Image by Robert Stockdill via Flickr.

Image by Robert Stockdill via Flickr.

The record industry discovered it. The film industry knows it. Television broadcast networks are figuring it out, and the retail world is just starting to catch on: When your industry changes, adaptability is key.

As brick-and-mortar shops struggle to compete with the convenience and aggressive pricing models of online retail, they are forced to find new strategies to draw people into their stores.

Many merchants are reinventing themselves, transforming their retail outlets into houses of brand ambassadorship that create rich emotional experiences and that provides shoppers with something extra they couldn’t get with the dot coms.

Which brings us to the world of digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising. While still very much in beta, DOOH has the potential to offer brick-and-mortar retailers substantially more value than the basic signage of traditional out-of-home ads.

The problem is, the medium is falling short because of missed opportunities and misuse among retailers.

Just DOOH it

It may sound counterintuitive, but the apparent decline of in-store customer engagement makes the outlook for DOOH opportunities with retailers optimistic.

That’s because DOOH can be used to create truly social experiences in the brick-and-mortar environment. Well-executed DOOH experiences can help retailers make the most out of their physical stores by drawing in shoppers and creating seamlesss paths to purchase.

When movie theaters first began to run advertisements before films, patrons would boo the screen. The viewers thought it was rude and audacious for theater owners to disrupt their movie-going experience when they had paid their hard-earned money to see a film.

In response, advertisers had to get creative and make content that was entertaining, engaging and relevant to the audience. The same thing is happening to digital signage right now.

For the 2014 holiday season, Microsoft used its in-store digital displays to create an interactive "world's largest photo booth" for shoppers.

For the 2014 holiday season, Microsoft used its in-store digital displays to create an interactive “world’s largest photo booth” for shoppers.

The perils of DOOH

DOOH often falls short because of technological glitches. Imagine, for example, walking into a store with an impressive rotating digital ad display. On the screen is a device you have been considering purchasing for months.

Its appearance on the screen inspires you to head down the electronics aisle, only to discover that the device is sold out. That display just induced a desire in you and then it let you down. Talk about frustrating.

The fix? Digital displays shouldn’t be treated like print ads. They should be plugged into every resource available.

For example, by linking signage to inventory sensors, that same retailer would have had a display that saved the shopper some annoyance by taking the item’s availability into consideration and presenting products that are actually in the store.

So how can retailers ensure they’re providing an optimal experience with digital? Here are three best practices that are frequently missed when planning a DOOH strategy.

Not all digital signage attempts succeed. Image via thesignfail.tumblr.com.

Not all digital signage attempts succeed. Image via thesignfail.tumblr.com.

Be mindful of your environment

Create displays that take the space around them into consideration, and be thoughtful about what is being presented.

Be mindful about when things happen on the display, why they happen, and whether music and sound will enhance or detract from the customer experience.

When in doubt, remember that the going currency exchange rate for pictures and words is still 1000:1.

Remember that less is more

The current trend of adding interactive elements to DOOH displays, while very cool, forces people to interact with your tech and often completely detracts from the shopping experience.

It is crucial to balance science and art, creating a tasteful display that is not disruptive of the present environment – a display that shows respect for the shopper by not demanding to be the center of attention.

Consider taking a backseat to the merchandise

Many DOOH displayers fail to realize that when they beg to be noticed by a shopper, they are detracting from the reason that person came into the store: To spend money.

You must balance the “look at me” moments with moments that allow patrons to view and purchase merchandise and let DOOH be the supportive cast member that gets the product to the Oscars.

Digital displays are powerful tools. Unlike traditional print out-of-home ads, they are harder to ignore. That’s great news when the execution works, and a nightmare if it doesn’t. So be subtle, don’t get too seduced by a display’s bells and whistles and be mindful of people’s needs. If we can do these things, then with any luck, the DOOH industry will attract audiences, not boos and hisses.