Beacon technology has completely revolutionized both business and marketing.
As one Business.com article put it, with “Retail going digital and digital media coming to retail,” this technology is completely changing the marketing game.
The key to the versatility of this location-based mobile technology lies in its size and function.
It relies on small devices, often the size of a postage stamp, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals to transmit information to mobile devices via mobile apps.
What does this mean for marketers?
It means this technology can make your job easier and make your marketing efforts much more effective.
These tiny devices are full of robust insights and data. They’re virtually a one-stop-shop.
Plus, they remove many hurdles associated with traditional marketing efforts.
All a customer has to do is download one little app and — BOOM!
You have the ability to deliver timely, relevant, highly specific information to them at opportune moments.
It takes personalized, dynamic marketing to an entirely new level.
I’m here to get you up to speed on the technology, its growth, and its potential impact on your business. Ready to get started?
Here’s a five-step guide to getting started with beacon technology.
Step 1: Learn About The Growth of Beacon Technology
Beacon technology first gained popularity back in 2013 when Apple unveiled the iBeacon.
Since this release, Google has created its own version specific to its user base, which is called Eddystone — to keep up with the Joneses, of course.
Retail is the most popular example of an industry that is rapidly adopting beacon technology.
It doesn’t end there.
It is showing up in practically every vertical due to its versatility.
While the technology was slower to catch on, studies predict the industry will grow by more than 75 percent by 2026.
When commenting on beacon technology, the Harvard Business Review coined it as “the missing piece in the whole mobile-shopping puzzle.”
According to one recent report by Markets and Markets, the location-based services (LBS) market is projected to grow to as much as $77.844 billion by 2021.
Proximity.Directory’s Q1 2017 Report also noted that beacons are the most popular proximity technology in the industry.
So, now that you know beacons aren’t going away anytime soon, let’s move on.
Step 2: Understand The Basics of Beacon Technology
To appreciate the marketing potential of beacons, it’s important to understand what beacons are and how they work.
Location-based mobile customer communication enables businesses to communicate information in a timely manner via mobile apps to consumers within range of a beacon.
Beacons communicate with these mobile apps via BLE signals, which as I mentioned above, stands for “Bluetooth Low Energy.”
While it may sound like the same thing, BLE is a variation of the Bluetooth standard and differs from the traditional Bluetooth you and I both know in a few ways:
- BLE uses much less power than Bluetooth.
- It constantly remains in sleep mode except for when a connection is made.
- Unlike Bluetooth, BLE is not made to handle large amounts of data.
Check out this in-depth chart for clarity on the differences:
In order for a beacon to communicate via BLE with an individual, four things must happen:
- The user must download an app that supports the technology. This usually comes in the form of a rewards app such as Shopkick. Some view this need for action as a potential hurdle. However, an estimated 90 percent of smartphone users have at least one subscription to a rewards program.
- They must have Bluetooth enabled.
- Location Services must be activated.
- They must be within the beacon’s signal range. This enables the technology to ping a mobile app within range with pertinent information and services.
Step 3: Understand The Core Benefits of Beacons
While there is a variety of benefits that beacons deliver, there are five in particular that are worth mentioning here.
1. They Are Versatile
First-generation beacons were about the size of an apple.
Now, beacons come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are even UV and water-resistant, so they can withstand the outdoor elements.
One beacon manufacturer, BlueCats, creates cat-shaped beacons.
Others let businesses customize their orders by size, as well as adding their name and/or logos.
Some come in the form of a USB, and others are as small as a postage stamp.
Beacons can be made to fit the needs of almost any business.
Think about it: a beacon the size of a stamp can be placed practically anywhere — like a retail store wall, inside a car on an auto lot, or in the entryway of your local coffee shop — and used for virtually anything.
2. They Are Secure
One thing that differentiates beacons from similar technologies such as Wi-Fi, RFIDs, GPS, or NFC is the level of security they have.
Beacons primarily broadcast outbound signals, so they are far less of a security risk.
They also send a unique code that can be read only by certain mobile apps.
This code must be authenticated with user permission (AKA with your knowledge and consent), which means you have to manually accept it.
Technically, beacons with weaker security could have a higher potential for hacking.
The good news is most manufacturers have put measures in place to prevent this from happening.
In fact, the risk lies less in beacons and more in the apps that are transmitting these signals.
So as long as you are using secure apps, you should be in the clear, and generally speaking, much better off in terms of security than a public Wi-Fi network.
3. They are Precise and Have Great Range
Perhaps the best selling point of beacons is their ability to reliably target mobile devices inside buildings.
