesting and admirable that each one of these companies created positions for these individuals. These were not positions that have existed before. They were made for these individuals. Before I get into that, let me just tell you a little bit about these individuals. I have the pleasure of personally knowing each of them and I’m better for it.
First up is Jennifer Bolt, who, for years, has been the head honcho for the media department at Tracy Locke. She has immense media planning and buying experience and knows more about the media side of digital signage than anyone I’ve met from an agency. She just joined rVue as Chief Strategy Officer. She knows, firsthand, the challenges that agencies face when guiding major brands through allocating and buying Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) (a la digital signage). She knows how to ask the right questions of brands to understand where advertising dollars can be pulled from. It is complicated – from a brand perspective and agency perspective – and as a result, the digital signage industry suffers. Jennifer is a wonderful addition to the industry because she knows how to talk to agencies and exactly where to go within them to be a guide and help provide clarity all around.
Next is Paul Flanigan who recently joined RiseVision as VP, Marketing & Business Development. Paul is one of my first and best friends in the industry. He comes with a wealth of experience in branding, marketing, and communications and is just an overall bright and seasoned guy. He worked with the guys at The Preset Group and before that he ran Best Buy’s in-store network. Paul is an engagement guy. He gets the power of digital signs and how if they don’t create engagement, they’re not realizing their full potential. Now, by working with a digital signage software provider, he will not only be able to shape the actual product, but he’ll also be able to speak to prospects about the true potential of reaching and connecting people when they’re outside of their homes.
Which leads me to my boy, David Weinfeld, who, too, was with Preset before going on to Obscura Digital and just last week was named Chief Strategy Officer of Screenreach. The first thing you see when looking at the Screenreach website is, “Turn any screen into a 2-way interactive experience.” This is a perfect fit for Dave – a place where social, mobile and digital signage collide. He gets it completely and even more, eats it up completely, and Screenreach and the industry will benefit greatly from David having such a visible role within it. He should be able to directly infuse social and mobile connections into what’s expected from digital signage immediately.
All three of these individuals should have an indelible impact on the industry. I find myself energized knowing as much. But this could not have happened if the leaders of the respected companies – Jason Kates, Byron Darlison, and Paul Rawlings – did not recognize the need, potential, and competitive advantage that these individuals could fill/enable. These leaders had the wherewithal and courage to create positions for other leaders.
As much as I can, I like speaking to pictures, not words, so the presentation might be a bit difficult to understand. For regular readers of this blog, my story and view of the Out-of-Home space has been chronicled here many times and the presentation is a brief consolidation of those thoughts. For those new readers, there are a few key themes in my view of Out-of-Home that are reflected in this presentation:
I am not a media person (like Jennifer). I don’t make my living working for a DOOH network (like Brian). I work for a communications company and I am an experience person. I’m very much in the connections business and one of the opportunities that I am faced with is how we can connect people with each other and the brands/organizations they support while they are physically outside of their homes. In a way, I have a grassroots approach to Out-of-Home, but that’s primarily due to the realistic application I can affect given my job. I’m fascinated by the space and the experiences brands can now create Out-of-Home so I think I have a pretty broad perspective, based on experience and study.
I’ve heard “Digital Out-of-Home” (DOOH) referred to as the 4th Screen (Nielsen dubbed it as such) and the 5th Screen and even the 6th Screen. People are coming up with “screen” names for the space that are pretty funny. So, when I started this blog, I picked a random number and ran with it. Thus, the 11th Screen. It’s actually been kind of serendipitous because in the past two years, I’ve realized more and more that we will not need physical screens to interact and engage with while outside of our homes. Technology now enables the places and things around us to be turned on and I think the future is not going to be defined by “screens” at all. So, the idea of the 11th Screen speaks to this notion of our physical world being projected on, interacted with, and made into rich experiences. At least that’s the story I’m running with. :-)
I see this “Out-of-Home” space as a blank canvas to create connections. Our society (and world) is based on human connections. Technology (especially mobile) has enabled broader and more efficient connections. It’s no longer the barrier. In fact, it’s a powerful enabler. So, the opportunity for brands to connect with people while they’re outside of their homes, on the go, is greater today than it ever has been. At the heart of connections is communication and effective communication is 2-way. This is important. Because it requires listening and engaging. Both ways.
Out-of-Home has typically been a great Awareness channel. Effective at getting as many eyeballs on an ad as possible.
The introduction of “digital” to the Out-of-Home mix, insofar as making the display digital, does nothing to channel other than to make it more efficient. Moving images and bling make it into “Digital Out-of-Home,” but it does not fundamentally change the channel.
