Technology prognosticators have been saying for some time that this decade will be the decade of mobility. Judging by the events of the past couple of months, it would appear that the prognosticators may be right, and that those within the digital signage industry need to take serious note.
Less than two months ago, Google announced the purchase of a company called Admob for $750 million. On Jan. 6, 2010, Apple announced the purchase of a company called Quattro Wireless for nearly $300 million. The focus of Admob and Quattro is to sell ad space on mobile phones and then recruit mobile Web site and application developers to support the process for getting the ad's on phones.
The process, which is an example of "mobile marketing," works essentially like this:
• The aggregator sells ad space to advertisers/agencies based upon an agreed set of ad placement criteria (e.g. dates of placement, times of placement, viewer demographics, etc.).
• The ad and associated placement criteria are entered into the aggregator's database for eventual selection and placement within a mobile Web page and/or application.
• Concurrent with the process of selling ads, the aggregator works to entice mobile Web/app developers to participate in the ad delivery process.
• Participating Web/app developers add a script to their Web/app code. This script will ultimately query the aggregator's system for an ad to place and render within the Web page or application.
• As a mobile user views the Web page/app containing the integrated script, the script communicates information/criteria (e.g. type of phone, time, date, etc) to the aggregator.
• The aggregator's system selects the appropriate ad based upon the information/criteria provided by the script and then returns the ad back to the user's phone.
• The Web page's/app's script then renders the ad as a part of the Web/page. If the user clicks on the ad, the click through is recorded and control is passed accordingly.
Each step of the process is methodically tracked and reported. Ad delivery statistics and clickâ€through metrics are collected realâ€time and provided as evidence to the advertisers and/or their agencies to substantiate the aggregator's billings. The process, as a whole, is not that radically different in concept from that used by digital signage aggregators, but there are however some marked differences in what the two models can support:
• In the mobile model, the placement and delivery of ads can be managed to a very granular level. For example, mobile aggregators can deliver ads directly to an individual and even tailor the ads to the individual's historical preferences. This is possible in the digital signage space but only if the signage is interactive and the viewer registers at the sign, which is not typically a part of today's standard digital signage deployment model.
• In the mobile model, the user can respond to a personalized call to action right from their phone. This is possible on interactive digital signage, but as outlined in the previous point, the call to action cannot be personalized unless the viewer registers with the sign. Even if the viewer registers with the sign, it is not customary for digital signage viewers to consummate personal transactions on larger screens â€ kiosks, yes â€ 40 inch screens, questionable.
• In the mobile model, the user can receive and respond to an ad virtually anytime and anywhere so long as there is wireless coverage. This is not true for digital signage. The viewer must be in viewing proximity of the sign for the ad to be seen. Again, responding to ads while at the screen is not typically a part of the traditional oneâ€toâ€many usage model of digital signage.
So what are the implications of mobile marketing to those within the digital signage value chain?
First, we are in a new era of mobile communications that is manifest by the explosive growth of a new generation of sophisticated smartphone â€ one that is a part of a new mobile ecosystem. Because of this, mobile marketing will continue to advance and become more widely adopted over the next couple of years.
For example, advances in locationâ€based cell phones will add a new level of granularity to ad delivery and neutralize one of digital signage's greatest strengths â€ location-oriented content delivery. The implication here is that those in the digital signage industry will need to be as sensitive to what is occurring in the mobile industry as they are to what is occurring in their own industry.
Second, one has to consider the old adage that "advertisers will follow the money." Like it or not, mobile technologies can support very measurable marketing campaigns. Also, mobile marketing has the potential to generate very high response rates. It is clear that large, highly visible brands understand this and are investing very large sums of money to capitalize on the "move to mobile." Those playing in adâ€based digital signage must realize that they are in competition for those same ad dollars and be prepared to execute a counter response. Those with digital signage offerings that do not depend on ad funding must also be prepared to neutralize mobility's push for the viewers' eyeballs.
Third, if you haven't noticed already, people are looking down more than ever â€ at their cell phones of course. Look around. It's happening at an accelerating rate. In fact, during a recent trip to a bagel restaurant where digital signage was installed, it was noted that patrons, if not engaged in conversation, were almost universally engaged with their phones. On that particular visit, not once was anyone observed looking at the signage. Digital signage software companies and network operators alike need to start thinking about how they will support a convergent experience between the screen and the mobile handset. Purveyors of digital signage will need to give mobile users a reason to look at the signage before, during and even after they look at their handset.
In summary, big, unprecedented things are happening in the mobile space. It's a new day for mobility â€ one like we've never seen before. There will be broad and profound implications to the digital signage industry. The industry, as well as individual players in it, must be aware of what is happening and have a strategy in place to compensate for the threat mobility represents. Strange as it may seem, that strategy better include mobility.
Steve Gurley is broadly recognized as an industry expert and thought-leader in mobile and mobile content management solutions. He is a widely published author of numerous papers, articles and blogs on mobility and serves on numerous mobile advisory boards and committees, including serving as the current chairman of the Digital Screenmedia Association's committee on mobile. Steve is currently the President and CEO of Pyrim Technologies, a mobile business and new market development company.