The Digital Signage Insider

Five key lessons from the At-Retail Media Conference and Expo

Published on: 2006-09-29

POPAI's now-annual conference on at-retail media just wrapped up in New York on Wednesday, and given the impressive roster of both speakers and attendees (and the fact that the conference ran during Advertising Week), it's clear that in-store media has gone from also-ran to front-and-center for many advertising and marketing agencies. While certainly not a complete synopsis of the conference, here are five key points that stuck in my mind after it was over:

Measurement and accountability are key

This was by far the most repeated point during the two-day seminar. Most network operators, metrics firms and self-proclaimed experts agree: in-store media does work. But measuring this success is turning out to be more time-consuming, complex and expensive than many had expected. So while many retailers and product manufacturers are excited by the prospects of advertising on new, in-store media channels, the folks on Madison Avenue are having a very hard time deciding if, when and how to buy this media. POPAI, ISMI, Arbitron, AC Nielsen and pretty much everybody else agree that the key to expanding the use of in-store media is establishing standard, reliable systems and techniques for measuring shopper consumption and involvement with media, and using those measurements to build accurate pricing and value models. As if to further hammer this point home, past rumors of Proctor & Gamble, Wal-Mart and a host of other blue chip retailers and CPGs working on retail media measurement were confirmed when the group announced that they are coming together to start work on in-store monitoring and tracking experiments. While it's still in the early stages and fairly small (the first test used infrared sensors in ten stores), we can be sure that groups such as these will continue to aggressively pursue all sorts of trials to gain insight into the efficacy of retail media.

In-store is the last mass-medium

We've heard companies say this before, and we've heard the media, ad agencies, and other related parties refute it. But I think the key here is not where the most media gets consumed, but rather how a series of fragmented markets can be addressed at once. As TV gained traction in the 1940s and 1950s, for example, advertisers took advantage of the fact that there were only a handful of programs that everybody watched. Thus, with just a few spots they were able to reach an extremely wide audience. Today, while mom is watching Desperate Housewives on ABC, dad could be watching ESPN while junior is watching MTV and the baby is plopped down in front of a Nickelodeon show. Instead of using one ad to reach this household, you'll now need at least four. But all of these people need to eat, and they'll all be at a grocery store or a Wal-Mart some time in the near future. The fact that in a given month the top 10 retailers will have 197M unique visitors -- while the top handful of TV shows will reach only a fraction of that number -- really illustrates the point.

Give people what they want

As Steve Farella from TargetCast noted, in the old days media companies used lots of war analogies and idioms when describing their strategy for reaching the consumer. Plans of attack, target acquisition and the rules of engagement were all frequently used terms. However, these days there are 500 TV channels, not five. Out-of-home media of all varieties compete for attention in stores, airports, and even on the road. Consequently, media companies have shifted from "going to war" to giving people what they want. They still talk about an engagement factor, but now it's less like engaging your enemy, and more like engaging your wife (and yes, there are a million jokes/analogies/witty jabs to be made here, but I'm trying to take the high road). For Farella and many others, this basically translates into a form of opt-in marketing, addressing the changing role of the family and our new fast-paced lifestyles, and marketing to people only when we're most receptive -- which frequently happens to be when we shop.

Don't forget about privacy

At the end of a fascinating presentation by Brand Experience Lab's David Polinchock on experiential marketing and some of the new technologies on the horizon, I asked whether any brands or retailers (or consumers for that matter) had looked into the privacy or ethical concerns of next-generation tracking and data mining products. I was quite surprised by his answer: privacy isn't very important for many young people, provided that they feel they're getting something of value (a customized promotion, better pricing, etc.) in exchange for giving up their personal info. I'm not quite ready to buy into this (I like to think I'm still pretty young myself), and I know that a good number of baby boomers aren't onboard with it either. Still, BEL talks to a lot of people in the right places, and if this is their experience, it tells me that perhaps more people should be thinking about privacy right now, since once that information's out there, there's no getting it back. (One need only look to the recent AOL search data fiasco, and the accompanying class-action lawsuit, to see how serious a privacy breach can be for businesses and their customers.)

Store research data can be surprising

Because they make good food for thought, here are some interesting stats quoted by some of the presenters during the At-Retail Media Conference. I haven't verified any of these, so use them at your own discretion.
  • IBN determined that four of the five largest radio "stations" in the US (including the three largest) are in-store audio networks.
  • PRN notes that the top 10 US retailers receive 197M unique visitors each month, and these people visit an average of seven times per month, for a total of about 1.4B shopping trips per month.
  • Hispanic shoppers are 70% more likely to watch in-store digital media than non-Hispanics, and have up to six times better brand recall for advertised products.
  • Retail Marketing Services discovered that placing a graphic or visual element on a shelf-mounted sign ("shelf barker") can generate up to a 35% sales lift.
  • And my favorite: Retail Marketing Services also studied the Tesco digital signage deployment. They found that while 42% of individuals looked at the screens, on average they only did so for about three seconds. Among other things, this underscores the importance of using short, to-the-point messages on in-store networks, rather than traditional 30 second spots.
Aside from the fact that I was running up and down the stairs every so often trying to get better reception on my cell phone, I was quite pleased with the At-Retail Media show and its speakers. It's worth noting that the speakers and audience members hailed from a diverse set of industries, including advertising, media planning, media buying, technology and ancillary services. Over the past few years, this once-disparate collection of specialties has converged on the retail space to address the unique challenges of marketing at the point-of-decision (or as P&G would say, the first moment of truth). That these groups are willing to work together (and in many cases are excited to do so) may be the best indication that those who know media -- and those who are responsible for it -- are ready to make a serious foray into the retail space. And if research like DDI's recent at-retail media survey is any indication, brand marketers are increasingly ready to consider in-store advertising as a key part of their marketing strategies.


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