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How digital signage can put context into mobile

By Steven L. Gurley

June 2008 ushered in a new era of mobile communications. Apple’s concurrent launch of the 3G iPhone and iTunes App Store were instrumental to the formation of a game-changing mobile ecosystem backed by seamless access to mobile content, applications and ecommerce. 

Since the creation of Apple’s mobile ecosystem, hundreds of thousands of mobile applications have been developed, billions of applications have been downloaded and countless numbers of mobile use-cases have been created.

The change has been so profound that industry titans such as Google, Research In Motion and Microsoft have all begun to pursue Apple-like models of their own.

What has all of this innovation and change meant for mobile commerce and consumers?

Simply put: A lot of choice, but not much context. 

Scoping choice
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 environment and the optimal mobile experience – application, campaign or transaction – for that environment. 

Before a context can be established, however, the consumer needs to know that one or more mobile experiences exist. She needs to understand the scope of the experiences and also the need to appreciate the value of those experiences.

Some venues are trying to address the context issue by posting 2D bar codes for venue patrons to scan.

Others are attempting to set context by deploying branded applications.  

While these are certainly viable approaches, they put the onus on the venue patron to pull out their phone to “see what’s available.” 

However, there is a more proactive alternative that can be used to provide context for the mobile user. It is called digital signage.  

Sign of the times
Broadly defined, digital signage is a system for managing the scheduling and delivery of digital content – messages consisting of graphics, videos, text and pictures – to electronic displays such as LED/LCD/plasma flat-panel screens installed in venues including stores, hotels, restaurants and sports arenas for educating or influencing the behavior of venue patrons and visitors. 

Digital signage is one of the fastest-growing technologies on the market today. It can be increasingly seen delivering many messages to large audiences in all types of venues and situations.

Although most of those who follow mobile technologies and trends may have noticed digital signage, it is likely that they may have never given a second thought to the systems, processes or technologies behind the displays. 

It is also likely that they may have never given much consideration to the role that digital signage can play in exposing mobile experiences to targeted audiences.

Digital signage represents a tremendous medium for setting the mobile context. It can be used to expose consumers to mobile, to guide them through the potential complexities of mobile and also to articulate the overall value of the mobile experience.

Before one can effectively use digital signage to set the mobile context, 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 operated worldwide. These signs are grouped into networks that range in size from one screen to several thousand. A network may be operated by either the venue owner, manager or by a third party. 

Mobile marquee
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.

To promote a mobile experience on a digital signage networks, one must define the audience for a given experience. 

One must then identify the venues that most closely align with that audience and then select the networks that service those venues. 

Once the appropriate network operator is identified, discussions can begin on how to best align promotion of the mobile experience with the digital signage network.

Digital signage is a great tool for delivering mobile context and promoting the mobile experience. It is, however, operated within a fragmented market that requires some understanding before it can be intelligently and effectively used. 

Over the coming weeks, we will delve more deeply into the digital signage value chain, the typical system architectures, the business models and the benefits of a digital signage/mobile convergence. 

Steven L. Gurley is senior vice president of marketing and new market development at Symon Communications, Plano, TX. Reach him at [email protected].