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diGital diSPlaY


When digital signage or electronic billboards are mentioned, the bright and colourful outdoor displays in large cities immediately come to mind. But, as Charles Vincent explains, this affordable and versatile medium is increasingly being used with great effect in a variety of different marketing and corporate communication applications.


he modern marketing world is no stranger to digital signage and electronic billboards, the best most readily identifiable examples perhaps Times Square in New York City in the United States (US) or the Kabukicho District in Tokyo Japan, the skylines of which are both filled with a kaleidoscope of gaudy, flashing facades advertising every brand imaginable. In areas such as these, electronic digital signage can emit television programming, menus, information, advertising and other messages. But digital signs, which can comprise liquid crystal displays (LCD), light emitting diode (LED), plasma displays, and projected images are be found private environments such as malls retail stores, hotels, restaurants and corporate buildings. Indeed, as the medium evolves, simultaneously with consumer patterns and incorporating the emergence of new technologies such as 3D or near field communication (NFC) to cite but two examples, digital screens are constantly allowing corporate marketing and communication departments to disseminate

information in ever increasingly imaginative ways. Another attractive advantage of digital signage is that in most cases it allows for 100 percent control, interactivity and integration of content, in most cases from a remote desktop or central workstation far away from the location of the screen(s), even in another city or country. From here content can be changed, scheduled and monitored easily, allowing for great creative solutions and highly effective marketing campaigns, incorporating one or more combinations of computer generated, full motion video, photorealistic graphics, text and animation. Digital signage is a highly dynamic means of marketing and communication, as opposed to static billboards and posters, in a variety of locations and means. outdoor adVErtiSEMEntS As mentioned above this is the most well-known and common form of digital signage. Utilised on a large scale, centralised electronic advertising systems can be used to manage huge digital billboards New York or Las Vegas; so live feeds of information can

be implemented (such as stock markets) and used to allow the managing house to control advertising campaigns on a city- or even countrywide scale. ShoPPinG MallS Shopping malls are the next place where digital signage has increased in popularity and is also readily identifiable. Mall managers in essence work for their tenants and therefore need to bring footfall into their venue. By displaying upcoming events and general information, digital signage systems have become a direct link with visitors to the mall and can become an incentive to increase the frequency of visits through the month, while improving the consumer experience. Moreover, the malls can also collaborate with media houses in charge of monetising those networks by selling advertising space on those same screens. Indeed, in a “ready to buy” environment, malls and retailers are the most likely places to implement a good communication and build what is known as “the last 10 feet” of the consumer’s buying process. This is where digital media not only intervenes through a modern and surprisingly


Since their debut in wider retail common spaces the world over, digital screens have become more effective thanks to their increasing sizes but also by adding new techniques to display advertisements. tangible tactical medium, advertising, but also doubles in effectiveness as consumer also perceived the medium to be informative due its message and location. Since their debut in wider retail common spaces the world over, digital screens have become more effective thanks to their increasing sizes but also by adding new techniques to display advertisements. In some places, thanks to technology such as NFC, advertisement can change according to the gender of the person watching the screen. In terms of reporting, those systems can also give a detailed analytics on the footfall, viewing frequency, gender and even estimated age of the audience, detailed information useful to marketers that has only largely been possible using online advertising so far. WITHIN RETAIL Within the retail business itself, the point of such an installation is both to facilitate a rewarding experience for the customer and also for staff training. Screens can be installed to display ambient messages, music and videos. In franchised venues such as food retailers, some media houses have taken advantage of this technology to create in-house radio station thus scheduling music through the day alternated with advertisements for specific brands, thereby replacing the non-profitable external and onedimensional traditional FM radio. Digital signage and its newer applications can actually help retailers even further. In a fashion shop, mirror screens can permits customers to look at themselves while another

product is being displayed. With interaction becoming the key of such technology, the retailers of the future are also taking their first steps with virtual dressing rooms: by seeing themselves in different outfits, customers can change choices by the movement of their arms and avoid trying on many different outfits before deciding on the right color and shape of dress. Finally, before and after opening hours, those same screens can turn into tool for communication with staff reminding them of their tasks and duties etcetera. CORPORATE ENVIRONMENT A common issue often confronts communication professionals in the corporate environment and that is how to convey messages to different departments, located on different floors or even different geographic locations, effectively. Here again, digital signage can become a solution and assure that the president or chief executive officer or department head’s message or internal memorandum are displayed and read. Other screens located in public areas can welcome and entertain visitors with the corporate video while they are waiting for an upcoming meeting, thus reducing their perceived time. At last but not least, Qatar being in full development, oil and gas and construction companies often need to remind the appropriate measures of security on site and in several languages, which is where strategically place digital screens, in high risk areas or gathering points such

