The Digital Directory Experience + Airport Retail — Enabling Engagement

Aug. 31, 2016
Using a digital directory can move service away from traditional wayfinding into a new arena of better customer service.

Wayfinding, be it traditional or digital, is so 2010. We get it. Show us how to get from point A to point B via mobile device in literally five text messages. Tell me where the bathrooms are and yes, perhaps I may even like to send those directions to my mobile as well – although our recent work in this space actually tells us something quite different. Initially, digital wayfinding was a one-to-one interactive experience. Users searched a destination and were provided directions to get there. But the technological possibilities have evolved so that customer interaction doesn’t need to stop once a user leaves the display because there are ways to deepen customer engagement.

We love wayfinding. And we’ll continue to implement wayfinding applications for our clients when it is the strategically appropriate experience. We recommend these strategies when we’re on panels and promote them to enhance the customer journey. But in certain circumstances, we’ve come to feel that Point A to Point B wayfinding experiences can be a bit utilitarian, and leave a great opportunity to deepen the customer experience on the table.

The convenience of traveling by air is undeniable. Within a few hours, you can have breakfast in New York City and dinner in Milan. But that experience comes with a cost – anxiety and stress caused by hassle and inconvenience. But as the global movement of being connected is front and center, what at times can be a “utilitarian” transportation hub — the terminal — needs to implement a true strategy to enhance the traveling experience.

According to a Walker study, by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, projecting that 86 percent of people will pay more for an enhanced customer experience. This includes the travel sector, focused on the airport terminal a top location.

We see the same statistics over and over. More brands and organizations are talking about customer experience and the importance it plays. By 2018, more than 50 percent of organizations will redirect their investments to customer experience innovation. This means more emphasis will be placed on uniting all touch points into a single, fluid experience. Traditional wayfinding is not the “single, fluid experience” we are all seeking. But, digital wayfinding helps you locate certain items within a space and directs you to them, while giving you a view of other areas that may be of relevance.

Enter the digital directory experience, the next logical step in bridging the physical and digital environments. By providing input based on environment, available data, user preference and influences from previous sessions, digital directories not only help users to their destination, but they also go beyond by providing insight into the space, serving up complimentary product recommendations and offering personalized assistance.

Inside the terminal, the digital directory experience should be efficient, elegant, and on-brand message, helping customers find what they are looking for while educating them in an unobtrusive manner. The goal here is to discover, inspire and assist the traveler. A key distinction for the digital directory experience is that the customer journey isn’t linear — why should the digital experience be? Shopping and discovery are about the journey, and the digital directory experience gives us the opportunity to build brand equity along the way.

Digital directories inside a terminal can be catalysts that define the customer experience. At their best, they provide an opportunity to shape customer’s discovery and information gathering process, informing the way they experience the terminal environment, including retail and restaurant engagement.

With the digital directory experience, we can integrate intelligent applications that can become more personalized and easily tailored to user preferences. The strategy offers the ability to make suggestions based on preference, seasonality, time in terminal, and other factors. Intelligent, dynamic search and personalized recommendations have proven benefits to not only brands looking to upsell and drive customers to their space, but it creates efficiencies and value the customers themselves.

In creating a digital directory experience, design plays an extremely important role. Leveraging an intelligent merchandising API, the directory is less a sales tool and more a tool that aids and assists customers through their journey. The true differentiator for the digital directory experience is essentially enabling an artificial intelligence-based engine to drive personalized recommendations for individual customers.

Within a brand's digital strategy, it is about personalization, but sometimes it is also about keeping pace with competitors. Travelers don’t necessarily know what they want, so it’s incumbent upon retailers and merchants to help lead them in a way that makes it appear they are discovering something for themselves. Every journey needs a starting point — the digital directory is designed to be the physical point that meets digital initiation.

Traditionally, wayfinding has been a hyper-focused effort — used to get a user to a specific destination. Kevin McKenzie, Director of Digital at Westfield was quoted recently saying, “Traditional wayfinding really just helps you get from Point A to Point B. The way we think about wayfinding is really more than that. It’s discovery. Most people, we believe, when they go to a mall, they pretty much know where they want to go, but they’re really not certain what’s happening all around them, and may not be aware of product trends, offers, deals, or even events that we or our retail partners are hosting.”

From a strategic point of view, the main difference between digital wayfinding and a directory experience comes down to function. Wayfinding has a functional end, and can be a sterile, transactional experience. Digital directories also serve the wayfinding end, but the digital directory experience elevates the customer interaction to include brand messaging, creating opportunities to further engage customers in an elegant, brand-right experience and opens up a new channel for expression, engagement and capture.

So how do we implement engagement and close the communication loop with the customer? In our experience, we’ve identified three key factors you should consider.

1. Choose The Right Partners: Choosing the right firm, not only to ideate and help visualize the experience, but one who also understands the nuances involved in executing which goals should be a top-priority. While I hope you have the opportunity to see innovative design and UX work that will spark your interest, when it comes to time-tested strategies and future-perfect deployments, successful hands-on experience with relevant deployments ensures a deeper understanding of your challenges.
2. Be Realistic: Begin with a plan that sets goals and metrics that are achievable and integral to your business goals. Big data can be overwhelming when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Find what works for your organization, implement it, and plan to adapt accordingly.
3. Understanding: This is a long-term strategy, not a short-term tactic. The investment that is made is to not only heighten the customer experience today, but also to begin to lay a foundation for future customer relationships.

The success we have seen thus far with the digital directories should be very inspiring for both brands and retailers within the airport environment. No longer seen as just a “terminal”, the new travel experience is all about that, the experience, and as an agency, we are continuing to push it forward with technology, creativity and a strategic mindset.

OpenEye Global is a member of the Digital Signage Federation, the only independent, not-for-profit trade organization serving the digital signage industry. The DSF supports and promotes the common business interests of worldwide digital signage, interactive technologies and digital out-of-home network industries. To learn more, go to

Steven Picanza is a marketing and brand strategist with a core purpose centered on connecting people, products and organizations with their core audience. With 10+ years experience, it is his “glass is always full” type of attitude coupled with his sheer candor and entrepreneurial spirit that drives him to bring authenticity back into the industry, serve as a catalyst for progress and inspire the next generation to do the same.