Last week, MediaPost hosted its annual DOOH Forum and Awards Dinner.  The full day of presentations at the forum was generously streamed live from New York, enabling many remote viewers, including me, to enjoy the program.  The program was a series of panels with facilitators from the industry engaging with panels of 3 to four experts.  Topics included content formats, measurement, privacy, and planning.  Sessions were lively and for the most part remained on topic, and was worth the time invested to get the viewpoint of so many media planners, agency wonks and subject matter experts.  As I listened and jotted down notes during the day, it became clear that the thread connecting most of the sessions was that of standards, challenges and the need for usable case studies.  As such, it struck me as odd that one of the more lively and heavily tweeted sessions was at the end of the day on the topic of “what’s next?”.  The whole crystal ball thing seems to engage people, as it always does.  But it made me wonder whether our industry is ready for that future, or if we are rushing to build castles in the air, so focused on what we can do or might do with technology that we ignore the important foundation that they must leverage.  Coincidentally, a study that was released last week made me wonder whether we are ignoring the existing processes and partnerships between manufacturers and retailers, and acting as if digital signage entities invented in-store marketing.

Last week, the In-Store Marketing Institute and The Partnering Group released a report from the Retail Commission on Shopper Marketing entitled Shopper Marketing Best Practices: A Collaborative Model for Retailers and Manufacturers.  The study, sponsored by Coca-Cola and driven by a star-studded group of retailers,  set out “to develop a new model of effective collaboration for consumer product marketers and retailers.”  The study sets the stage by tracing retailer-manufacturer collaboration back to the mid-70’s when scanning changed the way the inventory pipeline was managed forever, through Category Management and Efficient Consumer Response in the 90’s, to the present day concept of Shopper Marketing.  Effectively, scanning-enabled data and  advances in computing capabilities drove big changes into the world of retail in the last quarter of the 20th century.  Even with all the insights and new processes gleaned from the nifty data warehouses, retailers and manufacturers have now realized that it all comes together in the store, where brand building, merchandising and marketing converge.  Hence the term “Shopper Marketing”, a concept that pulls together all of these ideas in the following definition:

“…the use of insights-drive marketing and merchandising initiatives to satisfy the needs of targeted shoppers, enhance the shopping experience, and improve business results and brand equity for retailers and manufacturers.”

Quite a mouthful, and it is explained in some detail in the context of a shopper’s Path to Purchase, a term we have seen and used in digital signage, and here is where the crossover point lies.  The theme of the study and a central premise is the concept that Shopper Marketing has to be a collaborative process between the retailer and the manufacturer.  Only through collaboration can programs and approaches be constructed that result in the desired shopper behavior and experience (targeted shoppers buying targeted goods, and liking it).  To accomplish Shopper Marketing’s objectives requires dollars, data and deeds that come from both sides.  It is much more than traditional trade marketing or in-store merchandising efforts.  It recognizes that the Path to Purchase starts with branding, ends with an in-store decision, and in between those two, the in-store experience can be an influencer.

At the MediaPost Forum, Jack Sullivan of Starcom (a true star in DOOH), recognized the place of DOOH in that in-between world.  He said that the DOOH industry needs to build a story as to why “we need to reach the consumer at this point (ed. note in the store) in their daily cycle.”   Sullivan also pointed out that the source of dollars for a retail digital signage network is not limited to advertising dollars.  He asserted that several other “buckets of dollars” exist, including trade dollars, point-of-sale dollars, and marketing dollars.  Networks that operate in retail environments would be well-served to expand their horizons in their search for revenue by drilling deeper into retailer-manufacturer collaboration.

Those of us in DOOH need to recognize that we operate in that nether world between branding and the in-store decision.  Ideally, what plays on retail digital signage would be part of a collaborative Shopper Marketing program.  The most effective content would leverage manufacturer branding, in-store merchandising and shared data and knowledge on targeted shopper behavior.  Most importantly, we would understand that there is more in play than an available ad spot and an agency to buy it.  The partnership, money flow and processes exist between the retailers and their manufacturers, and both parties need to be in play to leverage the potential of digital signage at retail.  DOOH networks need to become a part of that discussion, those processes and that money flow.  In the end, uber-hot social media or location based services are not going to transform well-established retail marketing partnerships.  They may enhance capabilities once a core foundation is built based upon solid technology, people, relationships, processes and execution.  What is next will be born from that.  Big castles are built on solid foundations.