First off, to everybody who emailed me purporting to hold the ultimate solution for measuring in-store media: Yes, there are numerous logistical and technological solutions out there offered by enterprising companies and industry watchdogs alike. Many of these are great products and services, and surely they all offer some benefits, but unfortunately they all have shortcomings too (some of which we'll get to below). After all, if measuring the impact of at-retail media was a solved problem, and there was one clear-cut answer, then nobody would be arguing about it :). Also, I'm really trying to stay away from mentioning a particular product or service unless (a) I've used it and think others ought to know about it, (b) it's really interesting, or (c) I hate it and think others should look out for it (though thankfully those haven't come up too frequently in the past :)
Now, on to this white paper by The Screen's Media Working Party. Composed of a group of firms in the UK including static signage purveyor Posterscope, telecom giant BT and digital signage maker Digital View, The Screen attempts to validate how existing, established models for measuring traditional out-of-home media exposure might be utilized for measuring digital signage exposure as well. To that end, they look at the measurement techniques employed in the UK for tracking static posters, radio, TV and print advertising, and suggest that there are four key metrics to track: impacts (exposures to at least ten seconds of screen content), reach (more like traditional "impressions"), frequency, and dwell time. They recommend the creation of different measurement "profiles" to fit different digital signage models, such as networks in common areas of malls, retail media networks, waiting room networks, airport networks, and so on, noting that comparing like metrics against a known profile will be more efficient than collecting data from hundreds or thousands of venues. One possible solution that they propose places a single standard image into content loops on different signage networks, and audience members of these networks are later queried as to whether they could recall the image or not (among other things). The theory here is that by normalizing the content across multiple disparate networks, the group can get a more accurate measure of the recall power of the screens themselves. While it's perhaps not the most elegant solution to the measurement problem, it's a workable technique, provided that you can get enough network owners to sign on and run the test images in their content loops. There's actually a great deal more detail in this proposal, but if you don't feel like reading the entire 27-page document, aka.tv has also done a nice analysis of it.
Appropriately enough, The Wise Marketer also wrote about the importance of trackable media this week, via an analysis of a study conducted by GfK NOP on behalf of multichannel marketing firm Epsilon. Their takeaway:
The Business-to-Business Marketing Survey indicated that customer insight-based marketing is taking budget share away from traditional mass media campaigns, and that marketers are increasingly relying on strategies such as 'micro-targeting' to acquire and retain customers. At the same time, many respondents also reported some degree of inability to adequately track, measure and plan their marketing initiatives.Trackable media, integrated multichannel campaigns and technologically-aided data capture and analytics techniques are expected to come to the forefront of major marketing campaigns next year as brands continue to divert more funds traditionally reserved for above-the-line spending to more direct and trackable marketing tactics. Interestingly, "72% [of respondants] claimed that cross-channel, integrated marketing is becoming increasingly important to their organisation, and 77% said they planned to increase their efforts in this area during 2006," yet, "approximately one-third (34%) said they were concerned that their organization was not properly structured to execute a coordinated, integrated, cross-channel marketing campaign." So, it appears that many brand and retail marketers will be retraining their staff or hiring consultants to execute their multichannel campaigns (whether or not these campaigns involve out-of-home media).
Finally, AdAge continues its rant against all things in-store media this week with an article about a failed interactive kiosk project...from 1988. Yes, that's right, we're going 18 years into the past, to a time when the Internet only connected the government and a handful of universities, a "portable" computer weighed 35 pounds (without its lead acid batteries), and a 9600 baud modem seemed pretty darned fast. As Mya Frazier tells us, none of this had anything to do with the ultimate demise of Videocart, a company that outfitted shopping carts with computers that would display location-specific advertisements as shoppers moved about their local grocery store. Instead, labor issues and the "razor-thin" margins of the grocery industry were the cause of the company's downfall. While I'm sure that both of these things were contributing factors, I don't think the cap ex of outfitting 46,000 shopping carts with an expensive and unproven technology helped much, either.
Frazier tells us that this is "a hard-earned point of view as the hyperbole around the potential of in-store advertising grows." I think it illustrates something a bit more elementary: if you don't run enough field trials to find the problems with your costly, complex and unproven product before deploying it to tens of thousands of locations, you're probably not going to be in business for very long. Oh, and double-check your business model before making a $40M capital investment and blowing your entire personal fortune in the process. If AdAge had simply said "here's an article that we can all learn from, let's try to avoid the same mistakes," I wouldn't have thought twice about it. But saying that the failure of Videocart nearly 20 years ago "Explains a Lot About In-Store Ads" is simply not credible. Too much has changed since 1988 to make a realistic comparison between then and now. Advances in logistics, inventory management and sales tracking have transformed major retail segments from food to furniture (can you say "Wal-Mart?"), and our consumer culture has changed equally dramatically thanks to the Internet. Don't believe me? Then you might want to check out how much product was sold online in 2005.
Media measurement has been a hot topic for a long time now, and until every man, woman and child is outfitted with a brain implant to monitor all thoughts and actions (and let's all hope it doesn't come to this any time soon), there will be an ongoing debate about the best way to measure media consumption, and what those measurements really mean. I'm hopeful that we will all agree (soon) on a way to standardize the measurement and monitoring of digital media networks, especially since it will help to serve as a bridge between in-store media, other out-of-home media, and traditional above-the-line media. I'm also hopeful that the good folks at AdAge will come to understand that in-store isn't a threat, shouldn't be discounted (because, when properly executed, it works!) and is an increasingly important part of many multichannel marketing campaigns. Sadly, though, I think we're also a ways away from this, and next week I fully expect to see an equally strained argument about how at-retail marketing will never be viable.... Perhaps they'll do something on the saga of NGN Networks :)