While GPS is great for location tracking in general, and Wi-Fi comes with all the benefits of cell towers, they aren’t quite as precise as beacon technology when it comes to targeting consumers in-store, in specific areas, and in front of specific products.
GPS needs to be used with other location-based services (LBS) due to its line-of-sight issues when it comes to indoor use. It’s much better suited for the outdoors.
Wi-Fi only has a range of about 46 meters when used indoors, and NFC (near field communication) can only operate well within a range of about four centimeters.
Beacons, on the other hand, come in a variety of ranges and have been specifically designed to work well both indoors and outdoors.
They can transmit from 1 to 70 meters and up to 450 meters in some cases.
Generally speaking, the smaller they are, the lower the range.
4. They are Efficient
Beacons are known for their efficiency.
Proximity.Directory noted in a recent report that manufacturers who use the technology can cut costs and improve efficiency by tracking material flow as well as queue and cycle times.
The report also noted that hospitals can save hundreds of thousands of dollars every year by using beacon technology.
Beacons are equally as effective whether the partner app is active or not, because it’s always on and constantly transmitting a signal.
Other advantages to this technology include:
- It’s less expensive, on average, than traditional Bluetooth or RFIDs — around 60-80 percent, to be exact.
- It’s more energy efficient than Wi-Fi, GPS, traditional Bluetooth, or NFC.
- It doesn’t require pairing.
- It works accurately indoors, eliminating the need for supplemental LBS devices.
5. They Offer a Variety of Insights
Among other things, beacons can monitor temperature, humidity, weight, traffic, and interactions.
They are literally information sponges.
With the right analytics in place, you can gather solid user-generated data and insight.
For example, you can measure the number of beacon hits over a certain period of time.
You can also create heat maps to measure foot traffic and the length of time spent in a specific area.
Beacons data can also be used to power paid search and social campaigns.
These are just basic examples of how you as a marketer can use beacons to gather targeted and very specific information about foot traffic.
The possibilities, however, are endless.
It really all just boils down to creativity and application.
Step 4: Embrace Advanced Benefits of Beacons
Now that you understand the foundational benefits, it’s time to dive into a few of the more advanced benefits.
Beacons Promote Effortless Engagement and Data Transmission
Once the mobile app is downloaded, you can push messages to your audience without having to jump through hurdles.
This translates into less work for you and less work for the consumer.
Many people have voiced concerns about the downside of a mandatory app download.
It is a legitimate concern since it could very well be argued that the average consumer places a higher value on their mobile device than they do on the benefits they receive from a retail mobile app.
To combat this, you’ll need to have a well-planned content strategy that includes engaging multimedia to create an invaluable experience that people will want to be a part of.
Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) decided to use a SnipSnap coupon app to promote offers and messages to customers in-store.
At first, it may seem a bit odd to use a third-party app.
In reality, it’s quite genius.
- It was cheaper than developing their own app and marketing it.
- SnipSnap was established and widely used. Consumers were more likely to already have it installed on their mobile devices.
- Their decision helped them acquire new customers via the in-store beacon program. It was targeted toward consumers who already had the app installed but weren’t existing customers.
So, as you’re evaluating your options, keep in mind that it may be better to use an established third-party app as opposed to creating one on your own.
By doing this, you’ll side-step unnecessary hurdles and improve your conversion rates.
Beacons are Dynamic, Highly Personalized, and Can Increase Engagment
When you can track where a customer is, you can promote specific products and information at just the right time, which can boost engagement significantly.
This increases the effectiveness of your marketing efforts and takes “personalized” to a whole new level.
For example, let’s say you have a customer approaching a jewelry counter at a local department store.
With beacon technology, relevant content about certain items for sale can instantly be sent to their smartphone via the mobile device app, which can help to generate more leads and drive sales.
Beacons Help Marketers Adapt to the “New” Buyer
Perhaps one of the most difficult hurdles many marketers face is figuring out the “mobile shop-and-compare strategy.”
With endless information available at their fingertips, consumers are savvier than ever with their purchasing decisions.
I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, however.
Quite the contrary — it’s great for a number of reasons.
Not only does it protect consumers by keeping them well-informed, but it also facilitates healthy competition.
In doing so, it simultaneously drives quality while shaping savvier marketers who bring more dynamic strategies and tactics to the table.
So to help you brainstorm ways in which you can use beacons, I’ve listed a handful of examples of how other businesses are using them successfully to drive engagement and sales.
Step 5: Understand the Creative Ways Businesses Use Beacons
Organizations ranging from Major League Baseball to Hillshire Farms are all taking advantage of the amazing power of beacons.