Features and Benefits of Digital Signage Savings Digital media eliminates the need to print and distribute static signs every time a message or campaign needs to be changed and thus saves on printing costs and processing time. Prominence A well-executed digital sign has the stopping power to get viewers’ attention immediately and then allows a great opportunity to influence their buying decisions even more easily, especially when placed at the point of purchase (POP). Simplicity Digital signage systems allow easy and immediate changing of content at multiple locations from one remote authoring station. It also allows the marketer to modify a specific advertising message quickly on displays in one venue, or on any screen anywhere via the Internet. Standardisation With digital signage there is no need to re-do the existing campaigns by repurposing existing creative content from TV, print or Web advertising for use on the system. Although the use of those ads should not be encouraged, it is a real, inexpensive benefit when starting to use this new media.

as canteens, are also highly effective communication tools. Organisation and Benefits Digital signage is a technology used to convey information, the output can be a small LCD screens, and a huge LED billboards or even touch screens. While a huge amount of screens can be aggregated and managed from a central point, any responsible digital signage solution company will always offer to create “groups” and “segments” according to their location and time zone for easy content management. TheEDGE


Marketing & Design


USER IN YOUR FACE Having a successful website necessitates taking care of many attributes and is a process that needs to be carefully studied from start to finish. The cosmetic aspect – how the website looks and feels – naturally comes first, but the way people will interact with the website and its user interface is equally, if not more, important. Indeed, in order to create an intuitive and enjoyable experience for the user, the organisation of contents and their presentation needs to follow basic human behaviour. A crucial component of the overall site functionality is whether it is easy to navigate. Though from company to company the agenda may vary (for example, an insurance company’s website might differ in aim from a government department’s), apart from pure branding, the dissemination of information about a company’s services and/or products is usually high on the list for a website’s purpose. If it is difficult to understand where this information is located or to find this information on the site at all, or even to move from one page to another in a purposeful and clear manner, users will quickly move on to another site, possibly that of a competitor.

Online representation for companies in the form of a website has become a compulsory part of branding and marketing strategy during the last decade. However, despite the world wide web having been in operation for more than 15 years, as the internet and its usage evolves, firms still make mistakes in their attempts to turn the benefits of this medium into tangible returns. As Charles Vincent advises, there is a a wrong way and a right way to a build a corporate website as part of an online strategy.

In fact, research has shown that a high percentage of new visitors to websites leave a portal that does not meet their approval within 10 seconds of arrival. Often companies will become enamoured with all kinds of pop-up windows and other bells and whistles that might look attractive and – some might feel – add to the value of the user experience. But often they are distracting and clutter the point of contact unnecessarily, putting visitors to your site off to the point where they may never return. When it comes to navigation, simplicity and ease of use will always trump flashy gimmickry, especially if the latter takes a long time to load.


ANALySE thIS Creating a great website that attracts a decent amount of traffic is only part of the journey towards effectively utilising this online realm for your company’s marketing needs. To convert all these positive points into an accountable outcome you will need to analyse the result. Google Analytics is a free analytic tool that provides accurate number of clicks, time spent on your website and the source of traffic to your website. You will also find out which products or page were seen the most and can thus better tailor your site’s presentation, content and co-marketing in a far more focused manner.

Related to the above, aspects of design and content are also important in keeping users on your website. Images, graphics and other elements need to be web-optimised and load quickly as not all users have the fastest connections available. Text sizes need to be reasonably sized so that those with less than perfect eyesight can read it easily. Apart from making sure your site is easy to use and move around, adding a search functionality to assist visitors in finding the information they are looking for is also a good idea (third party searches such as those provide by Google can often serve this purpose). Of course, it is not just good enough to create a site that contains a fair degree of archive information and is easy to use. Another error many entities still make in this information technology era, is not updating their site regularly enough. New content creates an interest in visiting the page frequently and thus creates loyalty to the brand. Conversely, not doing so can damage the credibility of your brand. NEEDLE IN AN E-StACK These days anyone wanting to know more about a company, for whatever reason, would first look for an answer on the internet. Typing in (or as many might say ‘Googling’) the name of the business or the product he/she is looking for has become part of the modern process for gathering information. However, this is not a guarantee that users will in fact find your particular website. Competition is fierce for eyeballs online, and search engine optimisation (SEO) is the technical term for various techniques utilised to attract the most traffic to your website. SEO needs to be taken into account from the initial developmental stages of your business portal. These methods include adding succinct titles to every page, internal links from page to page, strong use of keywords and the proper kinds of headers.

