Breaking Through The Retail Kaleidoscope

September 21, 2015 by guest author, Michael Tutton


GUEST POST: Henrik Andersson, Instorescreen

How do consumer brands get noticed in retail, when consumers walk in and see a kaleidoscope of competing visual cues?

The big brands do what’s needed to get the prime visual real estate, and the rest do what they can in packaging and visuals to break through the visual clutter, get noticed and trigger actions from shoppers.

Marketers have been using screens in stores for decades now, using motion graphics and video that catches shopper gazes more effectively than static print. But it’s only been recently that technology has made this approach affordable, scalable, elegant and impactful.

The old approach: get a bulky monitor or TV, and something – even a DVD player – to play back a video repeatedly, and then stick that bundle on a counter or shelf. And hope the retailer doesn’t put something else in front of the monitor. And also hope the DVD doesn’t hang up or die, since it was never designed to run 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Today’s best practice: use thin, purpose-built devices that have a minimal footprint, are designed to fit the retail environment and engineered to run reliably for months and years.

Here’s what that means in real-world terms …

Screens with built-in media players can be designed and packaged to fit in precisely with new merchandising displays, or snapped into easily retrofitted units.

Instead of one static message – one product, one offer, one call to action – digital displays open up the opportunity to run multiple messages for multiple products and brands. They can be scheduled so that different messages run by different times of the day or week.

It’s well established that even a little bit of motion made possible by using video, instead of print, will grab the attention of viewers. That’s critical in a shopper dynamic that sees consumers constantly scanning shelves and counters, and mentally discarding most of what they see.

You learn a lot by working with some of the world’s best-known brands, which need products to somehow break through the visual clutter in retail environments. These brands tend to want to go well beyond simply sourcing generic screens for shelves, end caps and counters. They want fully branded units in company colors, with corporate identities.

That’s a very different ask, with custom engineering and design, commercial-grade electronics and dedicated small-run manufacturing.

That commercial-grade qualifier is very important.

Do a search on the Chinese tech site Alibaba for digital signage, and you will see 1,000s of returned results for screens and players of all shapes and sizes and pedigrees. If someone has the perseverance, and technical experience, it’s possible to find quality. But the majority of it is junk that’s built to sell, not to last.

A brand manager who cuts cost corners, or an AV integrator who doesn’t do his or her due diligence, by using cheap Android tablets or all-in-one signage players, will have done their first and last retail deployment. They’ll spend countless hours troubleshooting outages, getting replacements in place, and making apologies.

The wrong technical choices can be a nightmare, when there are 100s or 1,000s of units in the field, and they’re acting up or failing.

The far smarter approach is front-loading the true cost of using digital in retail. That means spending a little more on commercial-grade devices that are designed to handle the heating, cooling and power issues of running 24/7. It also means factoring in oft-missed but critical design issues like removing buttons that will otherwise turn off screens, and designing the systems so that if the store power goes out, when it comes back on, so do the displays.

It’s also particularly important to recognize and respect the sensibilities of brands. When I meet with brand managers, we talk about the challenges and brainstorm ideas. I’m not trying to sell something that’s already made. We’re collaborating instead on something we’ll make, that will get noticed.

We start with the message, the brand and the marketing profile when we create a solution. It’s only then that we select technology, screen and design – the right implementation for the job. Clients demands have led to integrated, stand-alone digital signage screens designed into almost every display type available out there today.

Here are two examples:


Years of working with brands have also taught us that while customization is the ideal, it’s not always necessary to start from scratch. A few baseline designs can work for a variety of different applications. That shaves engineering costs and also greatly speeds the turnaround time.

Customization, as a result, doesn’t always introduce big upfront costs or dramatically change the unit price.

Retail is a rough environment – from the dust in the air to the bumps from staff and shoppers – so we’ve learned the value of using a solid metal chassis and tempered protective glass – as opposed to plastic. Not using plastic can also shave a lot of initial costs, because plastic needs expensive custom molds, while metal just gets cut, bent and painted.

Client demands also led to us developing a design center that allows brands to order screens in their brand color and even get company logos printed on bezel frames.

The results are striking. It’s the difference between having a matte black screen that just becomes a part of the merchandising kaleidoscope, or a display that visual pops, and can’t help but be noticed.

When brands make the effort to market right in that last consumer mile of the store, it’s a waste of time unless they get that notice.

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