Beyond The Buzz: Three Steps To Help Marketers Realize The Promise Of iBeacons

Beacon deployments have been rampant since Apple popularized the technology through its iBeacon launch last summer.  At the time, the industry went wild with buzz of how beacons would fundamentally reinvent the mobile experience -- from shopping to a trip to the ball game, to a travel experience.

But it turns out that the beacons buzz is more muted when it comes to actual examples of how they are driving a fundamental shift in consumer behavior or delivering big ROI. So what’s the disconnect between the initial hype and reality? 

Technically, beacons are easy and cheap to deploy. However, for beacons to deliver on their promise, brands need to consider carefully how they are used to drive mobile user engagement as part of an overall marketing strategy. Here are three best practices to bring your usage of beacon technology beyond the buzz.

1. Beacons Must be Tied to a Native App -- Beacons are often touted as the new “wonder technology” with the sophistication to recognize a user and send messages to their mobile device. But for a beacon to alert a user (or track their location), it must be tied to a native application already downloaded to the user’s device. However, getting users to download apps simply for beacon-related functionality (e.g., “Download our app to check in!”) has proven to be difficult. Users download apps to make their lives easier, not to be bombarded by marketing gimmicks. So to make beacons effective, they need to be part of the app's core strategy in order to provide greater value to the end user.

Sports and Entertainment venues have had success with beacons for this exact reason. Their use case strategy involves serving the consumer with value-add information instead of trying to sell them something. For instance, a mobile app featuring beacon technology in a major sports arena allows fans to stay connected and up to date in real-time through messaging and alerts about arena experiences and amenities they might not be aware of. The app drives adoption by providing critical information and functionality to the fan -- far beyond the pieces that are beacon-enabled -- thereby creating a much broader incentive for users to download the app. Once the user downloads the app, the beacons can be leveraged to include real value-added features like seat upgrades or special offers by time and location.

2. Deep Beacon/App Integration with Marketing Strategy -- It’s simple and inexpensive to set up beacons in a retail store for the purpose of waking up an app on a shopper’s mobile device. Where it gets tricky is figuring out how to leverage beacons to implement more personalized marketing experiences that add real value for the end user.

Imagine the possibilities of more personalized interaction and engagement if a retailer knows a consumer’s purchase history, loyalty profile, and more. For example, if a shopper picks up an item in a store but doesn’t end up purchasing it, the retailer can offer the shopper a discount via email, or directly on the mobile device the next time she enters the same store. A department store might know that you’re partial to Jimmy Choo shoes and alert you to the arrival of the latest season and offer a meaningful incentive. Systems must be set up to determine the variables to track users, segment those users and then create the marketing messages targeting those users. This is a significant undertaking that involves IT, Product and Marketing departments in most organizations.

Those retailers that have integrated their marketing messages and strategy with mobile and beacon implementation have witnessed app and ad engagements skyrocket. A recent study by inMarket found beacon deployments that complement users’ preferred experiences lead to more in-store usage, brand engagement and app retention.

3. Ongoing Strategizing and Support -- Once the investments described above are made in mobile and beacon implementation, brand marketers or content providers need to create the creative and interactive messaging, direct and manage the user flow through deep links (using a URI to launch directly into a particular location within the app), and constantly monitor analytics to improve consumer engagement. Although brands may turn to mobile experts and providers for help in the initial app and beacon deployment, most neglect to include a budget for assigning a marketing team to manage this channel -- yet this is essential for the success of beacons.

We’re starting to see the many advantages of contextual interactions with smart technology, driven by experience-rich applications tied to location and situations. But to realize the full potential of what beacons can enable for the mobile consumer’s (or business user’s) experience, significant thought and investment must be made to properly implement and utilize this channel. Only then will the promise of beacons be more than just a lot of buzz.

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