Obtaining references from or creating partnerships with other non-competing websites that link to your website also helps. Online yellow pages websites, news websites and YouTube channels that your business could create, are additional means to promote your site and products where you still control the information. At present, Facebook is of course de facto the biggest social network that allows free representation of your business and is an ideal platform from which to promote traffic to your website. Similarly, Twitter and LinkedIn are other tools that can be utilised to drive traffic to your website. Again, this is where a decent interface and user-friendly site as well as regular updates become absolutely crucial to your success. GEttING AhEAD WIth ADvErtISING Beyond the investment in your own website, advertising on others can also be beneficial for brand recognition, advertising products and services as well as driving traffic to your site (especially beneficial if your site is e-commerce related) and is still an underutilised marketing tool. However this route offers numerous options, many in which a non-experienced buyer may be lost. Indeed, even if their number of visitors to a site is high, the chance of campaign success may be slim and costly. However, the advantages of a successful online advertising campaign can offer large returns. These include: • Relative cost effectiveness compared to print, plus outdoor or other media and payment options are often based on click-throughs and often are therefore more flexible. • Wider coverage from a regional to a global scale and better focused audience targeting and therefore better branding. • Tracking and conversion is far easier to measure (see Analytics box out). • Speed: online advertising is immediate. • Audience engagement. Online representation has become compulsory nowadays and yet a lot of companies haven’t reach the first step of having a decent presence. The promotion of the brand should be supported by the website which acts as an ‘online address’ of the business and gives value to the brand through its presence and the interactivity provided to its visitors. While a website can be the main point of sales for some businesses, it will generally remain an additional means to reach your audience – but as ever, most companies still need to take action offline thanks to a sound and strategic overall campaign.

Charles Vincent is the digital media director at Firefly Communications and can be reached at TheEDGE


Marketing & Design

better than


No longer a special effect in a futuristic James Cameron movie, Augmented Reality is a tool which can enrich a consumer’s brand experience. Charles Vincent takes a closer look.


n the April 2011 issue of TheEDGE, we discussed how Augmented Reality (AR) is being used by marketers to enhance the customer experience and improve sales. To refresh, AR is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. The example we used was of a swimming telecast, where a line can often be seen added across the lanes to indicate the position of the current record holder as the race proceeds, allowing viewers to compare the race to best performance. This indicates how AR technology enhances one’s current perception of reality. Modern mobile augmented reality systems use one or more of the following tracking technologies, each of which offer varying levels of accuracy and precision: • digital cameras and/or other optical sensors, • accelerometers, • global positioning systems, • gyroscopes, • solid state compasses, • wireless sensors, and • radio frequency identification

Since its inception, AR has appeared in many different guises. Besides telecasting, it has also proven extremely useful in object recognition, where, for example, the spare parts of a car’s engine are described to a mechanic. In fact, in the not-too-distant future, it may be possible to slip on a pair of AR goggles when trying to repair a car engine, instead of being confused by a manual. An AR system being developed at Columbia University in the United States (US) was tested on US Marine Corps mechanics, and appeared to help them find and begin a maintenance task in almost half the usual time. Marine mechanics currently have to refer to a technical manual on a laptop while performing maintenance or repairs inside a vehicle, which has many electric, hydraulic and mechanical components in a tight space. The Columbia researchers gave mechanics an AR headset when performing light repairs to armoured vehicles. The AR system provided assistance by providing threedimensional (3-D) arrows that pointed to a relevant component, text instructions, floating labels and warnings, and animated 3-D models of tools. An Android-powered smartphone attached to the mechanic’s wrist provided touchscreen controls for setting up the next sequence of instructions.