Promotions in the form of offers, deals, and giveaways are the most readily available examples of use that come to mind when thinking of beacon technology.
But it doesn’t end there.
One company that yielded pretty amazing results using a different strategy was NOMI.
They measured new customers acquired through a music festival sponsorship by tracking check-ins via beacons.
With the help of beacon insights, they were able to track 1,300 new customers based on the data provided.
Prism is another great example of how beacons can be used.
They were able to track which areas of a store customers gravitated toward by using heat maps generated by beacons.
As a result, they reassessed merchandising strategies and placed slower moving products in higher traffic areas to generate more sales.
When Hillshire Brands decided to use beacon technology for the release of American Craft link sausages, the response was over-the-top.
Their agency did an analysis of the event and found that purchase intent increased twenty-fold, and the number of in-store engagements hit 6,000 in the first 48 hours alone.
The travel and hospitality industries are embracing the power of beacons as well.
Virgin Atlantic used them to remind passengers to have their boarding passes ready when approaching security checkpoints and to notify them of entertainment specials before boarding.
They even use data to monitor cabin temperatures and alert staff to pass out blankets when it gets too cold.
Concierges at Starwood Hotels & Resorts use beacons so that they can greet guests by name upon arrival.
They are also used to notify housekeeping when guests are in their rooms.
Starwood even lets guests skip the check-in process and gain keyless entry via smartphone to their rooms, which is possible because of beacons.
All a guest has to do is download an app, then open the door by “tapping or gesturing with their device once they arrive at the door.”
Another creative use example is the dating app Mingleton. The company uses the technology to share dating profiles with other users when within a certain radius via a “See Who’s Nearby” feature.
The possibilities truly are endless and extend far beyond traditional push marketing strategies.
These innovative and functional usages of beacons can help with branding and better engage a specific customer base.
Step 6: Formulate a Beacon Marketing Strategy
There’s no better time than now to start strategizing how you can use beacons to market your business.
Now, more than ever, people have a strong preference for dynamic and highly personalized content.
In fact, a study by Epsilon found that 80 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from brands that offer a personalized experience.
So be proactive, stay on top of trends, and take advantage of the many ways in which you can make it work for you.
To start, develop a well-thought-out strategy.
Much like marketing in general, you can tackle this task in one of two ways.
You can wing it.
For many, winging it seems exponentially easier and a much more effective use of time.
After all, time is money, right?
The reality is that when you simply “wing it,” you’ll end up disorganized and scattered.
The end result?
You’ll waste valuable time and energy trying to tie everything together.
Or you can be prepared.
Savvy digital marketers are much like savvy writers.
They understand that planning is the key to a fruitful and effective strategy.
While planning takes time and energy that could initially be spent on action, the end result is measurable, calculated, and completely within your control.
If you take the time to plan out your steps to a T, you’ll wind up with effective results that deliver serious ROI.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to implementing beacon marketing strategies:
Beacons can be invaluable tools for gathering information, analytics, and outreach.
Don’t just jump toward your end goal. Take time to strategize and plan for both short-term and long-term gain.
Placement is perhaps the single most important factor when it comes to beacon technology.
Strategic placement and well-planned messaging mean an increase in relevancy, timeliness, and effectiveness.
So be sure to get all of your ducks in a row and think in terms of context when it comes to your marketing strategy.
Think Like Your Target Demographic
Put yourself in their shoes. What content would you want to receive? What messaging would you find useful and effective?
Stay away from aggressive and overzealous tactics.
Otherwise, you’ll come across as spammy.
Give people useful and engaging information instead.
Check out this video where I discuss some quick and effective strategies that will help any marketer generate a solid marketing plan.
There’s no doubt that beacon technology can revolutionize your marketing strategy.
Based on the positive returns businesses like Hillshire Farms and Starwood Hotels & Resorts are already seeing, I think it’s safe to say that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I’ve given you a step-by-step guide to get you caught up on the beacon technology trend.
Step 1: You understand how the tech has grown.
Step 2: You know the basics.
Step 3: You understand the benefits.
Step 4: You understand the more advanced benefits.
Step 5: You’re up-to-speed with creative ways other businesses are them.
Step 6: You know how to create a beacon marketing strategy.
So, the question then remains — are you going to take action?
The ability to diversify and adapt to an ever-evolving climate is essential to your success as a digital marketer in the business world.
By learning how you can harness this trend to fit the needs of your unique situation, you can remain one step ahead of the game — which means you’ll stay one step ahead of your competition.
Are you currently using beacons in your marketing efforts? If so, what’s working for you? What’s not?