Well, that headline is a bit of a feint, because the beacons are already here. But with search becoming increasingly mobile and location-specific, it’s time to be sure you’re looking at how the technology will affect your search marketing practices.
For the uninitiated, beacons are devices that use a limited-range technology (mostly Bluetooth low-energy) to communicate directly with consumers’ smartphones when they’re in close proximity to the device. Retailers are using them to reach consumers while they’re in or near a store and ready to buy.
Currently, beacons are “dumb technology” requiring consumers to opt-in via an app or other system to receive notifications when they’re within a beacon’s proximity. But as the devices evolve, they’ll be used more often to identify consumers’ wants and needs.
“One of the benefits of beacons is that you can reach your audience in real-time in their exact location,” Adam Binder, founder of digital marketing agency Creative Click Media, tellsSearch Engine Journal. “For instance, if a customer was recently searching for jeans, beacons will alert them when there is a store in their location with jeans on sale.”
Seeing the potential, the makers of the most popular smartphone operating systems recently announced programs to boost their use. Google recently launched an update to its Eddystone beacon platform that links the location targeting info to its Maps platform. With so many searches employing location wording (like “near me” phrasing), the beacon information is about to become more valuable.
Few doubt beacon technology will be the wave of the future for search marketing. BIA/Kelsey forecasts location-targeted ad spending will reach nearly $30 billion by 2020, in fact. The biggest hurdle, however, will be consumer acceptance. A survey of more than 1,000 consumers from RichRelevance.com found that consumers are torn about proximity marketing and in-store location awareness. Roughly 40% of consumers find the idea of receiving location-based recommendations and discounts “cool.”
And while a third of consumers like the idea of getting recommendations from a salesperson based on previous purchases or searches, two-thirds find the idea of being personally addressed by that same salesperson based on a mobile alert is “creepy.” (It’s worth noting that Millennials index higher on the cool scales and lower on the creepy scales for location-based marketing.)
As with most emerging technologies, the conclusion for beacons seems to be: Be prepared, tread lightly to avoid consumer backlash, and make sure the information you’re offering via the technology is relevant and useful.