Physical Spaces, Digital Mindset

Published: September 30, 2022

It was November 2021 and I walked into a Walgreens in Orlando, Fla., to grab a few quick supplies. I walked through the store, picked up what I needed and decided to grab a cold drink for the road, as I was headed back home to Tampa, Fla. When I arrived in the beverage section, I was greeted by bright lights. I found myself looking at a digital screen that showcased everything that was inside the actual coolers.

I got excited for a second because — wow! — this was something new. I totally didn’t expect this within Walgreens. I stood back and watched the screens for a minute to see what kind of content would play. Of course, we had a few ads for the vaccines, and the drinks they clearly wanted me to buy bounced up and down. But that was about it. I swiftly lost my excitement about the technology, grabbed my drink and headed out. Maybe the screens did their job. I did spend a few more minutes in the store, and I did look into the drink they had bouncing around. But I don’t do energy drinks.

More and more each year, we’re seeing physical spaces in retail transform and try to embrace digital aspects. Why? Because, these days, there has to be some kind of force to make people want to go into a store instead of purchasing goods from the comfort of home. I’d say some retailers have done better than others. But the fact of the matter is this: You can’t knock businesses for trying to create better experiences within their physical realm.

Designing and Delivering Digital Solutions

We have seen the “hang and bang” jobs time and time again. Throw up a screen…sell ad space…we’ve heard it all before. It’s not good enough anymore. AV technology has to be part of an experience or be the canvas that drives a compelling story. Big, bright and shiny things might catch consumers’ attention for a split second, but what keeps them there? What navigates them through a customer journey?

Technology, by its inherent nature, is adaptive and dynamic. To grow your expertise, you have to constantly consume relevant and current information and make friends with others in our space. Dina Townsend, YCD Multimedia

Person trying out an interactive digital board in a retail space.

When your digital vision is well-designed and well-executed, it brings messages to audiences with a broader reach and greater operating efficiency. Image Wifesun/

To answer those questions, I leaned into the expertise of Dina Townsend, vice president of sales and marketing (Americas) at YCD Multimedia. I wanted to learn more about how she’s continued to design and deliver digital solutions at such a high level. One of the most resonant conclusions I drew from our conversation is that we can’t design for the future if we’re approaching retail spaces the way we have in the past. “Embracing our past experience as technologists is not always the best predictor of the future behavior of the markets we serve,” Townsend explains. “Technology, by its inherent nature, is adaptive and dynamic. To grow your expertise, you have to constantly consume relevant and current information and make friends with others in our space — across both the competitive and the partner landscape, — because experiences vary, and those varied experiences are rich in insight.”

In short, technology is constantly evolving, and we, as technologists, must continue to evolve, as well. It’s how we stay in the know and provide our clients with the best solutions for their unique spaces and situations. Townsend continues, saying, “I never assume I know the client’s business better than they do, and I ask more questions than ever to ensure that I step into their world as best as I can to make recommendations that resonate with them.” According to Townsend, “The lens we look through is everything. I no longer assume that trends equal progress or that progress has to be trendy.”

Ultimately, Townsend has found ways to stay current with industry news and information, communicate with her colleagues, and listen to her prospects and her customers to identify patterns. Identifying and recognizing those patterns has become a huge part of the value proposition her company and she can offer. “I recently heard Jim Burrows, the writer/director of “Cheers,” recount that one of the first lines the character of Norm said that got a laugh was when Sam the bartender asked him, ‘What do you know?’ as he walked into the bar and Norm answered, ‘Not enough.’ That got an unexpected but raucous laugh from the audience,” Townsend relates. “That has become my approach to life in general, and certainly [to] my place in the digital signage industry. What do I know? Not enough!” So, she says, bring it on and keep learning. After all, we’re not historians — we’re technologists — and our field changes constantly.

Physical Spaces in a Digital World

Mount-It! Pro ad posterIt’s not easy to include digital solutions in physical spaces. Digital concepts and digital technology must become part of the space they occupy. I ask Townsend which spaces have been able to benefit the most from modern technology. She replies, “They all do, but in different ways.” Elaborating, she says, “Within fashion, there are segments that benefit from using brick-and-mortar as high-end showrooms. In other retail segments, digital is used to drive the upsell and to create an atmosphere that keeps shoppers in the store and buying more. It sets an energy that is conducive to the space and the business.”

I ask Townsend about exterior signage for a bakery or a grocery store. Are there benefits there? “Exterior signage can draw patrons into the store and increase footfall,” she replies. “These messages can be centered on partnerships and collaborations, specials and curated customer content.” She continues to emphasize, however, the importance of using digital technology to enhance a physical space — not merely as a sales mechanism. “I strongly support digital in the grocery that does more than just advertise,” she explains forcefully. An example would be using screen real estate to promote DIY projects, recipes or health content that, eventually, might also lead a customer to buy.

“This approach results in an upsell because it grabs attention,” Townsend states, “but it also offers something substantial to the shopper. In my experience, shoppers are far beyond being impressed by a screen and far too overstimulated by technology to look at a screen just because it is playing content. They expect and deserve reciprocity. Give them a takeaway from the experience.” When those in our channel implement strategies and approaches like this, we create a long-lasting impact.

Understanding the ‘Why’

That long-lasting impact doesn’t come from leading with a technology-based solution; it comes from starting with the why. “Define the vision!” Townsend proclaims. “Understand the why of the project. What should this project accomplish, why does that matter and how will you know when you have achieved it?” Once you understand the why and grasp the vision, you can move to the next step. That, she says, is to plan for the vision. “Consult other departments within the retail enterprise and understand their pain points and needs,” Townsend explains. “Then, do one thing that is high on the list of your specific goals for your vision, do it well, measure the results and scale it.”

Understanding the client’s why and their pain points sets the foundation upon which you can build a strategic approach, which you can then scale and repeat. Townsend says, “This approach tests the theory and assures that you buy a system that will accommodate the future needs of the enterprise.” That keeps clients happy, prepares them for the future and makes their lives easier. Townsend sums it all up in three words: reach, efficiency and agility. “A well-designed digital vision and execution allows your clients to bring your message to their audience with a broader reach and with great operating efficiency,” she concludes. “It also allows the enterprise to quickly pivot to address new messaging and changing times. Nothing better!”

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