What does fundamentally change the channel is a different kind of technology – “enabling” technology. Technology that enables connection with the brand or with other people. Technology like touch or gesture or Bluetooth or geo-location or image recognition. There are a fair amount of technologies that enable something digital or non-digital (bling or not) to drive connections. This kind of technology changes the channel from an effective Awareness channel to an Engagement channel, and this is the true potential, and the future, of Out-of-Home. In my opinion.
Then, some examples – the first Walgreens example represents the difference between non-digital Out-of-Home and Digital Out-of-Home. Adding a display technology onto the sign does nothing other than provide more space to advertise.
But, as soon as you introduce a short-code to drive connections on that digital sign, it instantly becomes another way into the brand, a way to connect with them.
Then, you can see other examples of the “Awareness” execution of the space compared to the “Engagement” execution of the space. And the space, again in my opinion, is no longer just billboards, posters, or kiosks. It’s the places and things around us in the real world – like products and packages – that are becoming channels into the brand experience themselves. This is the future. And to me, I’m afraid it can’t be defined as “Digital Out-of-Home.” That is much, much too limiting.
If you have any questions on the presentation, feel free to drop me a line. I’m more than happy to discuss in more detail. As always, thanks for reading!
Maybe your phone? Maybe the ATM? Maybe the self-check out at the grocery store? Heck, maybe even something like the Kohl’s kiosk?
When I think of touch screen, I think of all of these things. But boiling it down, I think of physically touching a screen to elicit an action. Whether it be for utility or experience, my finger becomes the mouse and guides my path through and experience. The experience is the thing. With expectations of fluidity in movement and functionality becoming higher and higher, it’s less about the touch and more about what it enables. The touch, though, is something that makes the experience instantly personal.
I have this thing about non-interactive digital signage and suffice it to say, I think any screen outside of the home not only has the ability to be made interactive, but it should be. Particularly digital screens. And that doesn’t just mean touch. How easy is it to include an SMS shortcode?
Well, Skittles might have just made the game a little bit easier. They’ve introduced a concept that I think all digital signage content producers should take note of: how to make content interactive via touch without a touch screen. See for yourself. And follow instructions – hold your finger there.
How simple, right?
So far, they’ve released 5 different videos and they’ve been pretty popular in a short amount of time (150K – 1.7M views). They’re short, (questionably) entertaining, and engaging. And that’s the key – they’re engaging.
Throw out all of the challenges like hardware and software – as far as digital signage goes – and you can really start to think about the reality of creating interactivity through a simple concept involving the type of content always running – video.
This is not the end-all solution for all those digital screens, but certainly for many of them within physical reach. There are many other factors to consider when deciding on the actual type of OOH/DOOH solution, I know. The thing is, for an industry that is so technology and advertising-centric – two debilitating constraints in pushing the limits – this is an example of how a basic piece of content, even in the form of an ad, can be manipulated to create engagement. How it can turn an otherwise static screen and message into something that deepens the brand experience and strengthens the relationship. And how creativity in storytelling can break down barriers that technology creates.
After all, it’s the content, not the technology that really drives true interactivity.
Thank you for using digital signage to connect me deeper with your brand. There I was stopped at a stop light and I looked over and saw your call-to-action. Then, in 7 seconds it was gone. But not to worry. I pulled in your parking lot just to get another glance at it. And while I didn’t need to go into your store, I sat there, in the parking lot, waiting for the CTA to come back. I learned about flu shots and 99 cent eggs and other random deals, and then I saw it again.
“Text APP to 21525 to get our free app”
Just that simple.
Now, I have exactly what the digital sign regularly says right in my own pocket. Plus barcode scanning prescription refills, photo niceties, and a store locator. Not to mention, text updates if I want them. I am truly connected.
I know, I know. You need content, or in this case an actual app to drive me to – to connect me – but you also know that they’re both important components in your engagement ecosystem. And because of this, you create them and utilize them. And you utilize the other components in your ecosystem – like the digital sign – to drive to them. You see the digital sign as a connector. And the app and texts as the engagement. Light engagement, yes, but enough to bring me into your store to buy stuff. And quite probably repeatedly. Well played.
I think many can learn from you and your ability to see the digital sign as a starting point and not an ending point. The experience can actually go deeper than the run-in with the digital sign. I know mine did.
Thanks for putting it out there big and bold, in your majestic red lights for all to see. Thanks for turning an otherwise digital-only sign into an interactive-enabling sign. It was a simple thing, but you did good.