Beacons, once the herald of mobile marketing’s data-driven future, these days need a public relations makeover. We can see that in articles like this one, recently published in VentureBeat, which would have us think that beacons are dead.
Beacons are not dead, however—not even close.
Instead, the incredible metrics and insight-forward opportunities that beacons bring to mobile are at the living, beating heart of the device, and while beacons can present some hurdles for brands and retailers—how to deploy at scale being one of them—their value is crystal clear when it comes to the data they collect. As recently as August, leading analysts assessed beacons to be central to the conversation when it comes to the data that drive analytics and insights. “Don’t limit your target audience for beacon use to just the customer,” advises Chris Pemberton, writing for Smarter With Gartner. “These technologies can assist with analytics.”
Understanding beacons as part of a brand’s dynamic mobile mix—as, in particular, an element of campaign measurement and analytics increasingly instrumental to building positive outcomes—let’s dive in again, putting beacons in the data-driven context they deserve.
Beacons and Data: The Mobile Evolution is Measurable
Fueling campaign measurement is the basis of a second act for beacons, an act that far exceeds the early promise of initial applications —namely, the proximity-based prompts and offers that marketers hoped would drive customers into stores. We’re now in the realm of precise mobile data.
As beacon data inform marketers about how consumers actually move, shop, and spend time in aisles and at displays, it is helping to drive outcomes that brands and advertisers can build into next steps and in-store strategies. “In-store sensors and beacon technology can send personalized behavioral and demographic data to a business’s cloud computing system, offering insight into who customers are,” according to Ian Hutchison at Samsung Insights. “This data can educate product, layout, and display strategies by providing information on consumer preferences, budgets, and more as customers make multiple visits to a store.”
And then, beacon activations are still rich with ways to augment and enhance in-store and out-of-store experiences. Marketers ingesting these signals into their CRM and DMP systems can strengthen omnichannel engagements. For example, a shoe store with beacons could target people who interact with a particular popular brand, setting parameters around which kinds of offers go to which types of shoe enthusiasts. Even though we’re putting a focus on beacons for data and measurement, we shouldn’t forget the first value beacons brought to us, especially because that approach has evolved as well.
Beacons for Meaningful Location-Based Consumer Experiences
The enhancement beacons bring to in-store experiences—call it the beacon effect—dovetails with an overall proclivity among consumers to seek out meaningful moments, the kind that these devices enhance when marketers get creative.
- For example, Nike NYC leverages beacons to prompt in-store, in-app experiences. Crossing the threshold, the app comes to life with a beacon-activated front page, directing consumers to instant-look shopping, item try-on requests, and payments. Throughout consumers’ visits, Member Unlocks create new loyalty opportunities between brand and customer, with each engagement contextualized to the shopper’s identified preferences and interests.
- Similar to the Nike implementation, Finish Line is deploying beacons to craft experiences over offers via its Winner’s Circle app. The idea of interacting with customers in the aisles is not about single points of contact—special offers are one thing, but the company’s SVP of digital customer and experience and innovation characterized the goal as follows: “leverage the strengths of each Finish Line customer touchpoint—in-store, online, mobile and social—for a holistic approach that brings our total brand experience to the highest level.”
So, what can we say for certain about the future of beacons? We can say that beacons are again shining bright. Let’s take one last look at what that means for consumers and brands.
A Bright Future for Beacons and Brands
The retail industry tends to move less like a speed boat and more like a massive ship at sea. Brands can take miles, figuratively speaking, to make a turn, years rather than months to adopt and figure out the best ways to deploy and derive value from new devices.
Yes, the industry has seen an ebb and flow in the implementation of beacon technology. These innovative Bluetooth sensors arrived with much fanfare, and then their story slowed to a halt. Beacons are back, however, and we’re coming to understand them better. As for the logistical challenges and issues around scale, companies such as AcuityBrands are taking down the obstacles to deployment, one beacon-carrying light bulb at a time.
Additionally, the good news is that consumers have always been on the side of the smart Bluetooth experience. As GeoMarketing reports, about 50% of consumers within North America have enabled Bluetooth on their smartphones and, furthermore, they leave it on. This number will continue to increase as IoT devices become more ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives.
The takeaway is that beacons have grown into a nuanced component of successful mobile marketing. We’ve learned what they do best—strengthen advertiser approaches to metrics and measurement as well as the relevance and contextual richness of on-the-ground, in- or near-store experiences—and we’ve figured out that while push notifications can be a part of the story, they aren’t the main narrative. Beacons aren’t dead; they’re reincarnated. From push to measurements and attribution, long live the beacon for marketers and brands.
Ryan Nabors is Director, Retail Solutions, at Verve. He is responsible for the company’s beacon and IoT initiatives and partnerships.