Content strategy and development are key for immersive retail.
Marshall McLuhan, the academic who pioneered the study of media culture, famously concluded that "the medium is the message." He defined this to recognize that the medium by which a message is conveyed influences and, in some cases, supersedes the message’s content.
In retail, as we compete for consumers’ attention, how we communicate with our customers is ever-changing.
With animated, time-based content – dynamic visual merchandising (dynamic VM) – we can get complex messages across in a fleeting moment. At the Converse flagship in Boston, the large screen behind the cash / wrap (above) acts as a focal point, visible from the entrance and most places in the store. The content shows a pair of black Chuck Taylors becoming worn with wear and experience. Chuck Taylors become part of your life and you make them your own.
Elsewhere in the store, these words are displayed:
“Every pair starts out as nothing more than a blank canvas. But work, they become a unique expression of their owner. Because every scuff, mark and stain is a memory. Every stud, doodle, or paint drop is proof of who you are. [They] celebrate you, who have made Converse an icon of creative self-expression. Converse. Made by You.”
-Converse flagship store, Lovejoy Warf, Boston
This is a great example of dynamic VM: Traditional and digital techniques come together to tell a complete story. A big concept executed with great copy and smart video production.
The Actual Stuff of It
Content can be an overwhelming conundrum. Retailers and brands have more content than they think. Each season brings new products and brand images and videos created for look books, websites, print pieces, mobile apps, social media and traditional visual merchandising. All of those assets can be used in dynamic visual merchandising. It can be simply repurposed, used as-is, or modified for the in-store experience.
Start with the concepts that work in your current visual merchandising strategy. Take those but consider that the same message doesn’t work for every customer all the time and, with digital content, that’s just fine. You can tailor messages and experiences down to the individual level. And, for the most impactful dynamic VM display, your digital content should be accompanied by complementary traditional merchandising.
Building the Experience
When developing your digital signage content strategy there are three things to consider:
The Time and Place
As we try to move customers toward a purchase, it’s important to consider all the information we want to convey without overwhelming them. The right mix is as much an art as it is a science.
Logo and/or Identity: The best way to use digital to convey identity is in exterior urban environments. It can be used to supplement standard exterior signage and to compete with on-street activity. Animating logos with motion graphics has proven effective.
Brand positioning / Lifestyle: Often we see screens portraying seasonal, aspirational video accompanied with sound. This can be done with motion graphics as well.
Product: Features and benefits apply here. With a combination of video and motion graphics, you can quickly convey messages that would likely be ignored on a hang tag or poster. Demonstrating fit or use of a product, or the sense of luxury a fabric can provide, are examples. Keep in mind, this is not a simple reuse of web video or product catalog. It has been proven time and again that consumers do not shop in-store the way they do online. This remains in the realm of visual merchandising and thus moving the consumer along the path to purchase.
Promotion: The greatest benefit of using digital for promotions is the temporal nature of promotions and/or the location of the store. There are beginning and ending dates, subject to inventory levels. Ideally, the message is scheduled to bring attention to sales promotions and items for a specific time and place. This opens the opportunity to react to business activity without having to print signs on-the-fly.
Atmosphere / Entertainment: Currently, the vast majority of in-store digital is providing a level of place-making atmosphere – think animated wallcovering or lighting – or entertainment, such as music videos or movie trailers in a media department. Used to its potential, digital – screen-based imagery tied to lighting, for example – can cost-effectively change the mood and ambience of a space without significant expense.
Educational: In specific areas such as housewares, cosmetics or men’s apparel, educational videos or graphic-based tips can be used to ease consumers’ concerns about functionality, application or use.
There are many forms content can take. Whether it is repurposed or new, developed specifically for the in-store experience, a sophisticated content management system (CMS) will be able to ingest a variety of file formats and feeds and apply them to the right experience correctly.
Video / Audio: These are what most people think of when they think of digital signage: discreet, short clips put in a playlist, played in order and looped. These can include motion graphics (animations) or full-motion video.
We are seeing an increased interest in livestreams, and new compression technology (think Periscope, Facebook Live, Instagram, Snapchat stories) is making real-time video more viable.
Feeds / Frames: News, weather and sports are the most widely used content feeds. They are text-based and have very small bandwidth requirements. The same technology is being applied to social media. User-generated content from social media can be fed into a networked CMS and provide customer lifestyle and testimony in nearly real time. (These feeds need to be filtered for offensive or inappropriate content.)
Similarly, product catalogs can be delivered via feeds into an “endless aisle” kiosk or staff tablets that aid in the sale process.
Dynamic rendering: Some CMS platforms allow for system generated content. That is, the CMS draws from a database of pictures, descriptions, sizing, inventory levels and localized pricing, and renders the on-screen content according to aesthetic rules, such as placement of imagery, font and size, background textures and colors.
For example, a template can be developed at a home store to introduce the interior design services of certified designers. The individuals’ name, education and expertise is housed in a database (Excel spreadsheet), and a template is deployed across all the locations that provide that service. The CMS understands where it is and who is attached to that location and creates the “spot.” If a new person comes onboard, the system reads only the data; no need to create a whole new video clip. This can be used to present information in local languages, too.
The Time and Place
Delivering messages to the right place at the right time is vital. Today we have proven technology that allows us localize the message. In-store networks provide the flexibility of customizing messages to particular locations. The highest and best use of this technique is using transaction and activity data to drive how a CMS presents messages.
For example, breakfast time is when egg sandwiches and coffee are sold most. A certain store might have a better track record with pancakes, so their customers will see more pancake imagery than those with egg sandwiches. All of this is easily possible with the right content management system.
Content development and management can be daunting, so it is important to stay anchored in what you know works for customers and to work with retail-centric vendors and service providers who can test ideas before major investments are made.
Chuck Palmer is a retail strategist working at the convergence of consumer behavior, technology and innovation. He works with retailers and brands, agencies and vendors on ideal consumer experiences. He has worked with JPMorgan Chase, Airstream, Macy’s, Crate & Barrel, Nintendo and JohnRyan among others. Chuck is a regular contributor to industry publications and is often called on for expert opinions. Find him on social media @cxchuck and ConsumerXretail.com.