Store advertising signage slips into the digital age

October 2, 2011
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Late this past summer, customers at a Walker-based regional hypermarket were greeted at its main entrances with signs that possessed the advertising muscle to accomplish more than promote a line of merchandise.

That’s because the signs were not the standard static promotional boards retailers have relied on for eons, but digital signs displayed on 55-inch vertical, high-definition screens that welcomed customers, drove them to specific departments that offered promotions within the store, and even provided real-time weather reports.

These same digital signs will be used to convey seasonal promotions, introduce new products, communicate a range of customer services and provide a product feed from the store’s online ads.

The brain trust of this pilot program is the principals of start-up business Freshwater Digital Media Partners of Grand Rapids. Working at this point out of their homes, Freshwater President Matt Downey, Senior Vice President of Business Development Jonathan Dodge and Creative Director Jeff Wylie are putting all their virtual eggs in one basket with the prospect that retailers and other businesses will increasingly want to funnel money in digital signage and interactive media.

The privately held company’s name is intended to engender fresh ideas for a digital media that is fluid and ever-changing, relying on sourced talent who can create relevant content, hardware manufacturing, software design and sales teams.

Part of what Freshwater provides is traditional media buying. Services include developing marketing strategies, as well as merging technology with a company’s current operations and technical teams, estimating revenue projections and producing graphics-based advertisements and full-production videos with on-location talent.

So far, Freshwater principals are emboldened to have secured their first clients, which include Premier Retail Networks. Freshwater has managed the hypermarket’s network strategy and ad sales as well as created network content and advertising for the retailer’s in-store TV network. Dodge said it is a policy of the hypermarket not to disclose which of its stores have the digital signs, nor will it allow the vendor to use its name in the media.

The advantages of digital versus print signage continue to gain credibility with retailers, said Dodge. Digital attracts customers’ attention through sound and motion while providing rich content and lower distribution and production costs than hardcopy signage requires. Plus, the price of monitors for digital media continues to recede, making the signage more cost effective, according to Dodge.

“Digital drives a better story and message,” said Dodge, who worked as the hypermarket’s digital team leader before joining Freshwater in June. “The big draw is to sell to CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies. Digital signage draws all the eyeballs to sell advertising.”

According to a 2011 Futurescope survey from GfK Interscope, 95 percent of 300 CPG/retail industry practitioners surveyed said they’re actively engaged in shopper marketing, defined as insight-driven, in-store or retailer-specific marketing. The online survey polled industries representing retail, food, beverage, personal care, health care, beauty, general merchandise and electronics.

Dodge said he does not want to limit Freshwater’s clientele base to retail.

“We have established clients, but it’s time to find other organizations,” said Dodge. “Our big focus is to establish relationships across the industry. We want to expand beyond retail.”

A game-changer for Freshwater could be through the Connecting Point Marketing Group’s NextPoint conference held early in October in San Diego.

“We want to walk away with solid prospects,” said Dodge. “All the major retailers from across the country will be there.”

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