In the second of a two part series, Digital Signage Media Analyst Nurlan Urazbaev and editor, Digitalsignagepulse.com  writes on the Seven Hurdles to Success: What Will It Take for Digital Signage To Break Into the Mainstream Media? .
Earlier in the week in part one , Nurlan looked at the first three hurdles; ‘Selecting software: a quiet nightmare’, ‘Software price compression reality’ and the ‘Lack of comprehensive, reliable media buying tools’ and here are the rest of the seven major stumbling blocks that he believes need to be turned into stepping stones:
- Aggravation of aggregation. The past three years have seen several DOOH ad space aggregators go out of business. The visible reasons were lack of scale in the ad space offerings, absence of reliable ROI measurement and the high overhead of behind-the-scenes multi-network campaign fulfillment and coordination, which all happened to be manual.
As a result, the first aggregators were not able to sustain enough demand from agencies and their clients.
The feedback I have been getting from the agency/media houses side suggests that there is still an acute need for an aggregator-type facility that would offer combined ad space from a large number of quality networks, brought to common denominators in media research, planning criteria and audience/campaign ROI measurement.
The next reincarnation of DOOH aggregators should avoid the mistakes of their predecessors and build their platforms on the principles of automation, standardization and accountability.
Google’s AdWords and AdSense are great examples of how such platforms might function in the digital signage/DOOH space.
- Audience and ROI measurement: no industry-wide solution yet. One of the differences between online advertising and digital signage is in the ease of audience measurement. It is much easier to measure traffic to web sites (online data) than to capture the actual audience of digital signage screens (offline data).
Attempts have been made to measure DOOH audience based on TV-ratings model (Nielsen’s 4th Screen Report, Arbitron’s PPM, C3, etc.), whilst other providers have proposed electronic viewer detection technology (Quividi  for example).
Both methods have their advantages and flaws but today, in the digital age, I would definitely bet on electronic measurement. This technology will be capable of delivering real-time, network-wide, rich, continuous viewer detection data, as opposed to the last-century low-tech, limited sampling-based poll studies. It’s only a matter of time before electronic audience measurement is perfected, becomes more affordable, and eliminates inherent privacy concerns.
- Media currencies: advertisers will pay-per-what? Joint efforts by DPAA and Nielsen Media have brought a semblance of uniformity for some larger networks comparing them to television audiences via Nielsen’s Fourth Screen Audience Report.
Although this is probably better than nothing and may be a step in the right direction, I would like to point out that mere comparison to TV – without the addition of more meaningful metrics – would be a disservice to digital signage/DOOH media. Digital signage has very little to do with television, other than that its screens look like TV screens. On the other hand, this new medium can offer much richer campaign feedback than television, to which it is now being compared.
Viewer impressions, recall, retention and CPM are the main currencies for TV, but they constitute only an initial set of metrics for DOOH. It doesn’t add to the current system’s credibility that, after decades of its existence, the definition of an impression (aka ‘opportunity to see’, exposure, ad display, ad view) remains vague and confusing.
In other words, the multi-billion-dollar TV ad spending is still hinging on a measurement unit that is hard to define clearly. There are indications that both TV advertisers and networks are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in audience measurement, and media research companies are promising a major overhaul.
Until then, why should the new and potentially more measurable medium be evaluated using a methodology that even its primary users find outdated? An old-school advertiser may buy by CPM the first time, but to sell a repeat campaign network operators will need at least some kind of proof-of-performance. Internet advertising has evolved way beyond that.
Anyone using Google AdWords knows that its advertisers are not even charged for web page impressions, those come for free, because they are almost irrelevant. What makes PPC advertising so effective and wide-spread is the fact that marketers only pay per action (cost-per-click-through) or per transaction (where e-commerce is enabled).
This has become the new standard of ROI accountability for new media and it should fully apply to digital signage, as well as to any other ‘digital media’. Until that happens, DOOH ad dollars will remain a trickle.
- Is content really King or is it the Emperor who has no clothes? Most of the industry insiders are tired of the ubiquitous ‘Content is king’ mantra. Nobody argues with it, but, ironically, very few networks follow it.
Lack of winning content strategies has caused many networks to fail and cast a negative shadow on the medium as a whole. Industry analysts struggle when they have to find examples of commercially successful ad-based digital signage networks.
The vast majority of existing networks were deployed with a ‘technology first’ mindset, despite the fact that their goal was to break into the media business. By contrast, successful networks build their business by first finding the right content strategy, then selecting the appropriate technology.
I think this problem is partially rooted in the fact that most network operators come from a technology background, not media. Fortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of media professionals flocking into digital signage/DOOH from other, slower-growing media segments. The danger here, however, is that some of them might be still bringing the traditional broadcast CPM mentality to a completely different medium.
As some of my colleagues and I had been predicting since 2003, content mistakes obvious to a media specialist proved to have caused the demise of a considerable number of networks. Content is subject to the immutable laws of viewer perception, whereas technology is just the enabler.
Here are some of the typical basic mistakes to avoid when building a content strategy:
Digital signage is NOT TV. The behavior modes of a person sitting on a couch and of the same person walking or waiting in line at an out-of-home location are polar opposites. Blasting a shopper or a commuter with a re-purposed TV commercial may seem convenient but it inevitably produces the opposite result. In most cases you only have 1-2 seconds to grab consumers’ attention. Hence the content should be and adjusted to viewer dwell time, behavior, line of sight and attention span. This may mean that your content spot duration can be anywhere from 2 seconds to a few minutes, depending on what exactly the customer is doing in front of the screen and for how long. This may also mean that there should only be 3 words in a bold font on a plain background to achieve the desired result. In any case, it is customer behavior that dictates how the content should be created, and not the convenience of the network operator.
Split screen or full screen? Split screens and tickers may look cool to techies, but advertisers strongly prefer a full screen for their ads.
Audio or no audio? Audio can only be effective in a very limited number of environments. Most OOH locations are not suitable for content with sound. Do not use videos that are supposed to have sound in a silent mode.
Filler content. The so-called ‘attract loop’ content such as news and weather or spectacular visuals may be an easy way to fill your screen time, but it’s undermining the very reason for your network’s existence. Modern consumers have more than enough of this infotainment at home and on their mobile devices, where it is customized to their tastes. If you are playing such content on your screens between ads, you are falling into the trap of the obsolete broadcast TV model: attract them with content and blast them with ads.
Your screens have to either play location-specific useful information and well-made narrowly-targeted ads or they should not be there in the first place. Wasting precious customer attention on filler content on expensive screens will not attract consumers and will not make any money for your network. On the other hand, spending time and money on straightforward, informative and compelling ads that help consumers achieve what they want at your location faster will pay off big time by bringing in ROI and repeat business.
Content loop and content slot duration. Very few networks have figured it out. Those who have, succeed. It’s part art, part science. Do site surveys, study customer behavior and dwell time. Experiment with loop and slot durations, test, change, test again, change again. Hire a good consultant to help you – my ex-colleague Dave Haynes  has written a lot about digital signage content mishaps and I highly recommend reading those articles