Marketing & Design

A whole new world AR has shown terrific potential for both practical and entertainment applications. And while the first commercial applications are beginning to appear in mobile phones (thanks to cheaper, smaller computer chips, cameras and other sensors), these have so far been limited to tasks such as providing directions. Researchers are working on practical solutions that will change the way consumers live, shop, and even meet each other. A new application developed by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a Swedish mobile software and design firm, allows users to point a smartphone at a stranger to learn more about them. The prototype software, called Recognizr, which combines computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking and AR, “takes social networking to the next level”, says Dan Gärdenfors, head of user experience research at TAT. Recognizr works on a phone with a five-megapixel camera and runs on an Android operating system. When the user points the phone’s camera at someone, software created by Sweden’s Polar Rose, detects the subject’s face and builds a 3-D model. Providing the subject has opted in to the service and has uploaded a photo and profile, the server then sends that person’s name, links to their profile on several social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook. Andrew Till, vice president of United Kingdom-based mobile software consulting company, Teleca, says, “You start to move into very creative ways of pulling together lots of services in a very beneficial way for personal uses, business uses, and you start to get into things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.” Similarly, the CrowdOptic application for iPhone offers users a completely fresh live event experience. Be it at a concert or sports event, the user is able to visually enhance the event experience. For example, sports fan attending a basketball game will be able to access and view vital statistics surrounding a player without even taking an eye off the game. CrowdOptic works by sensing the iPhone’s GPS location, compass heading, and time of day, to know which object is most likely being viewed through the iPhone screen. It does require at least one other user looking at the same object in order to triangulate the position. CrowdOptic then overlays the screen with data such as the name of a song being played at a concert, or a point guard’s free throw percentage at a game. Instead of marketing to consumers however, CrowdOptic is able to charge event organisers, sports managers and advertisers a premium

Researchers gave mechanics an AR headset that provided instructions, floating labels and warnings when performing repairs to vehicles. for extremely detailed statistics of knowing which performers are most popular and when. The company says it has already signed a contract with a sports management agency. Enriching and enabling Unsurprisingly, AR could also impact the way we shop. In TheEDGE’s April 2011 issue, we outlined how the software enabled furniture retailer, IKEA, to help customers visualise how the new PS range would fit into their homes. Similarly, British retailer, Topshop’s branch in Moscow will feature an AR-enhanced shopping experience through a Kinect-enabled dressing mirror. Outfitted by Russian agency, AR Door, the high-tech mirror allows shoppers to virtually try on clothing without having to go into a dressing room and change clothes. While Topshop’s implementation does not factor in size and measurements, the Kinect camera is capable of analysing video input for accurate size calculation, and this innovative application seems likely boost sales by speeding up the purchase process. From helping give navigation information to pilots and maintenance guidance to mechanics, to changing the way we buy clothing and watch live events, AR has the potential to radically alter how we interact with the world, professionally and personally. It also offers businesses a unique opportunity to provide consumers with information relevant to where they are, what (or who) they are interested in, and even what they are looking at, bringing an end to one-size-fits-all marketing.

Charles Vincent is the digital media director at Firefly Communications and can be reached at TheEDGE


Marketing & Design

Making the most of mobile

Mobile marketing has fast become one of the most effective tools in an advertising campaign, moving millions of consumers to become customers. Charles Vincent explores the channel’s branding and sales opportunities.

Marketing & Design


obile phones are a commonly owned device used for far more than merely making phone calls. Today, the mobile phone offers the user the opportunity to work and play away from the office and home, be it sending and receiving e-mails, browsing the Internet or playing games. And business is reaping the financial rewards. In fact, auction website, eBay, recently announced that it receives 94 bids via mobile devices worldwide every minute, while the site’s revenue from mobile sales has increased by 300 percent, to reach US$2 billion (QR7.2 billion). Says Clare Gilmartin, vice president of eBay Europe, “It’s staggering to think that US$2 billion worth of sales has been generated through a platform that didn’t exist three years ago.” According to the online retailer, the German and United Kingdom (UK) markets represent nearly a third of its global mobile sales. In fact, from the UK, on one day alone – December 12, 2010 – eBay generated GBP3.3 million (QR19.5 million) from mobile sales. Indeed, the growth in such revenues follows the development of mobile apps for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile 7, which have been downloaded over 30 million times. eBay’s mobile sales facts • Every second, a purchase is made through eBay’s mobile apps. • Three to four Ferraris are purchased every month through its mobile apps. • Thirteen pieces of clothing, pairs of shoes or accessories are sold every minute through its mobile apps. • 2010’s most expensive holiday purchases included diamond jewellery, designer handbags and luxury watches.

“Mobile is clearly becoming a new way people shop,” agrees John Donahoe, president and chief executive officer of eBay. “[eBay has] nearly tripled growth merchandise value (GMV) year-over-year…with strong holiday shopping momentum in the fourth quarter. In 2011, we expect mobile GMV to double to US$4 billion (QR14.5 billion).” Now marketers and developers are finding innovative and unprecedented channels in which to personalise offers and advertisements for consumers using mobile phones. The Internet ushered in an era of personalised advertising, based on criteria such as gender, country, language and the user’s choice of website. Marketers are able to define not only the location of the user, but the time and day of the click action, while Facebook has added depth to this with data such as the user’s name, friends and age. This has led to more accurate campaigns, where the target audience has been clearly defined and communicated with. In a world where accountability and return on investment (ROI) are critical, advertisers utilising these channels and new technologies are no longer subject to the expensive wastage that is crippling mass media. Mobile channels for advertisers By the same logic, the mobile phone – with its interactivity and geo-localisation – offers the same precise results for advertising and marketing campaigns. There are many options available to those looking to, for example, build awareness, increase sales or entrench brand loyalty. And while your brand may have a terrific website, it will ultimately be useless in taking the next step towards reaching potential customers, unless it is mobile compatible.

