The Digital Signage Insider

Sharpen your digital signage skills with 'Lighting Up the Aisle'

Published on: 2007-08-30

Considering that digital signage has been the "next big thing on the horizon" for nearly a decade now, there's no shortage of FAQs, primers and white papers designed to help people understand the deceptively complex combination of marketing, finance, business and technology that it takes to make a project successful. But while many primers offer an insightful glimpse into the heavily nuanced world of retail digital signage, few have been written from the perspective of the retailer -- the entity that will often share the greatest portion of the risk, and should supposedly get the greatest benefit from a network housed in its stores. Fortunately, retail media experts Laura Davis-Taylor and Adrian Weidmann joined forces earlier this year to release "Lighting Up the Aisle," a truly complete introduction to digital signage, and in my opinion, the first must-read publication specifically designed for our industry.

All right, you caught me: there are decidedly few publications for our industry -- Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy" and POPAI's "Marketing at Retail" are probably the closest matches (and yes, they're both absolutely, positively must reads as well). Still, Lighting Up the Aisle actually is a good read, and that's coming from somebody who has spent a truly disturbing amount of time poring over industry press releases, analyst briefings and project descriptions. The authors write to an audience that might be composed of marketers, IT folks and C-level executives, in a tone that offers of plenty of common sense advice without taking itself too seriously.

But more important than the prose, of course, is the practicality. This is a business book, after all, and we all want to know the secret to making our projects run like clockwork. The best part about Lighting Up the Aisle is that it's written by a pair of consultants who have seen more than their fair share of retail media projects. From the somewhat exasperated tone of certain paragraphs, it's also clear that they've fought some lopsided battles against uneducated and often unwilling interdepartmental discovery groups and project teams "tasked" with implementing a digital signage project without any clear understanding of whether it's even a good idea. In fact, one of my favorite sections in the book is a list of signs that a project needs to be abandoned. Among the reasons are some that I'm sure we can all corroborate, like:
  • You have no C-level support
  • There's no empowered project leader
  • The cross-functional team isn't on board with the business goals of the project
  • You haven't created the business goals of the project but are moving forward anyway
... and my favorite...
  • You get the feeling that you're a guinea pig
With so many purported projects floating around today, it can be hard for even an experienced sales team to differentiate between good opportunities with a budget and a plan, and pie-in-the-sky corporate obsessions that have no hope of ever being realized. Any opportunity that matches even just a few of the items on this list (or the more complete version in the book) needs to be looked at carefully, and with a wary eye.

As nice as the book is, it's not perfect. Intended to be an introduction to retail media services, it never delves deeply into any of the popular business models being used in stores today, nor does it examine any of the more spectacular failures that we've all heard about over the years. While both topics might require a better-than-introductory understanding of the market and its makeup, I'm an extremely strong believer in (a) learning from the mistakes of others, and (b) standing on the shoulders of giants. So I think that a chapter on each topic would have been a big help for getting people thinking pragmatically about the ongoing operation of a digital signage network.

Also, while the vast majority of the chapters are equally applicable to nearly any kind of digital signage project or installation, the few chapters devoted to business all focus on what I'll call "big retail" -- large store chains, hard and soft goods establishments and big-box retailers. While these guys are certainly some of the most exciting and visible targets, there are many, many more opportunities if we expand out into smaller chains (for whom some of the supplied lessons might not be so applicable), and tangentially related retail-like businesses including QSRs, financial institutions, and service-oriented shops.

Given these few minor shortcomings (which could easily be addressed in version 2.0, or even as a downloadable supplement), I strongly recommend that any company seriously considering a foray into retail media peruse Lighting Up the Aisle. Don't have time to read all 115 or so pages? Do you prefer having your strategic thinking delivered in easy-to-digest bullet points? If so, you can save some time by checking out the one-page recaps at the end of each chapter. It's a quick way to get the gist of a chapter and figure out which sections you'll want to spend more time researching. But no matter how you read it, Lighting Up the Aisle yields solid returns for a very modest investment of time, and given the deluge of new product announcements, case studies and financial reports published every day, there are very few industry resources I'd say that about.

This blog is one of them, of course :)

Oh, one last thing -- apparently POPAI is going to be giving away free copies of Lighting Up the Aisle to anybody who registers for their September 24th At-Retail Media (ARM) conference by the end of the day today, so if you want to get your hands on a copy (and maybe get it autographed by Laura, since she's speaking at this year's event), you can head over to POPAI's web site to register. I attended the event last year and was pretty pleased with the quality of the presentations. I certainly expect nothing less than that this time around.

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