Social media and customer contact tools have changed the rules of engagement for retailers and consumers today.
The customer contact/relationship programs implemented by Walmart, Best Buy and other top retailers are effective at getting consumers into the store. But getting prospective customers in the store is less than half the challenge.
Small- to medium-sized retailers realize that one of Walmart's most powerful and effective selling tools during last year's holiday season was the way it used the Walmart Smart Network to deliver entertaining and informative video messages to shoppers in the store. (See sidebar.)
Those more expensive and controlled solutions are based on PC applications and are managed by people with IT and graphic design software expertise. As a result, many retailers rely on the traditional in-store solutions, such as end-cap, shelf-topping signs, shelf hangers and printed POP displays. But a growing number of creative retail marketing managers, as well as their suppliers, have installed the latest standalone and networked digital signage with positive results.
Today's digital signage solutions have evolved beyond the programming and network management restrictions of PC-based signage to solid-state packages that don't require technical expertise. Employees who don't have specialized graphic design software training can easily program and manage the new solutions. As a result, creative retailers have begun looking closely at Walmart's “crush the competition” approach to see how they can modify their marketing and overall business strategies as a way to compete beyond low price.
Even small retailers have taken advantage of the affordable standalone signage solutions that can be programmed and updated with a USB stick or a removable flash memory card. With these solutions, entertaining sales messages can be created, modified and updated in just minutes using simplified software provided with the system.
In multi-location, multi-sign operations, managers are using standard network wiring and the Internet to upload fresh sales messages and to manage the timing and placement of multimedia messages. The new solid-state solutions eliminate PC issues such as the “blue screen of death,” rebooting and viruses.
More importantly for regional or widely dispersed stores, different sales messages can be sent to individual, city or regional stores to maintain the same image and sales proposition throughout each location. The leading signage solutions also support full, high-definition video, so consumers get the same high-quality images in the store as they do at home.
The key part of the solution is the presentation authoring and management software, which is bundled with the dedicated digital signage package. The authoring software allows almost anyone to easily create presentations without involving expensive programming and graphics specialists. The software lets the manager or marketing/communications team create playlists, and makes it easy for them to access and implement player features.
Merchandising managers can use simple tools and wizards that walk them through the presentation creation process. Zone templates and custom layout tools make it fast and easy for content authors to create eye-catching, response-driven displays without all of the graphics expertise usually required to configure coordinates and image sizes.
Some of the bundled software packages incorporate many of the comprehensive capabilities previously found only in expensive and complex streaming media network solutions. Today's lighter, less-expensive packages include looping video playback, multimedia playlists, multiple display zones, day-parting, interactive button/touch screen demos, multi-unit video wall synchronization and more.
As a number of consumer electronics and appliance retailers have recently discovered, you can update and fine-tune messages and entertainment in almost real-time to respond to customer text/Tweet inputs as well as changes to meet local/regional needs.
To give credit where credit is due, Walmart's Project Impact is a comprehensive corporate and marketing initiative that has been very well executed. The good news is that the social media tools it uses are not proprietary and are available for anyone to master and use in creative marketing and customer support solutions.
These tools get the customer into the store. But that's only the beginning of the path-to-purchase. Research consistently shows that 50 percent of all purchase decisions are still made in the store. This is where the consumer is the most susceptible to receive product information that speaks directly to them. The consumer is waiting to be educated, informed and assisted to ensure they make the right buying decision.
It is at this moment that you are on an equal footing with Walmart. Success isn't measured by mass media marketing but in the retailer's or product manager's ability to deliver clear, concise, entertaining information to the consumer in the aisle.
Jeff Hastings is CEO at BrightSign, a digital signage company out of Saratoga, Calif.