Tuning into beacons (17/11/15)

Tuning into beacons

New developments enable more location-based engagement

We have heard of them, think we understand them, but we are very unlikely to have interacted with them. The beacon feels as if it should be one of those technologies that is symbiotically integrated into the way that we digitally interact with the world around us, but commercial and personal connection with them remains surprisingly low.

Since Apple opened the box at the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013, marketing practitioners have been aware of this new gate into the personal digital gardens of the consumer, but adoption has been slow. Earlier this year, just 9 percent of U.S. retailers had implemented the tech. According toRetailMeNot, the take-up in Europe has been even slower, with just 3 percent of retailers in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK applying beacons. Consumer awareness is similarly struggling, with a recent report from First Insight suggesting 70 percent of shoppers had never even heard of beacons.

But as 2015 draws to a close there are some interesting circumstances which could unlock beacons’ potential. In July Google launched the Eddystone cross platform, open format for Bluetooth-enabled beacons. Crucially this improves the ease of development and the scalability of the opportunity for those who wish to develop interactions with beacons. It is moving the creative capability out from the technology labs and closer to the technical marketers.

In tandem, the custodians of real estate are beginning to broaden the physical presence of the beacons. With a range from very close proximity to a few hundred meters, the key is their placement at locations which deliver relevance and context. Initial trailblazers have of course been Apple, leading the way by installing beacons in its stores, but gradually more retailers are considering the potential advantage of delivering presence-based notifications to their app-owning customers.

It is however the next stage of beacon placement that will provide the platform for transforming the scalability of the opportunity. Outdoor advertising companies like Primesight are now undertaking the placement of a network of beacons within the advertising structures that they own, which can be accessed for use by any business linked to a smartphone app.

This is creating an opportunity for advertisers to send notifications when customers are in a variety of desirable locations: A voucher for convenience grocery shopping triggered within the retailer’s app as customers leave the train station in the evening; or an offer for a fast food restaurant triggered when in proximity to an advertising poster at the cinema, linking the interruptive power of the poster with the personal delivery of an invitation to dine.

The important principles here for marketers are that the audience has willingly self-selected and therefore desires the benefit. They can use the confluence of time, place and desire to create an appropriate moment to deliver promotion with context. It is this additional power of context which magnifies the resonance of the advertising message, substantially increasing the likelihood of an improved return on marketing investment.

The barriers to effective commercial use of beacons are being dismantled and the desirability of a short term activation focused ad engagement is increasing. The challenge for marketers now is to integrate this new discipline into their communication strategy, bringing together the skills needed to execute creative, strategic and engaging content triggered by place and time. If they can master this, the beacon key is theirs to turn.