Marketers have been excited about using contextual signals like location as an input to deliver relevant experiences to audiences for more than a decade. As my colleague, Charles Golvin, pointed out in his excellent research note about proximity marketing techniques (client subscription required), one hotel brand drew geofences around its property and used text messaging to send room-ready alerts and discounts to guests back in 2006. That was a full year before the launch of the iPhone, two years before the App Store went live and seven years before hardware beacons availed even more precise location information to marketers.

Yet, this type of marketing experience is similar to those that were talked up after beacon hardware started coming to market in 2013: pushing out messages with offers to consumers’ phones when they were walking by stores to draw them in or delivering coupons to drive the purchase of a particular product or service when browsing a retailer’s shopping aisles.

Many of these pilots from brands and retailers were short-lived. Why? Lots of dependencies. Consumers needed to have the right mobile app installed and Bluetooth turned on and location services enabled and push notifications turned on to be addressed. Even if all those boxes were checked, oftentimes the offers weren’t personalized, didn’t deliver enough value in exchange for all the data the consumer was required to share with the marketer to get that offer and generally delivered an interruptive experience that caused audiences to opt out.

Even so, findings from a 2016 Gartner survey indicate that marketing leaders are ramping up their beacon initiatives. Though just 6% of respondents said they had active beacon deployments, 22% were piloting such initiatives and another 32% had near-term investment plans. So how can past mistakes inform better beacon-based proximity marketing initiatives?

Just because some of those initial pilots didn’t go as anticipated didn’t deter brands and retailers from finding other uses for the investments they made in deploying beacon networks. Instead of outbound offers, beacons are increasingly used for in-store analytics to track metrics like foot traffic, shopper flow and dwell time to optimize layouts. Online-to-offline attribution is another growing use case, where marketers can more effectively track the effect of email or in-app promotions driving someone to visit a physical location and make a purchase.

From a customer experience perspective, beacons enable precise, prescriptive wayfinding in mobile apps that can’t be accomplished with Wifi and GPS alone. That’s especially useful when someone enters a museum or sports arena for the first time and needs help finding that exhibit they’ve been wanting to see or easily find their seat or concession stand of choice.

I used this type of wayfinding feature to navigate the sprawling Museum of Natural History in New York City last year and found it to be super useful. And if you’re attending Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in May, you’ll get to hear how beacons and other mobile technologies help enhance the experience for NBA games, concerts and other events at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center arena.

Do you have plans to leverage beacons as part of your 2017 marketing initiatives? Feel free to share in the comments!

4 Comments
  1. May 9, 2017 at 1:13 pm
    Ferenc Brachmann says:

    We at Beeem belive there is a major shift here: with the Physical Web Google is enabling most Android Phones and Chrome browsers on the planet to have beacon-enabled functionality without the retailers needing to have an app installed.
    So you instantly jump from 2-5% potential penetration with a retail app to 60-80% depending on the market you’re in. That will have a major impact on beacon ROI and will enable mass deployment in most retail sub-segments.

    • May 15, 2017 at 10:46 pm
      Bryan Yeager says:

      Hey Ferenc, thanks for the response. The research I shared from Charles Golvin includes an analysis on the Physical Web and the potential role it can play in marketing. Like you, I see opportunities with Physical Web to connect existing web content to a physical context without the requirement for an app. But I also think Physical Web is still nascent, making it more suited toward experiments and less suited toward a scaled deployment… for now. Intuitive user experiences, relevant content, better cross-platform support and greater consumer awareness are all needed to make the Physical Web catch on.

  2. May 10, 2017 at 7:08 pm
    David says:

    I agree with your article. We are using beacons to measure foot traffic. One of pilot customers are able to detect busier hours and adapt by scheduling more resources. Also they can compare locations to locations and why certain locations are busier than others.

    • May 15, 2017 at 10:48 pm
      Bryan Yeager says:

      Thanks for your response, David. Looking forward to hearing more about how beacons feed into actionable analytics, as well as the potential for their use in driving customer engagement.

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