Pilots have been a part of the buyer journey in digital signage for some time. In the early stages of digital signage, they were used to prove that the technology worked. But as the industry has evolved, we know that the software, screens and players do their jobs. Yet we still get lots of requests for pilots from retailers who want to see how signage looks or make sure that it works before committing to a full roll-out.
Let’s be clear: we like pilots. In fact, we think they’re essential. They allow you to test equipment, content and processes in a scaled-down, controlled environment, reducing risk when you do roll out the entire solution. They allow you to adjust your plan if something unexpected happens. And they can increase stakeholder buy-in by involving others early and showing that your solution works.
But too many retailers just want to do pilots for a gut check, and instead, they’re most effective when more thought is put into the reason for them. Pilots need to test the right thing, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not technology. Rather, well-crafted pilots measure whether or not the digital signage solution you’ve chosen is doing what it’s supposed to: meeting your business objectives. Your pilot, like your digital signage, needs to have purpose.
Keys to a successful pilot include:
First and foremost, defining your objectives. We talk a lot about establishing strategy for digital signage programs, and with good reason. But we’re like a dog with a bone on the topic because it’s so important, and unfortunately is often missing from programs. Your business strategy dictates your marketing strategy dictates your digital media strategy, which should define the what, how and, most importantly, the why of your program.
Yes, you definitely can and should use a pilot to make sure the components of your signage work and the team you’ve assembled can manage the solution. However, it’s more important to figure out your business objectives and what results you need to achieve them. Do you want to increase sales, boost awareness of new products and/or drive higher margin transactions? Or do you have other results in mind? Whatever is important to your organization, measure it not just in your fully implemented program, but in your pilot, too.
Determining your test parameters. You’re more than familiar with the nitty-gritty elementsof a pilot, such as project planning and management, budgeting and documentation. When it comes to digital signage, attention to several specific aspects of a pilot can make or break it:
Location(s), including test versus control stores. Which stores make the fairest testing grounds? Do some have digital signage already, so you can measure against your current solution? Or do you have stores with little or no signage you’d like to include?
Timeline. How long do you want to run your pilot, and during what time of year? We find that two to three months is optimal – enough time to test, but not so much that your solution and decisions about it get bogged down. And depending on your type of business, there might be better times than others to pilot digital signage. For example, you might not want to run a pilot during the high holiday season. Do you want to worry about a digital signage pilot during the busiest time of your year?
One other note: Make sure to run your pilot uninterrupted for the designated period before making adjustments. You need fix technology issues, of course, but if you change content frequently, your evaluation won’t be fair.
Measurement. Back to those business objectives and how they link to your digital signage solution. If your goal is to increase sales, then what, where and how are you going to measure it? Are you going to look at sales of specific products, or overall? Are you going to measure results during the pilot period only in test versus control stores, or compare them to earlier results? Or both?
The questions are yours to answer. But doing so will make for a better pilot.
Establishing a post-pilot plan. In an ideal world, a pilot leads directly to a roll-out. But you don’t need me to tell you that the best-laid plans, etc., etc. In theory, a pilot can lead to one of four decisions: go, no-go, adjust and go, and adjust and pilot again.
In reality, adjust and go is the most common direction. You might need to embed screens into store fixtures for a more integrated look. To accommodate scalability, sometimes the technology is a little different for a full roll-out. Your processes might call for revision or clarification. And you might need to rethink how you’re measuring your results.
It’s a rare pilot that doesn’t uncover some necessary changes; that’s their whole point. Just make sure the focus is on your business objectives, and design the pilot with them in mind. That way, you’ll know you can trust the digital signage solution you end up with – and so will other stakeholders, whose support you need to manage the program – and sign the checks for it.