INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES: End Users and Suppliers Do Better When Yoked

Lyle Bunn


Digital Media Strategy Architect, BUNN
Lyle Bunn is an independent analyst, advisor and educator providing digital place-based signage expertise to end users in the planning, design, sourcing and optimization of their initiatives. He has published more than 300 articles, whitepapers and “how to” guides and helped to train over 10,000 end user and supply professionals. See

Over an 18-month period, a large grocery chain had a standing time of 2PM on Thursday afternoon to hear from vendors about digital signage. A vendor calling to try to book a meeting was delighted to have a date offered by the secretary, who simply flipped forward to the next available Thursday at 2pm and added the vendor name.

Whoever was able to attend from the grocer’s impacted departments would participate in the meeting. Hundreds of vendors presented, with some presentations including partner suppliers that might be part of a final solution. Many would request, and be given a second date to focus on key elements.

Not very far into the information gathering process, the grocer came to believe they knew more about the medium than the vendors did. Whereas vendors were focused on the element of their particular expertise, the end user was seeing the big picture comprised of these individual elements and assessing what would be required for them to benefit most from digital signage.

“Everyone believes their part is the most important” I was told by someone from the grocer “, and very few had any idea of what it would take to truly do a cost/benefit or investment analysis, or create an overall project plan.

Despite this time consuming exercise, and the benefits that it could deliver, no investment was ever made. “Hearing about all the moving parts, system complexity and lacking the time or motivation to assess application possibilities and real ROI, we decided not to proceed,” said the grocer representative.

What are the lessons?

  • Digital signage needs to integrate into existing operations and do something better than existing approaches.
  • The property operator (in this case a retailer) is but one stakeholder in the decision process. In retail, merchants matter.
  • Technology follows intention. Presenting a solution when there is no appreciation for the problem or opportunity is a waste of time.
  • Business value motivates investment.

All these point to the “pearls before swine” maxim and the concept of “equal yoking.”

Many suppliers presented their solutions while meeting the end user eye-to-eye. They were eloquent in presenting the “how” of digital signage that they would bring. They described the trunk, legs, tail, tusks and other parts of the elephant with which they are familiar in great depth, while overlooking the importance of establishing why an elephant is important to the enterprise.

A stronger positioning for the supplier would have been to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the end user to determine how the future could be different.

An “equal yoking” would result, as when beasts of burden are joined by a yoke placed around the neck of each to harness and direct their individual contributions.

Each of the end user and the supplier have a role to play. As each oxen or pulling horse in the yoke is entitled to expect the contribution of the other, lest they go in circles, so it is with end user and supply organizations.

Clarifying, refining and even validating the description of benefits that are to be derived is a mutually beneficial effort. The end user gets investment validation while the supplier is provided the opportunity to describe how their solution will maximize the benefit.

A wise procurement executive said it simply as we were about to go into interviews of a short list of possible turnkey solution providers. He said “I just want to learn one thing… are they here for our benefit, or their own. We have done our homework and know what we require”.

The end user can become the swine toward which the best of suppliers will not cast their pearls and those who bear little burden for describing their intentions will loose the benefits of being equally yoked with suppliers that are most capable of delivering highest value.