The Digital Signage Insider

Retail TV is effective, says Nielsen in-store media study

Published on: 2006-08-30

Retail TV network operator SignStorey just announced the results of a month-long study conducted by Nielsen Media Research. Nielsen sent its army of analysts into the field to conduct over 1,000 exit interviews with patrons at some of the 1,300+ stores in SignStorey's network. What was the takeaway, you ask (as if you couldn't have guessed it from the title)? Well, I think Adweek summed it up nicely: "[c]onsumers for the most part enjoy watching ad-supported media while grocery shopping, and their buying decisions are often influenced by such messages."

The Nielsen study aimed to do two very important things for SignStorey: measure the size of their audience, and measure that audience's involvement with the medium. It's awfully hard to sell ad space without knowing these two things, and yet for some reason, they are all-too-frequently missing from many digital signage discussions (though there are plenty of networks that have done it right in that respect, for example CompUSA TV and Wal-Mart TV).

According to the survey results:
  1. 77% of all those interviewed agreed that SignStorey was "an easy way to learn about new product" (that wording is so awkward it must be what was written on the questionnaire).
  2. 68% agreed that SignStorey would "influence their decision to buy the advertised product in the future."
  3. 66% agreed it would make them "think more positively" about the advertised product
  4. 44% agreed the advertising on SignStorey would "influence them to buy the advertised product instead of one they planned to buy."
In my mind, the last stat is the most interesting of the bunch. It tells us that digital signage has the potential to have a large effect on cannibalistic sales (e.g. the sale of one product at the expense of its competitors, without expanding overall sales for that product category). While that's all well and good for those who actually advertise on the network (since they'd see the sales boost, presumably), it doesn't necessarily benefit the host retailer very much, since they're just selling one product instead of another (though in most cases we do see a small positive uplift overall). In fact, if the promoted item sells at a lower margin than its competitor, the store's bottom line might actually suffer when promoted products grab a larger market share, so that's certainly something to keep in mind (although fully investigating this tradeoff would merit its own article, probably featuring an unhealthy amount of math).

The individual significance of these stats aside, looking at them as a whole reminds me of a blog post from waaaay back, which introduced digital signage ROI analysis with a "marketing funnel" diagram, showing the different mental steps in the typical consumer buying process. The remarkable thing about the list of statistics above is that they appear to cover just about every part of that funnel process. For example, stat number 2 fits right into the "preference" stage of the marketing funnel, as does number 3 (though it's decidedly the most subjective and wishy-washy of the group). Stat number four, if it's accurate, could fill in any of the top three levels of the triangle ("preference" to "sales"). And stat number 1 could could cover anything between "awareness" and "perception," the bottom four levels. I'm sure that Nielsen had a diagram like this in mind when constructing their questionnaire, but to get such strong results in all of the segments is really quite something.

As nice as it would be to go around touting these statistics to potential network hosts and advertisers alike, there are a few caveats to consider. First and foremost, this is vendor-sponsored research, and thus must be examined with a critical eye. While I'm sure that both SignStorey and Nielsen Media Research are upstanding companies that have every intention of precisely and accurately demonstrating the efficacy of the surveyed networks, you can't escape the fact that this was basically a sponsored study. More importantly, though, we should keep in mind that the collected data came exclusively from exit surveys, and if you noticed, there were no objective measurements (e.g. % sales increase recorded in POS data), only subjective measurements (such as "product was perceived in a positive fashion"). Yes, there were over 1,000 interviews conducted. But 1,000 people saying "I would be likely to purchase an advertised product" is very different from actually getting those 1,000 people -- or even just a fraction of them -- to do it.

Taken with the proper grain of salt, Nielsen's study casts SignStorey's networks in a positive light, and suggests that others employing a similar model can be successful as well. I would love to have seen some split testing to find out whether SignStorey's mix of news, weather, and wellness clips contributed to the performance of their network versus alternative programming options (e.g. varying the time allocated to ads versus information content, adding multiple languages, etc.), but perhaps they're saving that for a future study :) And while we don't have the smoking gun -- the correlative data showing how sales of advertised products increased -- we do have data showing that digital signage can have a strong positive influence on shoppers' perceptions of advertised products. I can't say that this study provides "the advertising community with the metrics they need to effectively utilize in-store media", (to quote Sequent Partners' Jim Spaeth in Adweek). But it's definitely another strong piece of data we can point to when helping agencies, retailers and brands understand the potential of in-store media.

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