This month, we welcome Ben Walker, CEO, Shopper Media Group, North Sydney, Australia.
- Shopper media network was launched in 2015. Tell us your background and how you got involved in the digital space.
I have been involved in the Out-of-Home advertising industry in Australia for more than 18 years, having worked at many of the larger companies such as oOh! Media and Eye Corp as well as smaller companies such as Media Puzzle. My roles have been sale-focused, selling large-format billboards, airports, shopping centres, place-based media as well as experiential. For seven years, I headed up oOh! Media’s retail media division before starting Shopper Media Group.
When we launched Shopper Media, we made the commitment to offer a 100% digital solution and pave the way in technology advances to change the way Digital Out-of-Home interacts with consumers. Being able to tap into data to better understand your customers, how they shop and why they shop, is a powerful catalyst for shopping centres to create relevant retail economies and social sanctuaries that offer consumers an attractive, integrated community that they not only want to visit but where they are happy to spend time and money.
- Who founded Shopper Media Group and who owns it? In how many malls is it now located?
Shopper Media Group was founded by myself and Ed Couche, COO, and we own 51% of Shopper Media Group. Blue Sky Private Equity owns 49% of the company. We are currently located in 250+ shopping centres across Australia and, thanks to impressive and accelerated growth, we are the fastest growing DOOH media business in Australia.
- You offer both single-face and double-sided, 55” and 65” Smartlite advertising panels that include advanced Wi-Fi and virtual beacon technology. How many units and how many advertising faces do you now offer? What is the average number of Smartlite panels per mall?
We have more than 1000 Smartlite units with an average of four Smartlites per mall. We run six faces per Smartlite.
- Your Smartlite Panels track shopper behaviour in real time. What exactly do they track, where they walk or what they browse and purchase or something else?
The Smartlites are digital advertising units using Ayuda’s integrated software platform to take advantage of the most technologically advanced, flexible software in the industry to manage sales, scheduling, data-driven digital ad serving and customer-facing enablement tools.
As part of our commitment to delivering unrivalled technology and innovation solutions in the OOH space we have also partnered with MIST. Installing MIST Learning Wireless LAN access points in the ceiling of each of our malls allows us to offer WiFi that is predictable, reliable and measurable by providing unprecedented visibility into the user experience. Each MIST access point distributes WiFi and has 14 virtual Bluetooth beacons offering maximum coverage.
MIST is the world’s first self-learning wireless network, powered by artificial intelligence. At Shopper Media Group, we understand that our malls are captive environments and as such we have installed a smart wireless network for the smart device era. In every shopping centre, we are able to gather advanced data and analytics, enabling us to understand – in real time – how many shoppers are in each mall, how often they come, time of day, and day of week. We also know how long they stay and can create a picture of what peak trading looks like.
This is all captured without anyone even logging on to our network. Should people log on – and approximately 70,000 people do each week – we ask them questions such as name, email, gender and age. This information is then tagged to their mobile device, and when they return, we know exactly who they are, and, thanks to social media which can create rich information profiles on who is in our malls, we also know what they like and who they follow. The aim of capturing these high-quality shopper analytics is to enhance the ecosystem between shoppers, advertisers and centres with tailored experiences for consumers that create a valued connection between the consumer and their local centre. It’s about creating vibrant, grocery-centric hubs, enabling advertisers to serve up dynamic and personalized creative that improves the shoppers’ experiences within the centre.
- I’m well familiar with beacons but what exactly do you mean by ‘virtual’ beacon technology?
Regular beacons are not connected to a network and need to be manually updated to request the information they send. Virtual beacons are network-connected through our MIST access points, enabling them to be updated remotely and offering location-based wireless services without requiring battery-powered beacons. Normal legacy type beacons are not scalable, since they are battery-operated, and usually glued to a wall every 25 ft., requiring a lot of time and effort.
- Your website says: ‘Working with our intelligent Smartlites network, we aim to share data and insights into purchasing behaviors to help drive innovation and improve consumers’ experience in the shopping centre environment.’ Please explain how you are doing that.
We are doing this in a number of ways. Effectively, each shopping mall is a captive ecosystem. When people enter one of our malls, they are subject to the advertisements that we show them and, via the WiFi and virtual beacons, we understand what is happening in each of our centres in real time. At any point in time, we have approximately 20% of our audience logged onto our WiFi, allowing us to view their social media profiles and the websites they are browsing, to provide key insights.
We also subscribe to several research platforms such Roy Morgan’s Helix Personas and, when combined, these formulate an impressive data stack. This stack allows us powerful insights into consumer mindsets and behaviours at the most crucial point of the shopper funnel – the point of purchase – as well as offering demographics and psychographic profiles for each of our shopping centres. Through this data stack, we can understand a broad range of things: an example would be the propensity of a particular mall’s consumers to purchase soft drinks, bottled water or any other category. With this sophisticated data-first consumer insight we are able provide the most targeted, tailored advertising campaigns of any Australian DOOH business. It’s no longer a case of ‘spray and prey’.
- Were your Smartlites developed through your own R&D, or how and where were they developed?
We do develop our Smartlites in-house. However, we use some external contractors for various parts, such as the high-tech, ultra HD screens.
- On your website, I noticed a graph of your data that included average time spent in malls, languages of the consumers and more. How do you gauge the languages? Are your surveys in more than English?
