I’ve recently been working with a venture team that is focused on an interesting and rapidly-growing new communication medium. It is known by many names. I prefer to refer to it as ‘place-based media,’ because it is more appropriate to the overall goal of the medium – i.e., ‘right time, right place’ – but digital ‘out-of-home’ OOH advertising has strong traction as a term, as well.
Place-based media is an interesting medium that is garnering a lot of current attention. In the past year, for example, NBC launched its NBC Everywhere division to chase the opportunity with the division’s general manager, Mark French, commenting that “[m]edia has become very fragmented. People are consuming media in a variety of different settings.” NBC’s goal is to be wherever people are ‘consuming’ media. CBS, meanwhile, acquired SignStorey, which had built a network of place-based screens in more than 1,400 grocery stores across the United States, for $71.5 million in cash, and has subsequently rolled it into CBS Outernet.
Why is there so much interest in this space? And why should you, as a marketer, care?
Place-based media presents a unique opportunity for marketers to engage with consumers in a non-aggressive, entertaining and informative fashion. It reaches consumers as they are making decisions relative to specific categories of products and services. It grabs consumers’ attention as a new, interruptive and non-saturated communication channel. And it offers precision of category, subject-matter and geographical targeting that is often not available via other mediums.
Sounds like the holy grail of marketing, right?
As with any new medium, place-based media has its plusses and minuses. Following are some thoughts and guidelines on understanding this space and on engaging place-based media as part of your next marketing campaign …
What is place-based media?
Place-based media engages with ‘captive’ audiences – standing in an elevator, sitting in a lobby, moving through a check-out line, walking through an airport terminal, etc. Place-based media provides consumers with valuable, context-based news, information and entertainment … when they have the spare time and interest to engage. Mark French with NBC Everywhere commented at the launch of their network in January of this year: “We only want to be in a space where the audience is captive for a minute-plus.” (This linked presentation from OVAB – discussed below – does a good job of summarizing the when, where and how of place-based media.)
Delivery of place-based media often is executed as a digital flat-screen monitor in a public arena that is providing a real-time or looping set of video features, together with news bytes, time and temperature, trivia and other context-relevant information, such as building/tenant announcements. Marketers participate and support this media channel via a combination of advertising, contributed content, product placement and/or sponsorship.
The place-based-media segment has grown rapidly over the last two years. Media/advertising industry consultancy PQ Media believes that advertisers spent $1.6 billion on place-based/OOH ad placements in 2007, growing to $3.1 billion by 2011. Meanwhile, place-based media providers have recently formed an industry association – the Out-of-home Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB) – to grow attention for the space, validate the maturity of the channel and to work on pan-industry issues such as establishing audience measurement standards. MediaWeek even launched a separate section on its website to track place-based media news.
How is the place-based media landscape organized?
There are many ways break down the landscape for place-based media companies, but perhaps the best way – i.e., the way that is most valuable as a marketer – is to look at the specific settings that are being targeted. While place-based media networks are becoming more and more specific in their focus each day, it’s possible to group them into a few macro categories. Below are some of these categories with examples of network providers targeting each of these settings. (Note that this is not, by any means, meant to be an exhaustive list of place-based media network providers – just a sample.)
> Bars/cinemas/entertainment: National CineMedia; OnSite Network
> Corporate/financial office buildings: Captivate; WSJ Office Network
> Health/medical/wellness venues: emebaVet; KidCARE Medical Television Network;
> Retail: CBS Outernet; PRN
> Transportation venues: CABTIVATE; Seattle Digital Signage
Why should I care about place-based media?
> Being present at the ‘first moment of truth’: I recently attended a session where P&G presented on ethnography in shopper marketing. What was intriguing is their description and conceptualization of this idea of the first moment of truth – i.e., the point in the store when a branded product either gets chosen by a consumer (going in that consumer’s shopping cart) or gets left on the shelf. What is interesting about place-based media is the potential – as a marketer – to be there at a consumer’s first moment of truth. And this is not limited to retail. It could mean reaching a consumer in a doctor’s waiting area as (s)he is considering a course of medical treatment; it also could mean connecting with a business leader in an elevator on the way to an important meeting with information that shapes his/her next decision. The key is being there – per the title of this post – at the right place, right time. Place-based media provides that unique advantage.
> Placing your brand in context: Closely related to the last point is the adjacent opportunity to ensure that your product or service is presented in the context of content that helps a consumer make a smarter decision. Good place-based media has good content, and that content can frame decision making. It also can help associate your brand with providing information that is informative and entertaining. Either way, it is the contextual alignment that supports your brand message and image.
> Delivering consumer-marketing focus: The final point, which I won’t elaborate on as it is pretty obvious, is that by being in the right place, right time and by knowing who a network is targeting, you get a resultant level of consumer-marketing focus that is pretty impressive.
What are the keys to successfully marketing and brand building via this medium?
> Quality of content: This is a critical piece, and it has often meant the difference between being highly successful or highly UN-successful in this medium. “The key for companies will be finding ways to make video relevant to consumers in a variety of settings, said Jimmy Schaeffler, a media analyst with Carmel Group,” noted an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article in January of this year. “’With a captive audience, we want to make sure the content isn’t boring or irrelevant,’ said Dave Titchenal, Principal of emebaVet,” noted an NEC company press release from November 2007.
Much like with traditional media networks, the content carried on a place-based media network must be interesting and entertaining; it must carry high production values and be well written; and – most importantly – it must not be a glorified infomercial. As a marketer, you should ask what content is actually carried on the network you’re planning to advertise on.
> Interactivity of the consumer experience: Place-based media is more than just digital billboards, and – in fact – I want to make a point of distinction here. We are not talking about static digital billboards; we are talking about interactive, content-driven media networks. And the point of the targeted and informative content is to engage the consumer, as with both traditional television and Internet marketing. Emerging solutions extend beyond just a digital screen and include Wi-Fi or Bluetooth access to additional information, as well as kiosks that extend the points of interaction with the consumer. A key feature of many networks, including those from Captivate and the WSJ Office Network, is building information. As a marketer, you should ask about the details of how the network you’re advertising on engages with its consumer.
> Non-redundancy with existing marketing communication – i.e., value-add: There is no question that as a marketer it is valuable to tap new media channels as they emerge, but before investing in a place-based media campaign, it’s important to know what you’re getting. Ideally, place-based media gives you a unique opportunity to engage with your customers in a specific place, at a specific moment in time … and ideally at a specific decision point. So place-based media can bring you brand influence at a critical moment. But are you depending on place-based media to do what you’re already doing via other channels? Specifically, is it an attempt at some sort of ‘ill-defined’ awareness campaign? I might think twice. As a marketer, you should ask what strategic role your place-based media campaign plays in your overarching and concerted effort to get consumers’ attention, engage with them and get them to buy!
> Thoughtful metrics: Once you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish with your place-based media campaign, it’s important to have a clear idea of how you are going to measure its success. The industry is in the process of establishing tracking standards, and Nielsen, a member of OVAB, recently announced a new service for measuring place-based media viewership. The key is to figure out what is ‘success’ for your campaign and establish an effective way to measure against that success.
What are your thoughts on using place-based media to market your brand? If you have thoughts about this piece or have had your own experience with this medium, please share your comments.