The Digital Signage “Long Tail” Wags the Dog

Posted by on Jul 1, 2011 in DOOH, Industry, International

I drummed something up a couple of months ago in reference to the “long tail” of the digital signage industry, touting how digital sigange is not always about retail and advertising. While this will hold true through the recession, it falls apart like water in your hands when you start to market digital signage to the mainstream. As an audio/visual consumer communications channel, digital signage will always be pushed as a way to advertise. So, regardless of whether we’re looking at digital signage for government and corporate communications, it will nearly always be “pimped out” as the ad medium–regardless of how pure some may feel the technology is. As a form of advertisement, digital signage is nowhere near where it needs to be and where it will one day be. And, I know I’ve posed the question more than once previously. But, bright ideas are important here because we’ve not yet reached critical mass: “how can we take digital signage to the masses most effectively?”

Penetration and Trickle-Down

Here are some indications digital signage has begun to impact a broader segment, albeit slower-than-desired:

  • Screen parting has begun to be implemented into in-home entertainment. Yahoo has Cinematic Internet with ConnectedTV, Adobe has Flash Widgets for TV, and Roku has partnered with Netflix for set top box players. These three are blatant indications of  the digital signage digital signage technology creeping in from other areas. Certainly the technology crossover and redundancy will be heavy indeed.
  • Traditionally expensive solutions have started introducing “lite” versions of their software, in attempts to lure. Broadsign (SaaS kits with IngramMicro), Wirespring (EasyStart Simple Digital Signage), and TheRedPost (digital signage in a box).
  • We have seen partnerships take place between major players in an effort to take digital signage to the masses. The Scala partnership with FastSigns is just one example.
  • There has been greater emphases on free digital signage software than we have seen in the past.
  • Searches in Google for “digital signage” have more than doubled in the last 9 months. This is an indication that the industry is gaining more exposure.
  • Prices are dropping for digital signage SaaS. Late adopters of any technology get the benefit of a solid “core” build at a lower price. That is the reward for their patience.
The long tail is where the money is, where the advertising is cheaper, and where the marketing is more tightly targeted. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point, may give us some insight into why we’re not quite there yet: “Most of us don’t have particularly broad and diverse groups of friends….We’re friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble. We don’t seek out friends, in other words. We associate with the people who occupy the same, small, physical spaces that we do.” This is why when you read digital signage blogs, you will find them replete with “how tos” and “tutorials” and “ways not to fail.” It is somewhat sobering to realize that the only people who really read digital signage blog posts are digital signage industry leaders and followers (If you have reached this point in this post and are not already in the industry, good for you. It would be interesting to take a tally in the comments box below). Better still, we have not all agreed on what business model is the summum bonum.  I really like what Eric of @redpost said in a recent blog post:
Overall, however, no one has figured out “the formula” — the business model for successfully selling to the long tail. We’re getting closer, however, and falling prices just make it easier. 2009 into 2010 will prove to be a huge turning point for this industry that, to date, has been mired in a muck of broadcast-style thinking, top-down implementation, and little innovation.
Even venture funds being poured into the digital out of home space are often, in my mind, not completely justified. With media buying frozen and advertising demanding companies sharper metrics, we’re back to the chicken vs. the egg. But, I guess the high-risk/high-return investment is the nature of the beast. The venture investments do make sense, but not too many companies have a balance sheet that is, well, balanced. Personally, I would rather be betting on an industry poised at growth rather than dumping valuable funds into the truncated general market.

Some Ideas for a Mainstream Marketing Strategy

Successfully marketing, especially in a doldrums, can be a difficult task. I have a few thought, however foolish, on what I believe will and won’t work as we manage our marketing push to the mainstream:

  • We must see another drop in digital signage server, player, software, and SaaS expenses for digital signage to be effectively taken to every available market segment. What an effective price might be, I do not know. Currently, there are enough signage solutions competing for me to safely say that any SaaS solution over $30/month will price you out quickly–especially for the mainstream. We are where general server companies were 10 years ago. Remember when shared hosting was $70/month? Now you can get it for $3.95–that is if you’re fine with only three 9s of reliability and not the coveted five.
  • Mass penetration will mean one thing: extremely simple content creation and scheduling tools. Current conditions are not suitable for the local barber shop. While geeks never really need whole products, mainstream customers not only need their cake but they need the instruction on how to eat it too.
  • For B2B, affiliate links and online affiliate marketing will not work. Even with critical mass, digital signage will, in most cases, require an actual sales person. Turnkey websites with turnkey purchases will only work with the most simple product at a market friendly price-point.
  • Resellers will be “okay,” but reseller saturation, as a result of market penetration, will cause an abatement in general reseller effectiveness.
  • Targeting the mainstream means targeting the mainstream keywords in your search engine optimization.

