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As the old song goes, "To start at the very beginning is a very good place to start..." It seems reasonable for those of us in the industry to expect clients who approach us to have gone through some linear process to define objectives, requirements and a budget for their interactive and digital merchandising project, but it isn't always the norm. Many clients know of what they want but have a hard time defining what they need.

The in-store merchandising industry has changed over the last decade. The initiation of a kiosk, mobile or digital signage program is a more collaborative effort than it used to be. Projects may cut across merchandising, marketing, purchasing, information technology, operations and customer experience departments. Each of these functions brings a unique perspective on planning and execution.

At the same time, all parties need a budget framework that puts everyone on the same page.

Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, in his book Winning, called budgeting "the most effective process in management."

Managers dream about harmonized expectations and streamlined procedure, but there is a whole road of decision-making that organizations must travel before reaching that plane. You've probably noticed that many clients who approach you are at different stages of planning.

Sometimes clients are reluctant to talk about a budget. They express the notion that to fully disclose a budget will place them at a disadvantage. I think this is a counterproductive mindset. In reality a good retail merchandising company approaches a project saying, "How can we best meet the objectives and needs of this client within the framework of their budget?" rather than "How can we maximize the revenue from this project?" The client's selection of a creative, industry-recognized company, one with financial stability and collaborative experience that has created a number of successful Industry solutions, should instill confidence.

Other times client team members may be in the position of launching their very first interactive project. They must overcome the hurdle not only of knowing the answers but knowing the right questions to ask. It is our first responsibility to aid the client in understanding that there are a number of factors influencing the success or failure of any creative endeavor and to communicate that, "You don't know what you don't know." It is the responsibility of the interactive and digital merchandising partner to help flush out all the caveats that the client will need to protect against.

At Frank Mayer & Associates we have developed a preliminary checklist of 10 questions that can lead clients who have not yet done so to the point of arriving at requirements and a budget. The questions below seem straightforward enough, but there are many considerations that inform the answers.

  1. What are the primary objectives?
  2. Who is the target user?
  3. Where will units be placed?
  4. How many units will be deployed?
  5. What are the size requirements?
  6. How long will the unit be in the field?
  7.  What key hardware features do your objectives dictate?
  8. Has a software application been developed?
  9. What look and feel do you want your solution to have?
  10. What are the installation, support and maintenance requirements?

A successful interactive display or kiosk has its genesis in a fully transparent consultative partnership between the client, the partners involved and the in-store merchandising company. Answering these questions establishes a solid foundation for a project and a sure footing for the relationships.

The reality is all of us strive to give the best advice and the best service to our customers, whatever their orientation, but wouldn't it be great if we were all singing from the same place in the songbook. Collaboration and trust between the interactive merchandising company and the client is the single greatest indicator of project success. It is our responsibility as an Industry to engage frankly with our clients and offer them the success they deserve!

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Latest posts by Ron Bowers
Ron Bowers
Ron Bowers and Frank Mayer & Associates are recognized for their expertise of the in-store merchandising marketplace. Their creative insight has developed leading edge point of purchase displays, digital signage, kiosks, mobile, and self-service retail customer experiences.
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