With PRN's announcement that they will begin a massive -- and I mean massive -- overhaul of Wal-Mart TV in 2007, it's clear that the advertising model for digital signage networks is here to stay. Yes, anything Wal-Mart does is an anomaly because of their size, reach and market share, and yes, PRN has been at this for a long time, so they have all sorts of first-mover advantages. But those things aside, under the right circumstances there is most certainly a way to profit from deploying screens to retail venues and selling advertisements on those screens. At the same time, though, the age of the simple ad loop is over. With flat screens and in-store TV networks having lost their novelty factor, customers are no longer impressed by short loops of bland ad content. Fortunately, the solution to the problem is already gaining traction in the retail media industry, while introducing new sophistication and challenges to digital signage networks the world over. Yes, the smart use of visual merchandising is the new rage in retail digital signage, and with a few well-planned moves even a boring ad-driven network can be recharged and revitalized.

The Wikipedia definition of merchandising (as it applies to the context of this article) goes something like this:
Merchandising, as commonly used in marketing, means the promotion of merchandise sales, as by coordinating production and marketing and developing advertising, display, and sales strategies to increase retail sales. This includes disciplines in pricing and discounting, physical presentation of products and displays, and the decisions about which products should be presented to which customers at what time.
Most in-store media falls into the subcategory of visual merchandising, since digital signs, static POP displays, and similar tools are designed to drive sales by showing a visual call-to-action. Further, in-store media can be classified under the category of retail merchandising, a science (or black art, depending on whom you ask) that encompasses a huge number of marketing practices and techniques, from deploying POP displays and optimizing in-store product presentation to creating cross-sales promotions and product adjacencies. Often overlooked are product packaging and even the store's own internal and external branding, but these too are a critical part of the overall merchandising landscape.

Armed with this knowledge, I'm willing to venture that practically every ad-supported digital signage network out there could improve sales performance and customer appeal by implementing a few of the following ideas from the visual merchandising world:
  • Don't bother force-feeding your network name to consumers: I know it sounds crazy, but the truth of the matter is that nobody cares if they're watching the SuperMegaMedia Network when they're out grocery shopping or walking the mall. Thus you, the sign network owner, must ask yourself: do I really need to develop my network's brand in the eyes of consumers? In most cases, the answer is "no." Most consumers aren't interested in who operates the signs. If you're worried about making sure that advertisers can find you, you should be working with your host venues to include the network in their line card, putting up a website and listing yourself in the proper out-of-home media directories. In the vast majority of cases, though, you're not likely to have advertisers knocking down your door dying to learn how to get on your network. It will be up to you to seek out and sell to them.

  • Do promote your host retailer's brand and core values: Ultimately, your network is there to support your host, and it's your job to integrate your displays into their venues. Brand your screens with the name of your host venue and make them look appropriate for their environment. Ditch the silly "you are watching the XYZ network" clips that pop up every so often. If you have extra time in your content loops, use it to extol the virtues of your host and remind consumers why they should keep shopping there.

  • Do work closely with the retailer's store marketing department: No matter how large or small the venue, your host retailer is sure to have someone -- an individual, a group or a whole department -- who is responsible for store layout and the visual presentation of products. Work with these store marketers to determine what liberties you can take to make your screens work in-store, since they'll know things like which corridors get the most foot traffic and which areas are drowned in sunlight during the day but are unnervingly dark at night. Store marketers will also know about the slotting fees, endcap display programs and other store-specific practices that could affect how you sell screen time. Bonus points if you can get your screens integrated into your host's co-op marketing program or at least on some unified linecard for in-store programs.

  • Do use your displays to complement the retailer's other marketing strategies: The content playing on your screens should complement the in-store environment, and preferably the other marketing programs that your host is running as well. Is your retailer famous for a particular color combination, logo or pattern? If so, it should be integrated into your content and transitions. Do you need to have blaring red and white targets flying about constantly? No, but those same icons might be subtly integrated into product shots, patterned backgrounds, etc. in such a way that they act as an obvious connection to the retailer without looking overused. Likewise, if your host has a well-known advertising campaign, consider integrating aspects of it into your own content program (having secured permission to do so first, of course). The same goes for static POP displays and other in-store signage: if there's a new look to these displays every season, your digital signage content should be timed to coordinate with that schedule.

  • Do make your content valuable to shoppers: Even the best-integrated digital media network is going to underperform if the content isn't compelling. Content is, after all, what the network is all about. Thus ads, promotional materials and merchandising content need to be entertaining, beautiful, funny... something that makes them watchable. Product-focused spots should feature price and availability information. Sales and specials should use the same imagery and language as fliers, TV commercials and other advertisements (and recently there has been data suggesting that discounts should be printed in dollar amounts, not just percent off). And consider adding additional content to your loop (either something general like news and weather, or something more venue-specific like fashion news in the woman's department, or Speed TV in auto parts) to encourage shoppers to keep looking at the screens. And of course, make sure the text on the screens is big and clear enough so that shoppers can easily see it from a normal viewing distance -- keeping in mind that they're likely to be on the move when they see the displays.
These suggestions might seem like common sense, but it's surprising how many networks (both small and large) still haven't tried any of them. On a recent trip through the northeast, I visited perhaps 20 different networks that we know of, varying in size from five screens to several thousand. All of them could have been improved in some way or other, and in several cases dramatic improvements could have been done quickly and inexpensively with just a bit of work and know-how. Integrating your retail signage system with your host's store marketing and visual merchandising programs is a smart move, particularly if you operate an ad-supported network in a particular chain of retail stores. But even networks in heterogeneous locations and single-brand chains should take note as well, as the basic concepts work there as well. Expand and promote your host's brand, integrate with the environment and complement existing marketing strategies, and your network will have a much better shot at becoming an integral part of the retail experience.


+1 # Luker 2008-02-04 22:05
We are launching a Denver based Digital Media Co. We will be placing 1 screen, 22-25", in C-store, gas stations and we are looking for the best solution to begin this project and help implement. Video and static? We will quickly expand to several hundred locations within the first year. Any ideas on vendors that can help eliminate headaches, and/or probs.? Luker 303-428-6300 office cell 303-960-9060
0 # Bill Gerba 2008-02-05 16:26
Luker: I stand by the estimates that we made in [[http://www.wirespring.com/dynamic_digital_signag e_and_interactive_kiosks_journal/articles/A_new_lo ok_at_the_costs_of_digital_signage_networks_and_co ntent-338.html|our budgeting article]] (where I just posted this same answer to your other comment), though obviously a 22" screen is going to only cost a few hundred bucks, so there will be some savings there. Additionally, for a lightweight panel you'd only need a 1-man install crew, so there might be additional savings there as well. My advice would be to get 10-12 screens out as quickly as possible. Nobody can make a decision based on a single screen, whereas a small network will teach you a lot more about how you'll need to operate your business and give you a MUCH better idea of the infrastructure you'll need to have in place as you get ready to scale. Just be sure to keep at least 12 months worth of extra operating funds in the bank -- it'll take that long, trust me :)
0 # narayanankutty 2010-03-04 17:51
Very useful reading. Going by the meaning of "merchandising" the most effective way of visual merchandising can be achieved by routine store walk with departmental managers, store marketing manager, corporate marketing manager, store operations manager and collectively identify the the needs and areas of Visual Merchandising by keep asking what? why? where? How? and When?
+1 # Puspendu Bhattacharya 2011-08-24 14:29
how to do visual merchandising for a fashion store or boutique!
0 # Walter P 2016-05-12 01:37
Digital and physical displays and signage must go hand in hand. Good article! To review physical displays, you can visit http://www.ww-pedestals.com

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