Out of Home Series, Part 3: Awareness OOH vs. Engagement OOH?

December 7, 2010

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Over the last couple of weeks, I've tried to show you some of the “OOH” thinking going on in my head.  I've put a couple of stakes in the ground.  First there was my definition and most recently, I explored the different components of the “new” OOH.

I feel like, conceptually, these concepts are pretty close, but they're not quite there.  So, hopefully today, the story will become a bit more clear.  It's a complex story, no doubt.  Media consumption and consumer behavior and “always on” technology have evolved to such a high point that there is no longer an easy formula for moving someone down the decision/purchase funnel.  That same technology has transformed the places and things around us into consumption & interaction “screens” – “Out of Home” is no longer just the mass awareness platform that agencies and brands have relied on in their media mix to achieve maximum impressions.

I've been quite open with the industry about how much I dislike the “Digital Out-of-Home/DOOH” moniker.  I'm starting to dislike “digital signage” just as much, but unfortunately, these are the two most widely-used terms in the industry.  Ask anyone in the industry what they actually do, and 9 people out of 10 (if not all 10) will give you a response with “DOOH” or “digital signage” in it.  And if you asked them what exactly that is, I'd put a solid bet on a response that included something like this – “it's a network of screens held together by digital technology.”

Network.  Screens.  Digital technology.

That's so 1995.

In all seriousness, here's my newest stake in the ground (and it's not groundbreaking, but I think it provides clarity) – OOH, DOOH, and digital signage is Awareness Out-of-Home.  Digital signage (technology + a display) has enabled brands to be more effective at creating awareness, with dynamic loop times and dayparting and on-the-fly content updates, but at the end of the day, it's all about pushing content out to as many eyeballs as they can.  It's about impressions.  OOH/DOOH can be an extremely effective channel at achieving those impressions.

Here's the thing(s) about Awareness though:

  • It relies more heavily on the channel (or “screen”) than it does on the brand story
  • The media component is driven by mass reach, not targeted personalization
  • Brand is at the center, communication is to many
  • It's a push message, meaning it's a “talk-to” communication, meaning it's a 1-way communication, meaning there is no real brand/consumer engagement
  • Consumers are guided down the funnel, literally, by screen (the placement of the screen guides the brand story)
  • The technology is the thing keeps everything connected

So, sure, if you want to talk about networks and technology, er “DOOH” & “digital signage,” here's where we should be talking.  This is what the industry is talking about now – hardware and software and networks and installations and everything else.  If you boil it down, it's all an awareness discussion. This is where my thinking differs from many in the industry (communications, advertising and digital signage industries) that I've heard.  I don't see the potential in using the OOH/DOOH channel as an awareness channel.  It's an evolved 1995 discussion, with the introduction of new “digital” display technologies, but it's just display.  Display technologies drive more consumption; they don't drive more engagement.  And this is the big differentiator – do you want to use OOH, even DOOH as an awareness channel?  Or do you believe that the places and things around us have the ability to engage consumers where they are and actually drive them deeper into the brand experience?  This is the “new” OOH and this is its potential.

Engagement Out-of-Home is predicated on the understanding that a) everyone and everything is connected and b) the places and things around us have the ability to be turned “on.”  Everything is a screen, but the screen is not what makes up the network; in Engagement OOH, the people make up the network.  They are made stronger by technology – enabling technologies here, not display technologies – and brands can and should take advantage of these developments.

Recently, I gave my thoughts on a similar concept, something that LocaModa and Posterscope call “Sociable Media.”  (I spoke to a couple of guys at LocaModa late last week and they provided great insight to their POV.)  We're all talking about basically the same thing, but I think where I differ is that I think Engagement OOH provides a unique opportunity for brands to go beyond just being there and allows them to tell their story in a way that they would not have otherwise been able to tell it – in an individual, 1-to-1 engagement.  (And it doesn't have to be on a mobile phone.  It can be on the floor in a store.)  It's less about the technology and more about the interaction.  That's the nut – engagement OOH enables brands to be more effective at driving interaction – not awareness – on everything around us.

As compared to Awareness OOH, Engagement OOH:

  • Relies more heavily on the brand story than it does on the channel (or “screen”)
  • The media component is driven by targeted personalization, not mass reach
  • In one sense, the brand can be the center, but communicate to one.  In another sense, the consumer is at the center and the brand has the ability to engage with them.  The key is that it's a personalized communication
  • It's a push/pull message, meaning it's a “talk-with” communication, meaning it's a 2-way communication, meaning there is actually real brand/consumer engagement
  • Consumers are guided down the funnel by interaction
  • The brand story is the thing keeps everything connected

So, maybe we still need to be talking in 1995 speak.  I have a feeling that the industry is going to continue to talk in these terms, at least for the foreseeable future.  If you look at social media and the way it had been talked about until the last year or so, it was all talked about differently, too.  Now, there are enough buzz words that can make someone feel sick.  But whenever I hear “DOOH” or “digital signage,” I always stop and give it pause and really try to determine what people are talking about.  And most of the time, they are talking about true “digital” Out-of-Home or true “digital” signage.  Interactivity is either an afterthought or void from the thought altogether.

I just look at it a little bit differently.  For every action, there is a reaction and we have the responsibility, not to mention the opportunity, to be there and interact and have a 2-way communication so the relationship doesn't end as soon as they walk away.  It gets stronger.  I believe that can only happen through engagement.

It's important to note that I am not a media guy and never have been.  I've always been an experience guy, so that's immediately where my mind goes, regardless of the “channel.”

Certainly not everyone's on the same page with me though. What do you think? It's an evolving space with lots of evolving thought, so the more voices we have in the conversation, the better!