Guest Post: Tim Pritzker, JohnRyan
Bank marketers have been sitting through what has to be the longest parade in history – the endless march into their meeting rooms of digital signage solutions providers.
The parade’s been going on for more a decade, and shows no real sign of ending. For every company that drifts off the radar screen, another one comes on, and asks for a meeting.
Banks are big targets for anyone trying to sell digital signage technology or services because they offer scale – potentially hundreds or thousands of sites. Banks, at least in theory, also have the sorts of big budgets needed for regional or national rollouts.
I talk to banks all the time, and what I often get from them is vendor fatigue and confusion. They’re tired of the parade, and they can’t really sort the diamonds from the cubic zirconiums, because the companies and their offers all look the same.
But they’re not.
If you’re in the financial services business, and looking to launch, expand or fix a digital sign network, here’s how you can start to differentiate.
Establish The Framework
Vendor selection can hinge on the answers of some simple questions.
Why has this project been launched? What are the objectives? How will the client know if objectives are met? What will be needed?
Equally as important: Who will own this project within the organization? And who will do it? How much will be done in-house, and how much will be outsourced?
Vendor selection has to factor outsourcing, particularly since so many clients are now asking for broad, even turnkey services that range from technical management to creative developing and daily programming tasks. If outsourcing only covers certain activities, that can influence vendor criteria. For example, if the plan is to outsource anything that touches the software platform, then the user-friendliness of that software is a moot issue.
Know what flavor of vendor you want. Don’t pick a technology company, when you are only interested in content. Don’t go for strong engineering, if what you really need is someone who understands your business. Do you want thought leadership, and if so, does the company provide it?
Unless you are simply buying software, a huge part of a successful client vendor partnership is a solid working relationship. It’s not going to work well if you love the platform, but loathe the people you’ll be dealing with day to day.
If you’re required to run an RFP, make it a smarter RFP. Try not to be constrained by the tight guardrails of these procurement exercises, and bake in the time, effort and method to get to know the company and the people who’ll effectively be business partners.
It’s enormously helpful to devote the time to get to know vendors over more than the filled-out forms of submissions and beauty pageants of presentation days. Taking meetings, running calls, and generally getting to know people and the operating and style differences of organizations can provide a wealth of insight that can’t come from a pure procurement exercise.
You’re steadily answering your own questions and ticking boxes.
How does the relationship feel? Do they respect your time? Do they add value? Do they speak your language? Do you trust them?
Test them: ask their opinions on things. Give them an assignment. Ask them to help you do your homework.
Be open to questions. This is huge. The RFP cuts communications when the best results and differentiation comes through open dialogue.
Focus the exercise. If there is a particular aspect of functionality required – like very granular, efficient media targeting – design the questions, use cases and demonstrations around that.
Ready For Whales
Banks are big, sophisticated buyers of goods and services – and in most cases a lot of different departments and people have a need to be involved in the technology sourcing, review and selection process.
If a service proposition is under consideration, the chosen vendor needs to be prepared to adjust to the considerable needs of what for them tends to be a “whale” client – an account often much larger than most of their other clients.
Whale accounts, frankly, can be company-killers. So much attention is required to learn and service the business that the vendor’s other accounts and business activities fall off.
You want a company that has sufficient resources and management processes to cover multiple clients, technology built for scale and efficiency, and a lot of subject-matter knowledge.
Realistically, that filter alone cuts out about 80% of the vendors marching in the parade.
Truly Smart Scheduling
Any software content management system can do the basics of getting video files to play on screens in some remote branch location. Not many do that with the blend of efficiency and data-driven accuracy that mirrors the sophistication of what your bank’s online marketers are doing.
The top platforms in the digital signage eco-system have message targeting, scheduling and distribution systems that make getting content around highly efficient, accurate and fluid. If you are looking to sophisticatedly target content in house with minimal FTE investment you will need to invest in such a platform.
Here’s why: Basic digital signage systems can handle one or a handful of different playlists based on things like time, date and location. But what if your in-branch marketing decisions is based on a stack of variables, like geo-location, branch type, available services by branch, predominant language, community demographics, opening hours and on and on. That could manifest itself in 1,000s of distinct playlists.
The wrong system means a team of people doing nothing but building, verifying and fixing schedules. The right system means marrying branch data to smart scheduling, letting intelligent systems do the work, and reducing the resource demands and time to one FTE or even less, charged mainly with keeping the data accurate and adding new campaigns and messages.
The right system will also give you tools to quickly visualize, analyze and balance the programming mix at a macro level, by marketing priority or all the way down to individual stores and screens.
The list of companies that have a genuinely rich and efficient data-targeting platform is relatively short. It gets even shorter if your company’s database and systems people get involved in the filtering, asking questions about integration and bridging data between systems.
You also want system designs that can both empower and control local content development and workflows – so local managers have tools to produce local messages, but central managers have controls and approval chains to maintain quality and protect the brand.
Know It, Seen It, Done It
Whatever solution you choose for a digital signage project will involve a new learning curve for at least some of the people in your company. So do you also want to spend time and resources getting your solutions provider up the curve about the financial services industry?
Ideally, your last and arguably most important vendor filter is direct vertical industry experience. You want a vendor team that understands and has direct experience in areas such as:
- Proper, professional project management;
- Bonded, bank-familiar deployment teams;
- Meeting budgets and schedules;
- Experience working in bank environments during and after retail hours;
- Working with existing vendors and operating models;
- Designing platforms that minimize FTE requirements during implementation and ongoing management.
- Uphold security and operational policy;
- Function effectively in environments with significant bandwidth constraints;
- Expertise working with and within bank LANs.
- Insight and experience on driving sales results and experience;
- Low-effort daily management through scheduling design;
- Focus on strategy, not operations;
- Understanding of customer and branch dynamics, Merchandising and branch design;
- Understanding and experience in bank marketing processes, and the overall current and future business of banking.
These are not trivial things. You can chew up a lot of wasted time saying what needs to happen, and explaining what’s not going to happen, to vendors who don’t know the business.
You can get the differentiation list down to a very short one, by filtering your vendor selection and options based on subject matter experience and insight.
It doesn’t reveal itself in a particular piece of functionality or creative element, but the “know it, seen it, done it” aspect of a team that has direct experience in a business and industry is incredibly valuable.
Most often, digital signage is a marketing-led project at the selection and operating stages. Marketers have minimal interest in how a platform works. They want to know what it does, that it will be reliable, meets their needs, and does not require a lot of new skills and competencies.
What really matters are words like safe, stable, efficient and intuitive attached to the platform, and words like knowledgeable and responsive associated with their vendor.
The digital signage parade can be endless, and your ability to make choices and move forward tough. But if you understand your full needs, and apply the right filters, it’s really not that hard to stop the parade and get your own digital signage project moving.
Tom Pritzker is the EVP Client Relationship Management at JohnRyan. He has worked for JohnRyan for more than 11 years. He has extensive experience in delivering high-performance digital signage networks. He currently leads a multi-disciplinary division responsible for developing and implementing innovative, client-focused digital signage solutions for the world’s leading retail banks.