iBeacon Tech Should Tone Down Coupons And Focus On Being Helpful

There is always a craze that gets everyone excited in mobile marketing, and right now it's iBeacons. The technology certainly sounds exciting, but I'm still wondering exactly how far removed we are from Bluetooth services that were going to beam offers to us all as soon as we entered stores.

I'm also not too sure how far we've moved away from the endless references to the movie Minority Report that used to be rolled out every time Bluetooth or any other form of near field communications (NFC) was mentioned. The question the tech companies that were -- and still are -- trying to sell markteters a direct route in to consumers' phones is whether or not this is actually something consumers wanted. Do people really want to have messages flash up on their phone every time there's an offer in the store they have just walked by? And how does the tech know what they're shopping for? An offer might be useful one day and totally annoying the next.

On the face of it, iBeacon offers may sound useful, but how many people find the alerts they have somehow allowed to appear on their phone screen just a little annoying? The screen can soon fill up with the duplicate headlines from competing news brands, notification that someone has "favourited" a tweet or a new level has opened up in some obscure game you can't remember downloading.

That's what got me just a little puzzled about Pernod Ricard trialling iBeacons. How would they know the people they beam out offers to are interested in a rum cocktail just because they're at an event? Couldn't an offer simply have been put up on a chalkboard?

I'm not saying iBeacons don't serve a purpose, because it's clearly useful to have communications between opt-in customers and their mobile devices. I'm just not too sure that the lion's share of the work marketers hope they will do originates in-store. Or at least if it originates in-store, I can't see how you can rely on push. Surely a note that there are offers in the area should be the mechanism by which users are alerted so they can fire up an app and see what the offers are? If they arrive individually, won't it just appear to be a crazy free for all as we move from one store to another? 

I just have a horrible feeling that iBeacons are going to give us the same talking points we've already gone over time and again with Bluetooth.

Remember -- we're in the age of digital now and if you're not completely focussed on the customer, you'll lose sight of him or her and lose their patronage also. If the technology isn't used to give them something they need, it won't be used.

So shouldn't iBeacons be all about a way of communicating with people in a useful way? Say, if people are on loyalty schemes you could get a personalised welcome with a state of your account... "just 50 points from earning those new shoes" might be the means of doing this. Shouldn't iBeacons be about storing a voucher you've had emailed to you or that you've looked up on the store's app? Rather than produce a phone and fire it up, how about an iBeacon just recognises you and takes the money off the item automatically? How about it captures your information when asking whether an item is in stock and then lets you know when it's back on the shelves?

I'm just not sure that money-off vouchers are going to cut it as the means through which iBeacons get traction. Vouchers are spammy and they're just too random, unless they're specifically pulled in by the mobile owner from a collection offered on a voucher site or store app.

As mobile begins to offer payment facilities in-store (PayPal) app and out-of-store (think Powa) surely there must be a way of using iBeacons to handle payment, take reservations, making click and collect as seamless as possible, make recommendations and generally assist the customer as well as handle money-off vouchers.

If you're going to do anything in digital it has to be useful. It has to serve a need. 

So for iBeacons to work, in my opinion, they will have to go way beyond chancing their luck with offers and vouchers. They're going to have to be helpful and appeal to shoppers at a far higher level than that exhibited by the coupon chaser.

4 comments about "iBeacon Tech Should Tone Down Coupons And Focus On Being Helpful".
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  1. Tom Goodwin from Tomorrow, June 16, 2014 at 11:27 a.m.

    Great piece Sean, we tend to overvalue new technology because it's exciting and new rather than thinking of it as a tool we can use to solve problems.
    There are great specific tools that technology gives us, but to mindlessly apply them everywhere, often at the expensive of an idea or value exchange is crazy.

    iBeacons are the new microsites or AR, everyones got to do it, but nobody dares ask why.

  2. mike boland from BIA/Kelsey, June 16, 2014 at 3:40 p.m.

    I agree about many of the things you suggest beacons should do. But technically speaking, beacons don't collect or store any information -- they only send out information. So many of the things you propose would have to happen at the app layer. Also, this is a discussion about beacons; you refer to them throughout the piece as iBeacon, which is just one flavor (Apple's standard for beacon technology).

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, June 17, 2014 at 5:48 a.m.

    Exactly right. I switched phone supplier away from Vodaphone because they kept spamming me with low-value text offers although I never engaged with even one. I think exactly the same issue will happen with iBeacons, unless Apple imposes some overall marketing pressure rules or preference settings, because I want my phone to beep because of messages from friends and family - not drink coupons.

  4. Sarah Hall from Bronze Software Labs, June 17, 2014 at 7:23 a.m.

    A very good article and full of sentiments we at Bronze Labs are putting into all of our Beacon projects. We develop the app that runs the Beacons so that the client can collate all sorts of data - for instance, we can create heatmaps to track footfall and make sure that content is base on preferences handled during registration so that unwanted messages are not received. There's a lot to discuss with Beacons - exciting times!

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