Putting The “Context” Into Mobile With Digital Signage (Part I)

Five years ago a new era of mobile was born when Apple launched the 3G iPhone and iTunes App Store.  This one event became the foundations of a game-changing ecosystem that provided consumers with near seamless access to a plethora of mobile experiences.

Since the creation of this new ecosystem, nearly a million mobile apps have been developed, tens of billions of apps have been downloaded and innumerable mobile experiences have been created.

What has all of this innovation meant for consumers? Simply put: A lot of choice but not much context.  The phase “a lot of choice“ can be easily understood, but what is meant by “not much context?”

Broadly defined, “context” is the match between a consumer’s current location and the optimal mobile experience (e.g. app, campaign, transaction, etc.) for that location.  Before a context can be established, the consumer needs to know that one or more mobile experiences exist for a given location or venue.  They also need to understand the scope as well as the value of those experiences.

Some venues are trying to address the context issue by posting static signage with 2D bar codes or NFC tags that enable venue patrons to acquire more information via their smartphones or tablets.  Others are attempting to set context by deploying easier-to-find apps that are branded for the consumer’s given location.

While the preceding are certainly viable approaches, they put the onus on the venue patron to pull out their phone to “see what’s available.”  This typically inhibits consumer engagement because most consumers won’t engage unless they understand the value of the engagement beforehand.

There is, however, a way to provide context for the mobile user without requiring them to launch a mobile engagement before they understand its value and that’s with a technology called digital signage.

Broadly defined, digital signage is a system for managing the scheduling and delivery of visual messages to electronic screens installed in venues such as stores, hotels, restaurants, sports arenas, etc. The purpose of digital signage is to educate and then influence the behaviors of venue patrons/visitors.

Digital signage is one of the fastest growing technologies on the market today.  It can be seen delivering messages to large audiences in all types of venues and situations via ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted or isle-mounted screens.

Although most of those who develop mobile experiences may have noticed digital signage, it is likely that they may have never given a second thought to the systems, processes or value behind the displays.  It is also likely that they may have never given much consideration to the role digital signage can play in exposing their mobile experience to their target audiences.

Digital signage represents a tremendous medium for setting mobile context without requiring a mobile engagement before the consumer is ready. In fact, digital signage can be used to either passively or interactively expose consumers to a given mobile experience, guide them through the complexities of that experience and expose them to the overall value of the mobile experience.

Before one can effectively use digital signage to set the mobile context, however, one must first understand the digital signage value chain, the ecosystem and the types of networks that are available? Once these elements are understood, one can then begin promoting mobile experiences via digital signage.

Millions of digital signs are being operated worldwide.  These signs are grouped into networks that range in size from one screen to several thousands screens.   A network may be operated by either the venue owner/manager or by a third party.

Most networks are optimized for a given category of venue.  For example, certain network operators specialize in retail venues, others specialize in hospitality, still others specialize in quick serve restaurants, and so forth.

In order to promote a mobile experience on a digital signage network, one must first define the audience that is targeted for a given experience.  One must then identify the venues that most closely align with that audience and then identify the network operators that can service those venues.  Once the appropriate network operator(s) is/are identified, discussions can begin on how to best align promotion of the mobile experience with the digital signage network.

In conclusion, digital signage is a great tool for delivering mobile context and promoting the mobile experience.  The technology is, however, represented by a very fragmented market of suppliers and solutions.  These suppliers and solutions must be understood before they can be intelligently and effectively utilized.  In Part II of this post, we’ll delve more deeply into the digital signage value chain, the typical system architectures, the business models and the benefits of using digital signage to set mobile context.

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