Nate Nead may sound like a broken record when he constantly is harping on “how to market” and “methods for implemenation,” but that’s what Nate Nead knows and does. Marketing tactics used on the tech geeks will not work on the mainstream. Those not familiar with marketing to the total available market, will most likely need to teach your “old dog new tricks.” Another reason I’ve oft repeated my sentiments is due to the fact that I see little change in the way digital signage vendors go about marketing to mainstream customers. Further still, those that are  working on adaptation, can always use some fresh “how tos.”

How Internet and SEO will play a role in taking digital signage to the mainstream’s “long tail”

If you were a layman, seeking out a digital signage solution on the Internet, but had no idea what digital signage was, what would be the keywords you would search? “Electronic message board”?, “LCD advertising screen”?, “digital sign”? As you perform search engine optimization for your website, keep in mind there are many other terms besides the coveted “digital signage” key terms that will be essential in driving home more mainstream leads for 1 to 5 screen deployments. The graph we’ve put together at the right shows the “long tail” in terms of search engine optimizing keywords to drive home leads in the mainstream. Not only are there a multitude of possible searchable keywords which include the phrase “digital signage,” but creatively enough, there are many other similar terms that your marketing department may not have thought of yet. It may require some creativity and good ole’ keyword research to find which terms will drive the traffic you desire.

In addition, there will continue to be emerging niches in the digital signage industry. Recently, I have been made aware of several small, but powerful niches heretofore untapped and unrecognized. As these niches continue to emerge marketing and connecting to potential customers via multiple online mediums will be essential for digital signage network growth.

Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004

The following story comes from an article I recently read by Adrian Van Eck: His article speaks of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004. The story has a message we all can learn from–especially when discussing targeting a market poised for growth.

This earthquake struck deep under the sea west of Sumatra on December 26, 2004. It was recorded at a magnitude of 9.1, making it the second largest earthquake on record. The actual earthquake hit 19 miles below the level of the sea above, meaning far below the sea bed. Pressure between two gigantic plates was suddenly released. The intensity of the event caused giant landslides, several miles below the ocean, with huge boulders tossed around like pebbles. A fault line nearly 1,000 miles long ripped open like a giant zipper – pushing up the seabed by about seven feet – and displacing a massive amount of sea water.

The first visible sign of what was happening under the sea came when the level of the ocean fell fast all along the coast of such Asian nations as Indonesia. In many places, children from fishing villages saw how the fast-falling water had dropped live fish onto the suddenly exposed sea bottom. They rushed way out onto this new land to scoop up flopping fish for their families. No one shouted for them to come back and run for the nearby hills. They should have.

But on Maiko Beach a 10-year old girl from England on vacation with her family saw what was happening and screamed a warning. She had been studying tsunamis in school and recognized the early signs that this was going to be one and a big one to boot. Her parents quickly spread the word and everyone on that beach forgot all about trying to retrieve anything they had brought. They just ran toward nearby high ground. Something similar happened at a beach, north of Phuket, where a biology teacher from Scotland was riding in a tourist bus. He took one look at the falling ocean water and knew instantly what was happening, He alerted everyone on that bus and they made sure everyone on the beach knew what was coming before they drove to nearby high ground. All on that beach also survived.

Similarly, those watching the industry with a broad perspective and an eye on trends, predictions, and current digital signage sales leads, will serve as a voice–not necessarily as a warning voice of impending danger–but as a surfing expert–bent on instructing how to ride out the impending flood.

Because the SMB (small to medium businesses) are “less like a two-ton gorilla and more like a thousand four-pound monkeys, difficult to chase down and almost impossible to corral” digital signage vendors must get creative and use guerrilla tactics. I’m sure you never dreamed you would be using “gorilla” tactics on monkeys. Digital signage may not have “crossed the chasm” yet, but shortly–perhaps sooner than we think–the flood will arrive. Those viewing the events as they unfold with a prior knowledge of what to do will stand to benefit greatly from the dawn that approaches us. So, prepare yourselves.

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