9 Keys to Launching a Successful Beacon Program

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wifiBeacons are popping up everywhere in 2015. While store infrastructures are increasingly being designed to include WiFi and beacons, many retailers are still unsure about what exactly is involved in launching a successful beacon program.

Beacons rank as one of the most popular “emerging techniques” among retailers, however only 2% of those surveyed by IHL Group and RIS News currently have beacons in-use. One of the biggest questions from retailers in the coming year will likely be how they can better implement beacon programs at their stores.

In an effort to answer that question, we asked top executives from the hyperlocal industry for their take on what’s really necessary launch a successful beacon program. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Try before buying. “Launching a positioning-based, in-store marketing program is an investment. Not only do you need indoor location or beacon hardware, but you need to spend engineering time either enhancing your mobile app to truly take advantage of the positioning features, or maybe even launching an app for the first time. Before launching a storewide trial, or building an app from scratch, run a ‘trial by aisle,’ or at the checkout counter with a third-party app like Passbook for iPhone, to get an idea on the return. A small scale pilot with a third-party app can go a long way in understanding how your costumers will engage with positioning-based content.” (Kyle Austin, ByteLight)

2. Get employees involved. “Make sure your staff understands what beacons really do — and don’t do. New technologies can make some people a bit paranoid, so equip your staff with a brief, friendly script explaining how beacons work and what customer benefits they provide. Here’s a good starter script: ‘Think of the beacon like a lighthouse, pinging out a one-way signal. If a mobile app on your phone is set up to recognize that signal, that tells the app you’re present in our store. From there, we can do all sorts of cool things to make your customer experience more fun and valuable.’” (Rob Bethge, Perka, Inc., a First Data company)

3. Check with a third-party for verified scale. “Think of beacons like little radio stations, and app users as listeners. Without app users, your beacons won’t reach anyone. They’re the most critical piece of the puzzle. Before you go out and install 1,000 beacons, make sure you have an app audience in place to make the program work. If you’re working with a beacon platform, it’s a good idea to check with a third-party measurement service like comScore to ensure that the platform has a verified audience of monthly active app users—the same way you’d verify a radio station’s reach.” (Dave Heinzinger, inMarket)

4. Consider your voice. “Beacons run the risk of being a tempting way to overwhelm your customers or fans with engagement. In many of the most creative deployments we’ve worked on, brands and retailers are using beacons to gather actionable intelligence without directly messaging the customer—such as, notifying a salesperson, dynamically changing visual content, etc.” (Alex Finkel, Roximity)

5. Keep offers relevant. “Beacons empower SMBs to reach out to their customers directly—literally putting your brand into the customer’s pocket. Use that intimate connection wisely. Any beacon-enabled message you send should make customers’ lives easier or deliver a tangible, worthwhile value. Obey these guidelines, and every beacon-enabled interaction will deepen your customer relationships, promote profits, and build lasting goodwill. Ignore them, however, and you could alienate the very customers you’re trying to cultivate.” (Rob Bethge, Perka, Inc., a First Data company)

6. Test hardware lifecycle and set maintenance plans. “A small scale pilot can help with really determining the lifecycle of the hardware you’re going to use. While some BLE beacon providers are saying their batteries could last as long as two years, the reality is one year may be the max lifetime and some providers are selling beacons that only last three months. Imagine being a big-box store like Walmart who needs to replace 153,000 beacon batteries annually, or maybe even quarterly? You’re talking about new installation and maintenance teams, platform and network managers.” (Kyle Austin, ByteLight)

7. Create real value for shoppers. “Consumers will evaluate every beacon-triggered message they receive and consider whether or not it adds to their in-store experience. A good rule of thumb is to evaluate each beacon marketing campaign against the following questions: Will it help the consumer make a buying decision? Will it save the consumer time or money? Will it inspire the consumer? Will it improve the overall shopping experience?” (Rob Murphy, Swirl)

8. Pay attention to physical layouts. “Businesses need to focus on setting up beacons to work in unique physical environments and create programs that go along with various layouts. Beacons are quite small and work best when there is a clear line of sight between them and the device they are communicating with. Businesses can use this to their advantage in order to guide consumers through a venue and offer relevant messages throughout their shopping experience. By knowing their audience and product placement within a venue, marketers can utilize beacons to drive consumer movement within a physical location and enhance the path to purchase.” (Neil Sweeney, Freckle IoT)

9. Consider security. “Once you’ve decided to deploy beacons, it’s important to ensure your infrastructure is secure and protected. By their nature, beacons broadcast their identification indiscriminately, so make sure your hardware is secure from wardriving and spoofing.” (Alex Finkel, Roximity)

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.