I know advertising is cool and all. It's the reason that most websites don't have to charge for their content and I can still watch 30 Rock on NBC for free, so don't think I don't appreciate that. But advertising some random product across a hodge-podge of unrelated places is probably the thing digital signage is least good at doing.
The struggle between relevance and reach
Image credit: Steve Snodgrass on Flickr
However, once you start dealing in the currency of reach, you wind up sacrificing context, at least to some extent. And context is really the thing that makes our medium unique. There are still plenty of networks and meta-networks that let you find and focus only on contextually relevant screens. But the big network players know that you can't have your cake and eat it too. So they're forced to be very selective about who they pitch with "reach" and who they pitch with "relevance."
Scale isn't everything
Thankfully, even if agglomerated DOOH networks grow tenfold over the next decade, they'll pale in comparison to the other applications we'll find digital signs being used in. In fact, I'd bet good money that everything except big, heterogeneous DOOH networks will make significant gains in the coming years. Why? Despite the challenges of running a smaller digital signage network, the small DOOH networks -- plus non-DOOH networks of various sizes -- have a better chance of delivering real, substantive value to the end user than big DOOH networks do. Consider these examples:
- Retail merchandising networks: An improved retail experience is one of the few things that will keep people from shifting even more of their dollars to online sales, and retailers know this. By making the store a more exciting and interactive place to shop, store owners can help keep their brick-and-mortar venues relevant to 21st century shoppers.
- Small DOOH networks: This sounds counterintuitive, since I just said that DOOH doesn't work. But small advertising networks certainly can and do. The small guys can cater to local and hyperlocal advertisers, can guarantee contextual relevance, and can make a business model out of having enough screens to cover a few blocks, a whole city or a small geographic zone. Social apps may make selling ads on these screens easier too.
- Niche-focused DOOH networks: Not all big DOOH networks will struggle. In fact, those focused on specific vertical market segments or venue types (whether they be all pediatricians' offices, all RC hobby stores or whatever) can also play the relevance card. They start with a smaller pool of advertisers than a nationwide network might, but each of those advertisers has a much more vested interested in making their message heard at or near the point of decision.
- Non-DOOH applications: Digital out-of-home advertising networks are just the tip of the iceberg in our industry. During the past few years, not only have sales of digital signage systems for corporate communications, travel, hospitality, QSR menus and a hundred other applications outpaced sales of systems to ad-funded networks, but their overall share of the pie has been growing. As costs continue to drop and content creation becomes even more accessible, I think we'll see an even greater acceleration of this trend.
What will the prevailing trend over the next decade be? The consolidation of small networks into larger ones, or the proliferation of tightly-focused micro-networks? Leave a comment below and let us know!