Digital Signage is Yoked and Ready for its Close-Up Thanks to RMNs

Oh great, another screen I need to market on, said no brand manager ever.

And yet 2023 may be remembered by C-suite marketing teams everywhere as the year when the not-very-exciting category of digital signage became supercharged thanks to two key elements: retail media networks and first-person data.

With the expansion of retail media networks (RMNs), retailers have introduced an array of new state-of-the-art digital screens closer to the point of purchase, thus creating myriad opportunities for brands to personalize further down the sales funnel and drive higher conversions.

What we’re seeing now is the ease of online shopping, including no in-person engagement, seeping into physical stores. Shoppers expect a frictionless experience that they can navigate on their own with no contact. Self-checkouts are a perfect example of this: you enter a store, run through your shopping list and check out on your own, all while keeping your earbuds intact and never pausing your playlist — basically mirroring the experience of shopping online. 


Concurrent with this overall trend is the fact that brands also can drive personalized engagement through first-person data as well as loyalty apps, in-store digital signage and even streaming entertainment while in-store or in close proximity. RMNs are expanding digital media touch points to in-store as they look to continue to grab more share of media dollars.

Innovation Leads The Way

To be sure, these are not your father’s kiosks. These touchscreens and in-store mobile devices are state-of-the-art plasma displays that bring visual creative to life. Simultaneously, cloud-based software enables targeting and personalization. Retailers and brands can track and analyze market trends, spending patterns and sales metrics, and provide insights into consumer behavior in real time to best optimize their marketing strategy to drive more foot traffic or sales. As first-person retailer data becomes more integrated into in-store signage, brands can customize messaging for consumers so they receive a more personalized and engaging experience with brands.

A lot of brands are already jumping headfirst, recognizing the power to bring all that first-person data and screens right at the point of purchase together. Unilever istesting two innovative point-of-purchase approaches: one is an advanced in-store digital endcap with Giant Foods and another, digital shelf strips with Vaseline. Similarly, Kroger is introducing new digital signage at e-car charging stations in parking lots. Mars Wrigley is working on ‘Smiley,’ a robotic employee created to bring customers free candy samples as they shop in select ShopRite grocery stores.

But I personally love the simplicity of Dunkin’ upgrading their static menus to digital so that the retailer can not only speak to consumers via motion and video, it also can customize offerings based on the time of day. I’m also drawn to the use of digital screens for virtual sampling, from makeup at Sephora to Fendi glasses at Bloomingdales. These displays can draw consumers in through engagement and the promise of trying on products without the mess or potential spread of germs, obviously relevant in a post-COVID shopping world.

The good news is that technology innovations continue to come fast and furious, making this particular niche ripe for innovative creative engagements with your customers. Immersive retail experiences through AI and virtual reality continue to push the envelope, while some more tried-and-true tactics like QR codes have seen a surge in adoption, which, if set up properly, provide marketers with valuable insights.

New Challenges

Within the retail environment, a major challenge is the coordination of campaigns across various locations — after all, you are working with hardware, software and connectivity all in one. Because of that, when working with a digital signage partner, focusing on both strategy and maintenance is important — the same attention is needed for OOH digital as you would put into managing your online marketing. Cost can also be a barrier for some brands, as well as the time to implement.

So how should you engage with this new-fashioned technology? Here are a few recently noted best practices:

  • Start simple: Go with key campaigns where your objectives are focused on longer-term results such as consumer engagement, foot traffic and increased sales.
  • Know your target audience: This will determine how, where and when you deploy your digital signage strategy.
  • Make it engaging: Breaking through the clutter of scrolling is one thing, keeping a consumer from looking at their phone is another. Keep it short, use video, have a strong call to action and get creative.
  •  Avoid clutter: Just because you have the space and time doesn’t mean you have to squeeze every detail in. Keep it simple to capture your consumer’s attention in a highly cluttered environment.
  • Be smart about your targeting: Use zoning and time-based messaging to narrow in on the most relevant group and messaging.

Is the investment worth it? Numbers don’t lie. When Nielsen tracked 120 grocers that use digital signage in their stores, it found that 80% of them saw up to a 33% boost in sales compared to print signs. A comparison in Walmart Supercenters found that motion displays installed versus traditional printed signage saw a 66% unit sales increase.

‘Everything old is new again’ is the famous quote often attributed to Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift, who most certainly wasn’t thinking about RMNs and digital signage given that he died in 1745, but he could have been. This overlooked marketing tool, dismissed by some as those screens you see while at the gas pump, is yoked now — thanks to a steroid combination of RMS and first-party data — and is ready for its marketing close-up.

Jessica Ruscito is SVP Head of Media at Advantage Unified Commerce. A marketing leader focused on brand strategy, media activation and performance marketing, Ruscito has deep experience in building and leading award-winning teams and omnichannel campaigns. Inspired by the ever-changing digital landscape, she has had the opportunity to lead large global go-to-market strategies combining paid, owned and earned channels.  Jason Katz, VP of Strategic Planning at Advantage Unified Commerce, leverages more than two decades of ecommerce, digital, media, social, retail, research and strategy experience to help CPG brands and retailers thrive in commerce.

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