By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette

When we caught up with Screenreach Interactive founder and CEO Paul Rawlings, he was in the midst of packing for a trip to New York, where he was booked as a panellist for the Digital Signage Investor Conference.

Digital signage, a so-called form of “out-of-home advertising,” delivers video content, advertisements and messages to specific locations at specific times on static or touch screens, often in combination with movement detection and image capture technology. According to one recent industry forecast, the market is growing at a compound annual rate of 40 per cent, with 22 million digital signs expected to be deployed world-wide by 2015.

For Screenreach, it’s an industry ripe for the Screach app.

In fact, Screenreach recently teamed up with U.K. out-of-home advertising firm Ocean Outdoor to turn a huge digital sign at London’s Westfield Shopping Centre into an interactive driving game shoppers can play using their smartphones as the controller. The game is a marketing initiative for insurance provider Swiftcover. Participants accumulate points as they race that can earn them a prize, can connect to the app through Facebook, and have their Facebook profile picture feature on the screen. In addition to a fun and interactive way to engage with consumers, the connection between Screach and Facebook also allows Swiftcover to garner more information about how consumers interact with its brand.

This project typifies the business model which Screenreach has developed over the past year and a half to break into specific market verticals, establish partnerships with key players within those verticals and work together to create a unique, value-added solution that allows a brand to engage in a much more dynamic fashion with its consumers.

“It’s a new market,” said Rawlings. “A new global market around interaction and we are spearheading it. The world is changing, things are becoming more social. Consumers want better experiences and they want to be engaged.”

Screenreach’s bold leap into this brave new world has also attracted the attention of global food and drink giant PepsiCo. Earlier this month, Screenreach was named as one of the Pepsico10, an annual program in which 10 European startups are selected to work on pilot programs with the company’s top brands.

But reaching this stage has demanded that Screenreach narrow its focus and avoid the temptation of spreading itself too thin chasing too many opportunities.

Those essential first case studies

In our introduction to Screenreach, we talked about Rawling’s experience with U.K. startup accelerator The Difference Engine in 2010. When Rawlings entered the program, the underlying technology for Screach had been nailed down. The challenge, however, was figuring out which market verticals to target and why.

“Because Screach is a platform proposition, it exists across a whole variety of different markets,” Rawlings said. “Through The Difference Engine, it became evident that platform could do a lot of different things and mean a lot of different things to different people.”

What Screenreach’s strongest prospective markets had in common was that need to create a unique and interactive experience that would allow a brand to better engage with consumers. A national museum provided the first opportunity to put Screach to the test.

The museum wanted to attract new visitors, keep them on the premises longer and drive additional revenue from the on-site cafe and gift shop. Screenreach made each exhibit interactive with a QR code. When visitors scanned a code with their smartphone, it launched an interactive guide and rewarded them for using the technology with vouchers for the cafe and gift shop.

“It was a great first case study for us and got us thinking about the different ways that Screach could work best for the client depending on the environment it was in,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings and his team then took advantage of an in with the Newcastle United Football Club, where Screach was used to turn fans’ phones into voting tools to decide the “Man of the Match,” again, with rewards that would drive foot traffic to the stadium’s gift shop. A local radio station picked up on the club’s use of the app and this led to a project with GMG Radio. This in turn led to a deal with Bauer Media in August, which operates 42 radio stations across the U.K., to use Screach to create interactive location-based services for online listeners.

Finding out what the market needs

Rawlings attributed Screach’s appeal to these initial customers to three points which resonated with their needs:

1. The ability of the app to deliver rewards to consumers which provide an immediate incentive to take a specific action.

2. The utility of the app as a platform for brands to engage in a two-way conversation with consumers to learn more about them.

3. The flexibility of Screach to accomplish the previous two points with unique and customizable games, quizzes, polls, chats and other forms of engagement.

Word of mouth, existing relationships and levering case studies of successful deployments have all been critical to driving Screenreach’s customer acquisition strategy to date and identifying what have become its target verticals – digital signage, radio, print, live events and broadcast television.

Its customer list now also includes MicrosoftTEDxJCDecaux, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and RMG Media. With RMG, the Screach app will be used with digital signage located in 800 independent coffee shops across the U.S. to provide polls, quizzes, games and other interactive activities.

The team has taken to the blogosphere and Twitter to establish relationships in target verticals and position Screenreach as a thought leader for consumer interaction.

“We try to be part of the conversations that are surrounding relevant industries,” Rawlings said. “We use our blog to demonstrate exactly what Screach is capable of and what it can provide to clients but we try to do this in a way that is current and acknowledging what is currently going on in the industry around us … we use Twitter a lot for listening too, to learn more about current industry needs.”

It is also actively seeking as many speaking opportunities as it can at conferences that hit its target verticals, such as this week’s Digital Signage Investor Conference.

“If you are on a panel or on stage, the value is there before you’ve even gone to the conference,” Rawlings said. “If all you’re doing is exhibiting, it’s much tougher to ensure a return on the investment.”

Speaking or exhibiting at a conference is about more than just communicating your own story and product benefits, he added. It is also about participating in the debates around timely topics and issues which are impacting a target market.

Lessons learned

A big lesson that Rawlings and the team have learned is the need to properly qualify a customer early on. In some instances, significant time was spent on a prospective customer with nothing to show for it. This problem often resulted from Screenreach’s early efforts to woo trial customers to use Screach without requiring them to provide anything of value in return.

“Because they hadn’t paid anything for it, they were fairly apathetic about how much they are going to use it,” Rawlings said. “In any vertical, you have to make sure the customer has bought in from day one and the only way is with some kind of exchange of value, either money or services in kind.”

Screenreach has also found itself with prospects that range from independent local businesses to major global brands. The other challenge, as the business has grown, has been to understand which customers are the best customers at any given time.

“We work it on a case by case basis and assess the level of opportunity,” Rawlings said. “Obviously we always strive to do as much as we can.”

We will explore that aspect of Screenreach’s growth story in more detail in a future post.

This is the second article in a continuing monthly series that will chronicle the growth path of Screenreach Interactive, a startup based in Newcastle upon Tyne in England’s North East. Screenreach’s flagship product, Screach, is an interactive digital media platform that allows users to create real-time, two-way interactive experiences between a smart device (through the Screach app) and any content, on any screen or just within the mobile device itself. We invite your feedback.

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