We understand languages by looking into what language is the main language being used on a shopper’s phone. Yes, our home pages and questions are all language-specific.
- Your screens allow Wi-Fi. Must consumers answer your current survey questions to use the Wi-Fi feature? Is there always a survey on the units? With how many questions? And are the questions related to what a current advertisers’ offers?
Yes, shoppers must voluntarily answer the question to get access to the free WiFi. We keep it simple and the bounce rate at this point is very low. We currently have more than 1 million surveys that have been answered and this number is growing every day. We generally have five-to–10 questions loaded at any point in time. However, each person only needs to answer one question. And, yes, we love to add further value to our advertisers. For some campaigns, we track recall of the campaign in real time using the questions.
- Your screens also offer local news for community efforts, school news, club information and the like. How much screen time is devoted to that? And how many advertisers are usually on the screens and for how long?
The share of voice is always one in six, and we recommend seven-second ads.
- Do you also offer information on, say, weather, news, or amber alerts? Why or why not?
No, we don’t. Some of our competitors offer weather info, but we believe that people have recently walked in, and they know if it is hot or cold or raining, and most people have a smartphone that provides this information so we don’t view it as adding value – and that’s key to everything we do.
- Are all your Smartlite panels equipped with Webcams? How are you using them?
Our Smartlites are all equipped with webcams, and we have the ability to do facial recognition. However, we are not using them at this point as we have not seen real cases where this genuinely adds value to our customers.
- A lot of shopping centres are now tending to offering theatres and other entertainment experiences. Are you seeing a lot of this in Australia? If so, how are you dealing with that on your screens?
In Australia, online is strong across fashion and consumer electronics, so there is a big trend towards the larger malls becoming entertainment destinations as well retail destinations. However, the suburban grocery-focused malls are not seeing this at all, since online is currently less than 2% of grocery purchases. Shoppers are returning with regularity to their local malls, sometimes three-to-four times a week to top up on what they might need.
- Have you complemented your advertising with any experiential offerings? If so, please give an example.
No, not to date, though we do see the rationale behind it. When we do it, it will most likely be done through the free WiFi. We believe this is better, because we can then have more accurate reporting and we’ll just target whoever is interested in receiving the product. It will also allow our clients to follow up with EDMs (Electronic Direct Mail) and communication through social media. Again, it’s about adding value to the consumer and the overall shopping ecosystem.
- Why are you now focusing on expanding your reach in grocery-centric shopping centres?
In Australia, we have three sizes of shopping malls: we call them Local, Medium and Large. Local and Medium-sized malls are grocery-focused while Large malls are focused on fashion, fragrance, entertainment and consumer electronics. Local and Medium-sized malls have a tight catchment area and, as such, have a very defined audience. We like this, as we can specifically target a certain audience with relevant advertising.
Thanks to our network of more than 250+ centres, we can offer mass personalization. For example, we recently ran a campaign for a Unilever deodorant brand that had 182 separate pieces of creative which were triggered by the weather. Shoppers would see a different piece of creative depending on the location of the mall they were in and the temperature at the particular time. This level of personalization is where we are heading and it’s expected by consumers, whether they realize it or not, as it shapes and enhances their shopping experience.
- Do you plan to offer other types of screens in malls? If so, when and what? If not, why not?
Yes, we have a network of landscape digital screens and video walls and plan to build this portfolio substantially. We are also building large-format atrium banners.
- Can you handle your advertising at scale across Australia’s states? How, if so? And do you have plans to offer your Smartlite panels outside of Australia?
Yes, of course. In Australia, most campaigns are booked across all states and we are in all states and territories in Australia. Do we want to move our product internationally? Absolutely. We believe our model is global best practice for shopping malls and, as we refine our practices, it is only getting better!
- I believe you have now developed an agreement with Ayuda for some or all of its offerings. Tell us about that and why you chose Ayuda.
We believe Ayuda has the best content management system. What we really like is that Ayuda is flexible – if we want to customize it to our needs, we can. Other suppliers don’t seem to offer this, and as our business is on a very aggressive growth curve, we expect to be offering programmatic buying, depending on the social profile of each particular mall in real time by the back end of 2018. Ayuda allows us the flexibility to be this dynamic.
- You were named a Westpac Business of Tomorrow in 2017. Tell us what that was about?
Westpac is one of only four big banks in Australia. Its prestigious Businesses of Tomorrow award aims to identify ground-breaking, entrepreneurial businesses that have delivered outstanding value to customers; have the capabilities to meet tomorrow’s challenges; and are positioned to contribute beyond their businesses to communities, industry and the economy. Westpac believed we fit these criteria with our vision to always improve the way DOOH interacts with consumers, and this accolade confirmed we are on the right path to achieving that industry shift.
- How big a staff do you have, and what did being named to the Westpac list mean to them and the company as a whole?
We have around 40 in our team. We’re only a young company. We’ve only been trading for less than three years. This award showed our team that we truly are doing great things.
- How do you envision your company by the year 2020?
I would like to think that by 2020, we will have the largest network of shopping malls in Australia and a high-quality WiFi network, positioning us as the most intelligent DOOH operator in Australia. This isn’t something our competitors are putting much energy into but we are looking to the future in which we see not just smart malls, but smart cities. The DOOH companies with the largest connected networks will be the ones who will have the ability to serve the most targeted ads and the most connected shopping communities.