Gimbal CEO Says Getting Beacons Right Means Moving Beyond the Coupon

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Jeff Russakow, has only been the CEO and President of Gimbal for about six months, but he’s clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid. He doesn’t just talk about Gimbal and its location-based technology, he gushes about it, firing factoid after factoid about its history, evolution, and potential.

The previous CEO of Findly, an on demand recruitment platform, and former EVP and chief customer officer at Yahoo, Russakow has discovered that while beacon technology is still incredibly young,  a certain formula is proving to be golden for a great beacon deployment. Street Fight talked with Russakow recently to learn more about how beacons are evolving, where they’re making their biggest impact, and where Gimbal has its sights set for the rest of 2016 and beyond.

When Gimbal started, beacons were still a novel, futuristic concept. How has the retail environment changed since then? And how have the role of beacons evolved accordingly?
Really it’s the consumer that has changed. Even a couple years ago the digital experience was very PC- and laptop-focused, but now mobile has surpassed that, with more than 50 percent of [activity] happening on a mobile device.

I think when people started thinking of beacons, they thought it was the place to [deliver] the coupon offer, but what we’re finding is that there is a broader and richer experience to be had through beacon deployment. As people started to deploy proximity, they realized that they ought to be thinking about using beacons to make mobile apps actually mobile? They also started to realize that [coupons] is only one type of experience.

The biggest use case for beacons that enterprises and retailers need is first and foremost data. They must be able to understand who is coming into their environment, like how Amazon knows who is coming onto their site. “Know thy customer.” The second thing businesses need to do [with beacons] is develop more experiences. Outside the retail environment beacons are almost all about experiences. If you’re traveling, ordering food, going into a hotel, renting a car, going to the bank, those are experiences; there’s no offer or coupon. Most players including retail are gravitating toward appropriating experiences for the consumer, which is pure goodness. Who gets mad at having their coffee ordered and not having to wait in line?

Consumer data, then experiences, and then, third offers. That is how it should work.

This time last year, what was different for Gimbal and the location-based industry? What do you expect will be different this time next year?
For the industry overall, 2015 was a year of piloting with more advanced location and proximity capabilities, and seeing initial success and compelling results; in 2016 we are seeing major enterprises jump in with both feet, and adopt the technology more aggressively.

Location and proximity analytics have evolved from basic raw reporting, like who entered the venue or store, to analytics that more closely resemble “web analytics for the physical world.”

In addition, early industry efforts were focused more on retail, and on simple use-cases like greetings and offers. Gimbal, in contrast, has been serving a broad range of consumer-facing industries (retail, banking, hospitality, travel, sports and entertainment venues, events….), and has focused very heavily on enabling exceptional mobile experiences (“order my coffee” or “check me into the hotel automatically without waiting in line”; “bring up product information as I approach a shelf or display,” [or] “make my in-stadium sporting experience more awesome”). Customers and enterprises alike are most excited about making mobile apps actually mobile, and creating moments of customer delight.

What are the key areas Gimbal is focused on growing? 
Gimbal is growing very rapidly – our customers, deployments, audience size, and locations are all growing at triple digit rates and accelerating. Key areas for us include increases in sales and service capacity to keep up with demand, as well as additional scale in our customer success group to assist clients in optimizing the use of our platform and sharing best practices.

What do you say to critics who assert that beacons are just a fad? How have beacons differed or matured differently than the industry anticipated?
In 2016, mobile engagement by consumers has surpassed the time they spend on the PC/laptop – the average US adult is spending approximately 3 hours per day actively looking at their phone, and for the other 21 hours it is in their pocket or by their head while they sleep. Today’s mobile has become so pervasive, so good, that people are spending the digital time they used to spend at home with their PC out and about in the real world – at stores and restaurants and entertainment venues, and more.

In order for enterprises to be able to make consumer mobile experiences truly mobile, and not just a PC experience shrunk down to fit on a phone, they need to digitize the world, and enable physical sites to act just like web sites and be able to interact with people. Geofences and beacons are a scalable, cost-effective, pervasive way to do that. They surpass prior technologies because over 2 billion consumers are now walking around the planet with radio receiving, internet-enabled devices on their person at virtually all times, essentially making the receiving end of the technical equation a free good.

In 2013 and 2014, the media speculated that, in virtually one year, or one holiday season, most retailers would be fully beaconized, and have mature programs. In reality, beacons are very hot, but in general no technology proliferates across an entire industry, fully rolled out, in only one year.  The proliferation of beacons has also differed from predictions in three other ways:

  • It is broad-based, across retail, hospitality, dining, banking, transportation, smart cities, sports and entertainment, and more
  • Most enterprises geo-fence first, and beacon second; they may geo-fence all 1000 locations day one, and then beacon up perhaps 200 initial locations and make sure they learn how to best leverage the technology.
  • The initial use cases for most businesses have been passive data collection, to better understand customer behavior; and creating rich mobile experiences (automatically order my coffee or buy my ticket when I walk in; pop up my shopping app when I enter the store; let me know when I am passing nearby a favorite retailer or restaurant; help me find my rental car; enrich my stadium experience). Explicit advertising and coupons and offers only really make sense in some industries like subsets of retail, and usually follow only after customer data and mobile experiences use cases have been implemented.  Like the rest of digital marketing, to advertise effectively, you need data to know your customers, to whom to advertise, and when.

Do you see retailers with beacons who aren’t making the most of them?  What does a poor beacon implementation look like?
Retailers who go straight to “hit a bubble, get a coupon,” and skip the steps of understanding their customers and thinking though what kind of experiences they will really enjoy, will not get the most out of their location and proximity program.  In the extreme, they risk creating a bad mobile experience for their valued customers.

What are examples of beacons being used in full effectiveness, to enhance experience, drive the path to purchase, and close the loop?
One of my favorites is a major coffee chain, where customers can order ahead before driving to the store. A geofence one quarter mile outside the store notifies the system when they are close before pouring the coffee hot (in case they are caught in traffic or otherwise delayed); then beacons in the drive-through and counter see whether the customer is driving through or walking in.

Another example is a major retailer where a geofence outside the store greets customers that specifically like that store, and entices them inside with a personalized offer; beacons inside the store can see them as they approach certain specific racks and favorite products, and provide information and reviews; and a beacon at the cash register can automatically wake up the phone and pull up coupons or loyalty programs, rather than the customer needing to fumble through their e-mail for it while everyone in line behind them is waiting.

Nicole Spector is a Street Fight contributor.