A couple of weeks ago, I was reaching for a way to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of traditional and digital media.  What I came up with was the concept of mapping contextual relevance and ability to finish.  I thought it made sense, at least to me, but I was left with the feeling that there was a better way to articulate why it matters.  In the age of the internet, if you just keep reading, somebody will help you frame your thoughts.  It happened for me when I read Mike Cearley’s post on objects and relationships.  Mike has come up with some terrific thoughts in recent months from the perspective of a marketing and communications professional, and has brought welcome insight to the digital signage community in general.

Cearley’s concept of objects and relationships very crisply described in his post.  Content is a consumable, measurable object.  How, where and when that object is consumed (the relationship) will have a great bearing on its effectiveness.  The marketing imperative in today’s hyper-connected, multi-modal world is to understand how to match the object with the stage of engagement (relationship).  But the first step is to even recognize that different objects may in fact be required.  All of that relates back to context and relevance, the part that I got right.  Where I fell off the tracks, however, was tying context to consummation of the deal.  I think Mike hit the nail on the head when he ties it to engagement and relationship.  He gets it right because it is not always about closing the deal, it is about building the relationship (and hence the brand).  The customer will decide when and how to close the deal if you give him or her the tools to make that decision.  Now it really makes sense to me.

I had just finished assimilating Mike Cearley’s ideas when i came across this article (author unknown) on location-based trade promotions in the TPMA Outlook.  TPMA is Trade Promotion Management Associates, an association dedicated to trade promotion marketing.  The article looks at location-based mobile services and their potential impact on trade promotions.  What struck me was an insight that the author had after reflecting upon the emergence of mobile services:

“…mobile location-based advertising takes us back to the original purposes behind co-op advertising (back when that was its name).  Although co-op can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, it began to be a major force in marketing in the fifties and sixties, when it was positioned as a supplement to national advertising. It was recognized that, while national advertising could convince prospective customers that they needed and wanted a given product/brand, co-op could finish the process by telling them where to buy it and what it would cost.”

Co-op advertising really is the last mile of the object-relationship journey in traditional brand marketing, especially in the grocery and mass merchant channels.  Brands use mass media channels to build awareness, and then team with retailers to change the object by shifting from a global branding message to linkage of the brand to price and location at the closest point in the relationship to the point of decision.  It works, and it works because co-op advertising delivers the right message (object) at the right time (relationship).

The prospect of location-based mobile services changing the co-op game is very real.  Already, most digital signage solutions will allow for dynamic content based upon location or groups of locations.  That is not a spectacularly difficult technical feat, but it does allow for content objects to be adapted to a specific location or location type.  When you marry that with various methods of delivering objects (coupons, web links, recipes, etc.) to a mobile device that is known to be in the store, you have fundamentally moved up the value chain in the trade promotion game by getting to a higher point in the object-relationship curve. The branding object can be customized on the store’s digital signage displays, while the co-op offer (object) can be delivered in concert with that at the point of decision.  The effectiveness of such a shift in the co-op process would have a ripple effect on the publishers of FSIs (those store-based circulars that fall out of the Sunday paper).  After all, since the Sunday paper itself is shifting to PCs, Kindles, iPads and smartphones, it makes perfect sense that that final leg of the trade promotion cycle ends up there as well.

These are exciting times for marketers, brand managers and technologists.  Keeping an eye on the big picture allows one to see the very solid place that digital signage will hold as the time-tested model of messaging, branding and promotion meets the ever more capable tools in the hands of the consumer.  We are not an island.  We are the delivery mechanism for media objects in high value locations.  We’ve likely taken the branding or messaging torch from another media channel.  In some cases we may be the end point.  In others, we will pass the torch to another delivery channel, such as mobile.  In any case, if we know where the consumer is and can tailor the message accordingly, results are going to be spectacular.  Thanks to Mike Cearley and TPMA for helping me make the connection.