Prime pitch: Meadowhall used Comgenic to create content for the plasma screens

Money-making malls

Published:  01 April, 2005

The digital revolution is redefining the way shopping centre managers can capitalise on commercialisation, says Stuart Ross

In recent years there’s been a dramatic shift in the shopping centre industry’s attitude to commercial activity.

‘Commercialisation’, the generation of non-rental income, is now a commonly-used term as managers and owners start to recognise the potential value of their malls and the captive, receptive audience they entertain. While the potential revenue available from traditional, channel-based methods – mall barrows, events and partner promotions, for example – has plateaued, recent advances in technology have unleashed a world of commercialisation opportunities for centres.

Today, shoppers can research their visit in advance on the centre’s website. When they enter the centre, touch-screen kiosks offer a source of interactive information, while plasma screens entertain and inform them.

By enhancing a customer’s experience through the strategic combination of these digital media channels, it’s possible to create an environment where visitors linger longer and return time after time.

From a shopping centre’s perspective, each digital channel provides a way of developing existing marketing activities to achieve integrated campaigns that develop the centre’s brand; creating its own personality and character. What’s more, these marketing technology methods create a completely new way of generating and enhancing income through commercialisation.

For the first time, a mechanism exists for operating efficient and cost-effective promotions and campaigns for national third party advertising; local third party advertising; and centre-based advertising, including individual retailer promotions plus mall event information

In essence, these three elements are similar to the information you’d experience at a cinema before the movie starts: top brand national TV commercials, local ads for shops and the obligatory curry house, plus promotion for the cinema’s own refreshment offer and previews of forthcoming films.

Over the years, the percentage split between these three components in cinemas has changed considerably. A quarter of a century ago, the relatively unsophisticated ads for local traders prevailed, but today emphasis has swung towards national advertisers, with film previews and foyer advertising remaining constant.

It’s envisaged that the commercialisation mix in shopping centres will evolve in much the same way: the initial bias towards local and centre-based advertising, with a handful of national ads thrown in, will change. In time, national advertisers will increase their share as the percentage of local ads falls but remains a core element in the mix.

However, as shopping centres have multiple communication channels – mall kiosks, web advertising, poster sites, mall literature and more – they offer even greater marketing opportunities for national advertisers than the single cinema screen. With the measurable benefits of such a captive audience also becoming apparent, it’s anticipated that the shift from local to national advertising will accelerate rapidly.

Even with digital technology, certain obstacles remain when it comes to creating and implementing marketing campaigns, particularly the quality of the promotion’s content. Although national third party advertising may provide high-quality ads and complementary graphics, this is rarely the case with local or tenant retailer advertising.

It’s usually the responsibility of centre management or its business partners to generate relevant promotional material. But the time and financial costs involved in creating and implementing marketing campaigns can be a major headache.

That’s not to say that traditional methods of communication such as direct mail, poster sites and mall banners should be ignored. In fact one of the advantages that shopping centres have over many advertising outlets is their ability to offer truly integrated promotions. By combining traditional promotional methods with digital media channels, centres can create potentially powerful promotional offers that are a major attraction to big brand advertisers and retailers alike.

Since installing its digital media, which includes website, retailer intranet, mall kiosks and plasma screens, Meadowhall in Sheffield has operated several integrated campaigns for the centre, retailers and third party advertisers.

To overcome time and cost barriers, Meadowhall’s in-house team used Comgenic Manager and Comgenic Promote software to create high-quality content for mall kiosks, website and plasma screens.

By adding poster site advertising, direct mail and mall banners into the mix, Meadowhall’s enhanced promotional package has proved a successful formula.

The centre also has the ability to provide retailers and advertisers with immediate, quantifiable feedback on its marketing success.

Stuart Ross is general manager of Comgenic (01132 856 450).

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