Last week, Nielsen published an article analyzing how much consumers trust -- or don't trust -- various forms of advertising. Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth is way up at the top of the list at 92% trusted, while the category most related to our industry -- billboards and outdoor advertising -- is down in the middle of the pack at 47% trusted. While we're still better off than the mobile space (where the trust rating is only 29-33%), that's still nothing to write home about. However, I think that rather than trying to boost the overall trustworthiness of out-of-home messaging, we're probably much better off trying to come up with ways to have our messages influence and amplify the more trustworthy means of communication.
The big picture
With advertising, rule number one is always "make your message trustworthy." As we can see from the chart above, trust seems to stem from the personal connection the individual can make between the message and its originator, and how closely related the individual is to the originator. It's kind of like Google's PageRank algorithm for the real world -- if you trust a message enough to say it, and I trust you, then by power of association I'll trust the message too. And if more people that I trust also trust your message, some of their trust will "flow" into the message as well, and I'll trust it even more. It's the big reason why Oprah's book club sells so many books.
How can digital signage networks use this to their advantage?
I'm going to dust off our old sales funnel chart for illustration, since the argument works just as well for non-sales messages as it does for sales messages:
Digital signs can influence every stage of the funnel, from awareness (for example, by advertising the presence of a brand-new product) to sales (by displaying promotions and calls to action at the point-of-purchase). Where they haven't been great so far, though, is in connecting with other types of advertising. Sure, we've seen some examples of TV and print campaigns extending themselves onto DOOH networks. I've seen a couple of clever corporate communications campaigns that use the same corporate avatar across all media. But when it comes to taking things like personal recommendations, consumer opinions and editorial content (the top three most-trusted forms of advertising) and bringing them to the point of decision, we've been terrible. This type of content also excels at leading the viewer through our funnel, from awareness to preference or even identification, depending on how much they trust the content.
I'll admit, making personalized recommendations appear on a screen inside a retail store would be a technical challenge, not to mention a potentially serious invasion of privacy unless the proper opt-ins and opt-outs were in place. But bringing relevant, timely editorial and consumer opinion content to the screen -- precisely the kind of information you'd likely find on the retailer's website -- should be a no-brainer, and would instantly make the DOOH spots more valuable to a campaign.
On the flip side, I've seen some pretty effective viral/social marketing campaigns that started out as OOH campaigns. There have been countless "confrontational" billboard campaigns, where an advertiser will intentionally put up a ridiculous or outlandish message, which will inevitably get photographed, Tweeted and shared on Facebook, and quickly reach far more people than it ever would as just a billboard. As an added benefit to the advertiser, the people doing the Tweeting and Liking are implicitly giving some of their trust to the message, which makes their own friends and followers a little bit more likely to extend trust themselves.
Building a foundation of trust
Whether or not your screens are meant to sell products, they're almost definitely meant to sell ideas. And the ideas your viewers will trust most are those that have already been judged by their family, friends and colleagues. Consequently, identifying these trustworthy messages and making them a part of your campaign can considerably improve the effectiveness of your messages, which is something we touched upon in our recent article about earned media. If and when it becomes possible to filter the larger message stream and show only the opinions generated by the people closest to your viewer, advertisers will have to walk along the rift of the uncanny valley, taking care to seem concerned and interested, but not creepy and overbearing. Until then, though, a modest and effective compromise is to use other sources of opinions that your viewers may already trust. By bringing in timely, relevant data like customer feedback, opinion pieces and editorials, digital signage owners can reap some of the benefits of these high-trust sources, and put that content to work at the point when it's most relevant to the viewer.