In a comment on last week’s post, an anonymous reader named Chuck (Can you be anonymous and sign your name?) provided some interesting fodder for discussion. Chuck made two interesting points. The first was this:

“Instead of focusing on name changes DPAA nee OVAB should focus on credentialization. And not just a methodology, but a gold seal.”

This is a good point, although maybe not on DPAA’s radar. Last October, I took a shot at suggesting that such a trend was forthcoming in this post. So far, it hasn’t occurred, but Chuck’s comment would seem to indicate that others have thought about what is needed and what would be helpful to all entities in this business. It may make the most sense for an entity such as Nielsen or Arbitron to take on the task of certifying networks, report formats and software platforms, since the people most interested in such a certification will be the advertisers. They would almost certainly charge for the effort, and publish standards and a certification process to lend additional credibility to the program. For their part, DPAA is primarily concerned with driving advertising revenue to their members. Their establishment of standards is an effort to certify their members as worthy of advertiser trust and investment. Providing a certification service to non-members might be problematic for those who pay the very hefty dues levied by DPAA. So Chuck, it likely won’t be DPAA, but you are certainly on to something there.

The second comment was a bit more provocative. Chuck questions the status and future relevance of the digital signage industry itself in light of projected technology advances (emphasis added by me):

“I think we all know where it will go in the next 2-5 years with internet-ready flat screen TVs in American houses and geo-targetable smart phones in our hands. The question is whether OVAB (doh! DPAA) and this space we mistakenly call an industry want a more integrated role or to be jumped as an afterthought.”

I am ambivalent on this one. It is hard to argue that the natural progression of consumer televisions will not include integration of internet capabilities. This, combined with advances made by the cable industry will make many televisions addressable and potentially interactive. I read that smartphone penetration in the U.S. is going to take a giant leap forward in the next 15 months. It is also hard to argue against the thought that people are going to be targetable at home and on the go. I think the nuance here is that targetability in and of itself is terrific, but it is not the end game. Closing the deal is the end game.

One way to look at the different channels of traditional and digital media is through a lens that filters them on two axes: contextual relevance and ability to finish. Contextual relevance would be a measure of the relevance of any message received via that channel, given the context in which it is received. Ability to finish would be a measure of how easy or possible it is to act upon the message immediately.

Messages delivered via print media generally have low contextual relevance. While the reader has opted-in and decided to receive the message, the context of the impression will only be relevant either randomly (Advil ad read while riding the subway) or in very specific circumstances (beer ad in the program at a ball game). In most cases, the message and the context will be disconnected. The ability to act on a printed ad generally requires specific actions: a phone call, a trip to a mall, a walk to a beer stand.

At the other end of the spectrum, online messaging is often optimized to to be contextually relevant. Enough is known about the nature of the site or page in question for advertisers to be reasonably smart about placement. And in an online scenario, the ability to finish is very high, even if the gratification is often delayed.

Digital signage by its nature has very high contextual relevance. Because messages are targeted to the environment they appear in, this is one of the real advantages of narrowcasting. Think about the laundry detergent ad in the grocery store, the beer ad in the convenience store, or the pharmaceutical ad in the medical office. Each is relevant in the context of the location of the display itself. The ability to finish for digital signage will vary, however. In retail environments, it is fairly high. In public areas, it is somewhat less. Chuck’s assertion regarding the need to integrate may not be far off base, at least as it relates to smartphones. It does seem clear that integration of mobile handsets and apps will be important to increase digital signage’s relevance and ability to finish. It will also extend the experience beyond the point of impression. His point that broadcast television will slide to the right in the chart above as TVs become internet-enabled is well taken. It is important to remember the mantra that digital signage exists along a continuum of media channels, and is not an end unto itself. I’ll disagree with Chuck and say that we are correct to call ourselves an industry, even as we struggle to find identity and leadership. But we’d be foolish to think of ourselves as an island. Thanks for the input, Chuck. Keep it coming.