Ask the Experts: How do we bridge the smartphone gap?

May 12, 2015 | by Christopher Hall
Ask the Experts: How do we bridge the smartphone gap?

For the latest of the return of "Ask the Experts" here on Digital Signage Today, we're going to get an industry expert to offer his commentary on a question of immediacy and concern to the digital signage industry (and many others for that matter): How do we reach the consumer on their phones?

So we asked Kevin Hunter, the COO at smart beacon, geofencing and location-based messaging technology provider Gimbal, to talk about bridging the gap from the big screen (large-format digital signage screens) to the small screen (mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and wearables).

The discussion ended up taking a long and winding road down all the way to the point of purchase:  

DST: What would you say are some of the keys to connecting digital signage screens or large-format screens, whether it's a digital billboard or an LED screen or an in-mall LCDs to smartphone screens and bridging that gap from the big screen to the little screen?

Hunter: As we've discussed before, they are both digital screens, right? That is, if you think about it, everyone has a digital signage [screen] in their pocket going forward, because it is a screen that's in front of us. And when we bridge that gap from either traditional out-of-home or digital out-of-home … it's a great opportunity to continue that conversation with consumers. And the technology is in the right place at the right time to really make that happen, especially with the willingness of consumers to accept that type of conversation and the ability to leverage relatively inexpensive technology that can be placed on these assets that can bridge that physical and digital world. It is a real opportunity to address that customer who is nearby — and having an understanding of that customer or the audience around gives you that right message for the right time or allows you to continue that message or that conversation with that audience as they have an interaction through their mobile device.

DST: To me that brings up two things: hardware and/or software and then psychology. What are the technological hurdles to bridging that gap and what are some of the psychological hurdles to bridging that gap? As you say, consumers are increasingly becoming willing to opt-into those conversations, but what are some of the ways we have to engage them or offer them value in return for entering into that conversation with us?

Hunter: First let's take the technology side of it. You mentioned software and hardware; to do this right, you need the combination of both. With the hardware, yes, it's inexpensive, relatively speaking, compared to other technologies, and it's easy to install and it's easy to get up, but there are some software components that really allow it to have the value that a consumer is going to demand.

First of all, one of the things that we think is very important is to make sure that, when a beacon for example is placed on an out-of-home asset, is that it should be protected. Out-of-home assets providers are making investments in infrastructure, and if they can buy a beacon and install a beacon, then they physically own it. That's great but they should also digitally own it, because there's the digital connection for that physical world.

And that digital ownership allows the out-of-home asset provider to really open up new revenue streams, because now in addition to the campaign they can sell the digital component and they can have the interaction associated from the mobile device with that consumer — and if you don't have the digital-ownership component you are basically investing in an infrastructure and giving it away for free to everyone.

So the out-of-home industry can supplement or complement their existing revenue and open up new forms of opportunity on the mobile side of out-of-home. Because it really is becoming a mobile-digital out-of-home play when you're bridging the physical and digital worlds.

Additionally is that that digital ownership is done through security, and it really secures that component between the consumer and the user. So I'm not just walking past an asset and then my phone is getting a whole bunch of different communications because I've walked past and it's unsecured.

As a consumer this is offensive to me, because I know that for the applications I've opted-in on that I have a certain expectation how I'm going to be communicated with; this secure component allows that to happen, allows the expectation of the brand to be able to reach the consumer in the way that was necessary and expected versus basically allowing apps to take advantage of any infrastructure that I'm close to.

And that brings us to the psychological component of it. One of the key things in this is that consumers are more willing to give their location or give their consent to accept these kinds of proximity engagements if they know what kind of value they're going to get. So we always believe that when the consumers know the value of the engagement — and that's basically, I've downloaded an application, I've opted in for location or proximity type alerts or notifications where I'm going to get value out of that — I'm willing to accept that opt-in. If I don't I can always turn that off.

And so putting control in the consumers' hands gives them the right awareness and ability to control the interaction with the world around them, and we think that's great. Because it's really one of the few technologies that really puts it in the consumer's control … and when consumers are in control they're more likely to use it, they're more likely to like it, and it's going to be well received.

DST: Finally, and perhaps this is self-explanatory, but let's spell it out for people: What then is the importance for marketers, brands, etc. of bridging that gap and reaching consumers on their personal screens.

Hunter: It makes that conversation more personal. It's really something that allows you to take more of a mass message and really bring it to the consumer that it's more relevant to them. Because even though certain audiences will pass by certain digital out of home content or out-of-home content, it's still a broader message. And if you can really bring that in so it becomes relevant to me it because either I have a loyalty or an affinity or I have a certain interest in that thing -- it has a more natural connection and it brings it to something that is frankly personal as well, my phone. And it's that type of engagement where, if I trust the message on my personal device, there is a better conversation to be had because it is a one-to-one type of engagement.

DST: Exactly; for the advertiser or brand it personalizes the conversation. But in addition to personalization, let's talk more about continuing the conversation. If someone engages with the digital signage screen, that's great, but they're going to walk away eventually. Can you talk a bit more about the value of continuing that conversation on the small screen once they leave the area of the big screen?

Hunter: That's exactly where I was going next, is that it is a continuation. It becomes personal; it becomes a continuation. And we've seen that as well. We've seen some campaigns … where it was a traditional out-of-home buy on the out-of-home asset and there was a mobile digital component to it, and there was an application that basically continued that conversation as that consumer passed by. And in doing so, what they saw was about a 21 percent open rate of that message. And they learned a lot as well. For instance, there were different types of openers, and different ways people take that message with them: There are people who do early opens, so quick opens, and there are people who do late opens. And so they started to understand how people take that message with them and continue it on.

Additionally, with the brand, with who's buying it, there's the potential for attribution as well. You can have the traditional out-of-home unit and then you can have the mobile side of that and then you can look at the conversion rate on messaging. But then you can say, "Did I actually drive customers to stores?"

So by leveraging the out-of-home and the retail sides together, you can actually show the effectiveness of the campaign from beginning to end. You can say, "Did I drive, based on this campaign, customers to my store?" and you can then measure it from beginning to end. And what we saw on that same campaign was a 12 percent attribution rate. So a 21 percent open rate with a 12 percent attribution rate against those customers — and mobile attribution campaign are usually less than 1 percent.

DST: And that brings up another point. So much of what brands, agencies and marketers want to do is measure whom they're reaching. So the more a solution for reaching consumers can prove its value by showing that and continue tracking the path to purchase, perhaps with a mobile payments play, it does seem to open up a whole new avenue for tracking ad-spend efficacy.

Hunter: That's where a lot of the conversations we're having are going. Because if you can go all the way to the point of sale either through a mobile wallet solution or even though coupon or other type of loyalty programs and you can truly get that point-of-sale measurement, that's the holy grail for the advertiser, for the brand and for the retailer to be able to measure that.

If you have an idea or a question for a future "Ask the experts" question, leave it in the comments below, or send it to me at

Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon at

Topics: Advertising, Audience Measurement, DOOH Advertising, Interactive / Touchscreen, Mobile Interactivity

Christopher Hall

Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.

wwwView Christopher Hall's profile on LinkedIn

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