Commentary

The Beacons Are Coming. The Beacons Are Coming.

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.”

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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.

3 comments about "The Beacons Are Coming. The Beacons Are Coming.".
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  1. Edwin Acevedo from BKON, July 6, 2016 at 9:42 a.m.

    Beacons get talked about like they’re all the same. They’re not. It’s important to differentiate between the main beacon strategies. Apple’s iBeacon and Eddystone-UID/EID (Google) track phones in proximity, learn movements and predict behavior. It requires a user download an app and opt into push messages to see and receive content. However, a powerful alternative to these is Eddystone-URL, also called the Physical Web. This works with Google’s Nearby and with browsers like Chrome and Opera (or the Physical Web browser). All Physical Web content is available without having to download another app (although some platforms, like PHY.net, can work across apps and browsers). 
     
    What’s best about the Physical Web is that instead of tracking phones and pushing messages, it relies on natural human curiosity. Beacons are placed near any “thing” being promoted, whether it’s a lawn mower, a toaster, a movie poster or a restaurant. It can even be a live chat support. Anything that can be put on the web can be put on the Physical Web. 
     
    People scan for content by swiping down from the top of their phones. Beacon content displays like it would for a search engine results page. The content is contextual and lets brands engage with people through a medium people already use - their mobile phones. Content can be a deep link to a website, a product comparison, a movie trailer, a support chat page, a restaurant menu - anything that you can put on the web. 
     
    The biggest challenge is educating consumers, but that’s the case with any new technology. Brands that want to engage with people on mobile will need to get on board quickly - particularly ones in brick-and-mortar locations - because this space is going to be very competitive this fall and during the holidays. 

  2. Greg Cornelius from Modn Media, July 7, 2016 at 8:48 a.m.

    We have been experimenting with Physical Web beacons for more than one year and rolled out a number of consumer facing projects. We have been waiting for the Physical Web to lower its barriers to entry and reach consumer acceptance. Unfortuantely, even with the nearby API in Android, the barriers to entry for consumers are still too high.

    Consumers are happy to receive notifications on their devices these days. It's almost become an expectation to receive notifications. In our testing we found consumers expect to simply turn on bluetooth and receive a beacon notification. This is not the reality. The Physical Web has taken a point of view that is anti-push notification and that's moved it away from consumer expectations.

    Physical Web is a pull notification. Our testing found that consumers object to the extra steps required to configure their handsets with bluetooth and location and then pull a notification, when so many other apps simply push notifications to them without any config hurdle. The obstacle of configuring the handset for the Physical Web is greater than the obstacle of installing an app that can send push notifications. Therefore we have concluded that BLE beacons and the Physical Web are not a convincing consumer facing technology at this time.

    BLE beacons may be suitable for B2B applications eg for staff in a retail store, but not for customers. As a consumer facing technology I think BLE beacons are stillborn. Sorry about it BKON.

  3. Edwin Acevedo from BKON, July 7, 2016 at 1:09 p.m.

    The essence of the discussion here is managing what content a consumer accesses when in a physical space. There is room for push and pull. Push messages are influential and widely accepted but require setup steps, including the downloading of a specific app, the opt-in to location tracking and the opt-in to push messages. Then there is the challenge of requiring a different app for each experience. There are also challenges in sending too many messages or the wrong messages. All marketers are anxious to push their messages, but increased volume risks wearing out the welcome.
     
    Meanwhile, the Physical Web is a pull technology that protects privacy, puts the consumer in control and has the advantages of significantly lower costs for content deployment and administration. It also enables numerous touch points in a retail store vs. the one or two push opportunities. 
     
    We agree that consumer onboarding for the Physical Web is not where it needs to be, but it's early. Nearby only came to market last month. It will get better. For a client application like Nearby, onboarding is shared across all users. So if a consumer is onboarded by one retailer, then it works for all other retailers.
     
    Typically, the Physical Web is presented as a technology that works without apps, but we believe apps will play a dominant role in establishing the Physical Web. A Physical Web "button" within a retailer's app can allow shoppers to directly discover nearby content. Retailers can deploy Physical Web content and have an immediate audience of their app users, while also giving access casual shoppers without the app.
     
    As service worker technology becomes more available, marketers will even be able to push messages from individual web sites (locations). Then you can have it both ways. We are bullish on the Physical Web as a mobile engagement platform that embraces any proximity technology that broadcasts a URL.

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