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.