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Forecast: Digital signs in the cloud

By Janet Groeber
September 29, 2012

Photo: Zen Su Teck Ming, Singapore
Digital signage isn’t exactly new at-retail, but thanks to “the cloud,” Timberland has elevated in-store signage to the next level—in interactive real time.

Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland wanted interactive digital signage for its new store rollout and remodels. The retailer sought a flexible, scalable solution to accommodate various layouts and sizes in order to increase customer engagement with its outdoor gear, footwear and apparel. Timberland also desired a way to manage content distribution from a central location in real time.

Beginning in October 2011, Timberland debuted a new solution that both intrigues customers and invites interactivity. The retailer placed test modules in several stores, including two London-area units, one in Singapore (VivoCity) and one in its store on 34th Street in New York, as well as in its corporate headquarters.

“While there are many retailers using digital technology for iPads, kiosks or large-format screens, with content varying from the latest fashion show to e-commerce, we were inspired to use the interactive/digital space in a more effective way that would delight and surprise our customers and connect them on a deeper level with Timberland,” says Bevan Bloemendaal, Timberland’s senior director of global creative services. “We wanted the experience to be more emotional, richer and more interactive—and at the customer’s control.”

Storytelling is a main focus of Timberland’s new design, Bloemendaal says. A 42-in. touchscreen (think super-sized iPad), invites customers to spend time with subjects ranging from a short video on Timberland’s global tree-planting program to its Green Index Rating, created to compare the environmental impact of its products. Content also highlights Timberland’s heritage of craftsmanship, performance and material innovations.

Created by New York-based Apologue Inc., in collaboration with Automata Studio, Iron Claw and Audio Video & Controls, the custom, open-source, cloud-based HTML5 system is able to dynamically retrieve remote data and create real-time, uniquely generated storytelling at every interface touchpoint at any store. The system allows Timberland to add and tag assets for immediate integration, while being managed and monitored from a central location. That means new ad campaigns, for example, are easily updated across stores. Similarly, product stories featuring new footwear, apparel and accessories, or complete catalogs can be quickly shared.

Beyond eliciting an emotional response, Timberland hoped to create a two-way dialogue with customers and capture their responses while in store. “We wanted to make a place for customers to leave their thoughts behind,” explains Apologue’s Tali Krakowsky. “We created a clickable voting page that allows us to get feedback from ‘on the ground’ customers and fuel that back to Timberland.”

For instance, should Timberland decide to preview new colors or designs for backpacks, in-store customers can indicate which ones they like on the voting page, which is directly linked to a contact management system. In turn, responses can be relayed to the design department for review and reaction. That’s the sort of “meaningful” real-time information that can be globally choreographed, Krakowsky says. “It may not look like a new beast,” she adds. “But the intelligence and the logic of the system is unprecedented.”