Mobile website advertising: The same concept as that of internet banner advertisements, but optimised for mobile websites. In-apps advertising: From audio and video, to in-ad downloads and coupons, brands such as Unilever, General Electric and L’Oréal are using in-apps advertising to create engaging experiences with consumers. Apple, for example, offers iAd, a mobile advertising network that allows advertisers to reach millions of iPhone and iPad users. Ad rich media advertisements are highly interactive, and, according to apple. com, users spend an average of one minute with them. Quick Response (QR) codes: This is a matrix barcode – consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background – that is readable by camera phones, and, when snapped by the user, provides information, leads to a specific web page or enables the user to download materials. QR codes have been integrated into both traditional and interactive campaigns, and appear in print campaigns, on buses and billboards, in guerilla marketing campaigns and e-mail marketing, on in-store displays, event ticketing, business cards, and couponing, to name a few. They allow marketers to measure response to campaigns, allowing for a easier return on investment (ROI) calculation, and helping to justify marketing budget spend. TheEDGE


Marketing & Design

Grabbing the consumer’s attention using mobile technology is one thing, but translating that into actual sales is something else. Innovative examples of where QR codes are used • QR codes can be found on the front-lawn For Sale signs in real estate. Prospective buyers scan the code with their mobile phones and receive all the listing information, including photographs. • Throughout an issue of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, QR codes offer exclusive video footage of its models. • In the music industry, acts such as Dave Matthews Band offer QR codes that grant access to free music videos and the opportunity to sign up for mobile fan clubs. An example of a QR code, now commonly used by marketers in mobile campaigns.

Augmented Reality (AR): Technology that is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input. To remove the ‘geek speak’, one is most likely to have seen this while watching sports, for example, in swimming telecasts, where a line is often added across the lanes to indicate the position of the current record holder as the race proceeds, allowing viewers to compare the current race to best performance. In mobile marketing, AR has been successfully adopted by IKEA, who wanted to help consumers visualise how their new IKEA PS range would fit into their homes. The Portable Interior Planner application includes images of furniture from the line. The customer selects the piece they are interested in, clicks on ‘Take A Picture’, and then aims the camera at the area of their room where the furniture might be placed. An image of the room appears on the phone screen, along with the selected IKEA furniture, which can be scaled larger or smaller to make it better fit the scene.



The customer can then take an image of the scene, and either save it or MMS it from within the application. Interestingly, although IKEA made the application available to customers through in-store posters and online, the retailer also installed Bluetooth pillars in certain stores which would periodically send out signals to nearby phones inviting the subscriber to download the application. Turning ads into sales Grabbing the consumer’s attention and making your brand relevant with mobile technology is one thing, but translating that into actual sales is something else. Mobile marketing has been able to give the market and user the information they require, enabling them to make a decision, yet any such campaign must make the purchase itself quick and simple to execute. With near field communication (NFC), developers think they have the answer. NFC is a technology that not only permits the user to interact with other devices and advertising billboards, it will also soon allow quick payments that are up to now still the domain of cash and credit cards. NFC mobile loyalty schemes will give millions of shoppers access to coupons and promotional discounts without the need for the actual coupons that have to be cut out of magazines and newspapers. An NFC screen would display a coupon, that would then be downloaded and instantly used by the shopper via their mobile phone. NFC has the capacity to influence buyer behaviour and purchases, and improve brand recognition. A Harris Interactive survey found that one-third of those who utilise these marketing alerts, are proactively attuned to those brands that use the alerts. Further, 27 percent of users said that these companies have helped them to make their purchasing decisions. In turn, by analysing NFC-influenced purchases, retailers will be able to monitor consumer ‘pulls’ – those offers and messages that resonate best with shoppers and move them to action – and this data will help them develop better marketing strategies away from the intrusive campaigns of the past, ultimately leaving the consumer in control.

Charles Vincent is the digital media director at Firefly Communications and can be reached at

Charles Vincent Contributions to TheEDGE Magazine  

This is my contributions to TheEDGE Business Magazine in Doha - Qatar (Series of articles).

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