Mobile Beacons: The New Frontier of Digital Marketing
The wide world of digital marketing is constantly evolving. With new technologies available at savvy marketers’ fingertips, possibilities of promoting your brand and engaging your audience that were once thought to be unreachable are now commonplace.
Take mobile marketing as an example. Just a few years ago, it seemed impossible to take advantage of increasing mobile use through targeting marketing strategies. Then came the first smartphones, mobile use exploded across audiences, and mobile marketing became a necessary staple of any successful brand.
Spotting a marketing trend and opportunity as it occurs is crucial to succeed in your digital marketing efforts. The longer you wait, the more crowded the competition for opportunity becomes. Early adopter or new marketing possibilities, on the other hand, are able to take advantage of the newfound window into their audience’s attention thanks to embracing new technology.
Sometimes, that new opportunity occurs thanks to a new technology that breaks through in a hurry, forcing marketers to adopt quickly and efficiently. Other times, it arises out of a seemingly small technological breakthrough that only becomes relevant to marketers over time. The latter is the case with Beacons, a mobile technology that has existed since 2013 but is just now beginning to unveil its full potential as a digital marketing powerhouse.
Beacon Technology, Explained
Imagine a world in which you can communicate wirelessly with any nearby member of your target audience. That’s exactly what Apple did when it introduced iBeacons in 2013, a new technology designed to push messages to smart phone users close to the source of the message.
The concept is relatively easy to understand. A so-called beacon, the size of a large coin, transmits a one-way signal using Bluetooth technology. The exact transmission method is called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), designed to take up as little battery life as possible. In fact, depending on the interval at which companies send signals, a single battery can last up to 3 years.
To receive the signal, phones have to be close enough to the beacon to be within reach of Bluetooth. As a result, it often gets confused with Near Field Communication (NFC), the technology that brought us mobile payments.
In reality, both concepts show significant differences: NFC chips are much smaller than Beacons, but also use electromagnetic induction to transmit their message, which means that it can only transfer to a phone that is at most 2 inches away from the chip. Beacons, on the other hand, work for a distance of up to 30 feet, depending on the individual chip.
Current Uses in Digital Marketing
In its application, mobile beacon technology is surprisingly simple. As a member of your target audience walks by in close proximity to the chip, they will receive a notification on their phone with an advertising message by your store. As it stands, brands generally use beacons in connection with their mobile app, ensuring that their message only arrives on the smartphones of current app users.
The retail industry has been the first to fully embrace beacons as part of their marketing strategy. Placing a beacon in storefront windows enables them to communicate wirelessly with passersby, informing them about new sales or sending them coupons via push notifications.
Naturally, Apple – the creator of the initial iBeacon – is among its core users. Mobile beacons now exist in every U.S. Apple Store, sending messages to anyone who enters the store as well as customers in specific store sections. Using the technology, Apple can share product videos and in-depth information directly to its most relevant audience.
And Apple is not the only major retailer that has discovered the power and potential of iBeacons. This past Black Friday, Macy’s rolled out a mobile game that used Beacons to help users find discounted products, with participating users entered to win $1 million in gift codes and store prizes. Meanwhile, Target announced that it would begin testing the technology in 50 of its stores last summer.
So far, the technology has not been the slam dunk some imagined it to be when Apple first introduced it almost 3 years ago. Despite initial success statistics first reported in 2014,some articles are beginning to emerge stating that mobile beacons, as currently constructed, have failed.
Interestingly, though, even experts who question the current success potential of mobile beacons admit the immense potential of the technology. Once marketers begin to see beyond the simple promotional push notifications, it will open up an entirely new realm of possibilities for digital marketers.
Marketing Possibilities for Mobile Beacons
The most important realization to make is that the possibilities for this technology are not restricted to retail. By 2018, 90% of smartphones will be able to receive a BLE signal, and beacons are now compatible with all major mobile operating systems. Most importantly, the price of Beacons is now at an all time low – less than $10 for some manufacturers. As the technical knowledge required to optimize beacons for digital marketing catches up with its theoretical capabilities, adoption and creative uses among marketers will increase drastically.
That is especially the case considering the near seamless transition between digital and traditional marketing that mobile beacon technology offers. Ever since the internet and its mobile components have become a marketing powerhouse, brands have sought to connect the newly available opportunities and offers with their more traditional promotional methods. QR codes and tracking URLs on print materials are just some of the many attempts to fuse both strategies.
Beacon technology simplifies this transition. By connecting digital messaging to the physical location of potential customers, brands will be ablbe to create powerful, integrated strategies that engage all of their target audience’s sensors.
The possibilities range widely. Event-based beacons may help attendees find their way to concessions or call up a schedule. Trade show marketers can use beacons near their booth to draw attention and gather information.
In the sporting world, Major League Baseball has become the first organization to fully embrace the technology through its At the Ballpark app. Airports are beginning to use beacons to keep their audience updated about directions to the gate, up-to-the-minute boarding times, delays, and more. Meanwhile, the Canadian startup HotSpot uses beacons that allow businesses to pay for their customers’ parking.
Even for retailers who are now using the service mainly as an additional opportunity to push simple promotional messages, mobile beacon technology holds significant future promise. Imagine, for example, messages that are delivered dynamically based on your customers’ past purchasing history, connecting push notifications with the information stored in your CRM. Integrating beacons into your marketing strategy more dynamically will be a crucial part of helping you communicate effectively with nearby members of your target audience.
For now, though, the technology is still in its infancy, as marketers are only beginning to realize its significant potential. Slowly but surely, it is making its way into the public consciousness, ensuring that soon, it will be as much of a part of digital marketing as mobile commerce is today. Thanks its increasing availability even for small businesses, it is finding its way into the hands of creative marketers, paving the way for a future in which it will become both ubiquitous and necessary in tomorrow’s marketing world. To learn more about technologies like iBeacon, and how they can impact your marketing strategy, contact us.