By Lilia Guan Outside of television, visual marketing communication has been relegated to static images, but now, everyone in the commercial sector is waking up to the possibility of lively, interactive signage that has more power than print.
The flat panel signage business is booming as SMBs begin to realise the power of information dissemination using display technology. Incorporating computer monitors, LCD, plasma screens, touch screens, projectors and CRT, high-tech signage is becoming a key marketing tool for small to medium businesses.
In recent years the glut of display technology has allowed them to apply it to making the information and marketing message more appealing and accessible to customers. These days everyone from real estate agents to butchers has the latest LCD computer or TV monitor in their office or store.
In June, DigitalSearch – a US research and consulting company dealing with the flat panel display market – indicated that global 10in and larger LCD TV shipments had grown by 125 per cent. There's no doubt about their popularity, but now manufacturers looking to increase volumes have caught onto the idea that display products have moved off the desk, out of the lounge room and into the mainstream commercial market.
For example, in recent months ViewSonic in the US has begun offering integrators a bundled package for creating solutions for point-of-sale and signage. The technology – originally intended to stream digital content from a PC in one room to a display in another – turned out to be a perfect fit for commercial signage applications.
At the same time Pioneer Electronics Australia introduced two easy-to-use PureVision displays designed specifically for this type of environment. Pioneer has been selling commercial displays for six years and has seen price cuts drive demand.
John Vanderberg, business development manager for Pioneer Electronics Australia, says: "From the moment it became more affordable small businesses have been buying it up. Plasma technology was established for years but only businesses in the high end of the commercial sector could afford it. Now the market takes care of itself."
Meeting Your Customer's Needs
Wilkins was surprised by the spreading use of digital display technology in commercial environments, especially when he found it at work in his local butcher shop. "When you walk into my butcher's there's about three monitors hanging from the ceiling, showing the specials and sometimes even the cricket. When you go up to the counter, there's a touch screen unit customers can use to print out recipes. Who would have ever thought a local butcher could be using monitors as an application?" he says.
Craig Cook is the owner of that butcher store, which is part of a small chain of shops called Prime Quality Meats. He has seven stores located in the Sydney area, with just under 100 employees. Cook says he uses display screens in order to compete with supermarkets.
"Very simply, in the past few years we have had recipe cards with limited recipes and posters that have gotten ripped. Customers were not getting anything visual from our stores, besides what was on our meat boards. As supermarkets find new ways to attract customers, we have to keep up to retain our customers and bring in new business," he explains.
Cook decided to make these changes in the response to a combination of the mad cow disease scare, and the severe drought in New South Wales. He felt a good way to attract customers was to install a plasma screen to educate them about mad cow disease and inform them why there was an increase in meat prices. On taste testing days at the shop, Cook noticed customers would want to know how to cook the recipes, but would have to rely on their memory when they got home.
A Vertical Solution
With the help of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) – the body that controls the industry – Cook came up with the idea to put its enormous library of recipes onto a system. Customers can now go up to a counter and access any recipe from the MLA's library through a touch-screen, then print it out and take it home. Cook believes this eliminates mistakes, as well as the recipe cards which were gathering dust.
"Not everyone wants to sit on a computer at home looking up a recipe. Now customers can come into the shop and use our touch screen monitors. Four months ago we were only trialling it in two of my stores – now we have it in four stores. Just this weekend there were 7000 print-outs for a lamb shank recipe alone," he says.
With his first trial of a plasma display, Cook went to his local Harvey Norman and purchased a screen and DVD player – however he felt this was a bit archaic. With the help of MLA, they chose Solo Media to provide Cook's stores with a complete digital media solution.
"We wanted a company that could provide us with a total package. That's what Solo Media has given for us. They provide my stores with one to four industrial plasma screens, touch screens for fridges that sit in the freezer section showing off seasonal campaigns, a recipe printer machine and the set-up and installation of the display units. Also every month they download new recipes into our machines and change it according to the season," Cook said
All up Cook has spent around $80k developing ideas and perfecting the technology in his stores. However, he only pays $500-$600 per month per store to Solo Media, dependent on the services and products it provides for individual shops.
"If a new butcher shop comes in wanting the set-up we have they would only pay $500-$600 monthly for the industrial plasma screen and printer recipe machines – built by Solo Media and with its set-up, installation, and ongoing support."
Cook hopes every butcher in Australia will have a similar set-up to help them survive against flashy competition: "I'm a spokesperson for MLA as well and I believe display technology is the way for butchers. Too many stores have had to close down because they just haven't been able to compete with the supermarkets. We really have to offer customers more, because it's really all about them."
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