iBeacon and Brands: 5 Approaches to Engaging Customers

Bluetooth LE Will Power ROI-Driven Ways to Create Brand Engagement

iBeacon technology will give brands a new toolkit for 2014: a natural extension of existing strategies and tactics, a way to get closer to the point of sale, and a new way to engage consumers.

Brands will deploy proximity technology in retail but also as part of cause and event marketing, point-of-sale programs, advertising campaigns and affiliate channels.

Brands Coming Soon to a Beacon Near You

Marketers will be challenged to understand the concept of proximity versus location.

But they’ll also quickly discover that Bluetooth LE and related beacons are part of a larger paradigm change in which connected devices and sensors shift the way that value is distributed.

Soon, all products will in some way be connected to ‘the cloud’ and even the most mundane object will be part of a larger trend in which there is no divide between online and off.

Where retail is just the beginning for beacons, beacons are just the beginning for brands that are connected to the Internet of Things.

Disclosure: as noted in my profile, most of our work is aligned to brands and we identify and work with device manufacturers, platforms and developers to bring life to brand-driven campaigns. So while I’m happy to hype the value that brands will get from iBeacon tech you should know that it’s in our interest to do so.

The Advantages of Bluetooth LE

As we posted yesterday, the biggest storyline around Bluetooth LE (or iBeacon technology) is in retail. But as GigaOm and others have pointed out retail is just the beginning.

For those of you just catching up, beacons are devices that transmit a signal. Other devices (phones and tablets) listen for this signal and ‘wake up’ when one is detected and then use the data in the signal to calculate proximity.

Your iPhone, for example, will detect a beacon and then calculate that it’s close or far from the source. If you’re in a store, your phone will detect you’re in the shoe department and you’re close to the running shoes. Based on this calculation, your app can then display a coupon or other piece of content (the beacon itself in most cases doesn’t deliver the content).

Beacons do a few things that GPS or other location-based technologies don’t:

  • They’re designed to be low energy and so they can run for a long time (beacons can last up to 2 years on a single coin-sized battery)
  • Being low-energy they’re also kind to the user. Unlike extensive GPS polling, for example, they don’t drain a user’s phone battery
  • They don’t calculate location – they calculate proximity. Which means that instead of mapping a geographic location you can attach beacons to things that move or are moved
  • They work indoors (whereas GPS doesn’t work well inside)
  • Beacons are cheap, easy to install and last a long time
  • Unlike NFC, beacons work at distances that can range as far as 100 metres.

These advantages make beacons a natural fit for retail. But brands won’t just limit themselves to store shelves. Here are five ways that brands can take advantage of iBeacon technology.

Brand Strategy #1:

iBeacon Facilitates Advertising and Branded Content at the Point-of-Sale

ROI: Increase sales; improve ability to measure and adopt brand messaging; track and measure the full life-cycle of brand campaigns from broadcasting right to the shelf.

It might be the ultimate dream: to get as close as possible to connecting advertising to a purchase decision. iBeacon technology doesn’t just let a retailer deliver coupons as you walk the aisle of a local store, it lets you introduce messages at the point of decision-making and to tie those messages to data.

The analogy I use is the following: a consumer is standing in the rice aisle at a grocery store. Until now, the only A/B measurement that’s really possible is whether changing the price, offering points, or offering a coupon has an impact on purchase.

But what if you could run the equivalent of an ad that’s contextually relevant? Or offer the consumer three choices: a video, a recipe or a coupon.

You can now measure through A/B testing the impact that an ad or branded message has at the point of purchase decision. You can start to discover that consumers buy your rice not because of its price, but because it’s exotic, say, or easy to prepare.

While most iBeacon programs won’t be so precise in delivering content, there’s a real opportunity to both send, test and adjust advertising and branded content at the point of decision making, and to measure in a clear and coherent way its impact on purchases.

While rice might not be the top example, think about buying a car, an appliance, or a new set of golf clubs – decisions where consumers are far more likely to entertain richer media experiences if it provides value.

Brand Strategy #2:

iBeacons Enhance Event Marketing

ROI: Increase number of consumer touch-points at events; increase reach of sponsor messages; increase conversion rates (e-mail sign-ups, social media ‘likes’, sampling, etc); provide deeper ability to measure impact of sponsorship

Brands continue to grow their event presence – a place where consumers can directly engage with their products and where brands can benefit from the halo of being associated with a personality, interest group, or community.

Trade shows are the low-hanging fruit of event marketing and beacons will be used to guide customers around a convention hall, deliver product information in a booth, or facilitate providing digital offers, social sharing and customer sign-up.

But it’s in larger consumer-facing events (festivals, sports events, cultural activities, etc.) that beacons will really shine. Their ability to provide an extra ‘story layer’ to a mass participation activity will let brands extend their reach beyond a few kiosks or displays.

Brands will need to think beyond coupons and information and think about crafting stories. Imagine beacons at events that provide:

  • Treasure hunts or points for checking in at different displays
  • A series of social games triggered by beacons at a music festival
  • Digital ‘bulletin boards’ at a county fair where consumers can leave comments

Suddenly, beacons extend the reach of sponsor signs or kiosks, provide tools for social sharing, and engage consumers in new ways.

Brand Strategy #3

Affiliate Marketing: iBeacons Take You To The Consumer

ROI: Increase engagement with customers where they live, work and play; increase positive brand associations; increase brand recall and message penetration in contextually-relevant ways. 

Brands invest in event marketing because it brings them to places where their customers are hanging out and engaging. But clearly your customer isn’t attending festivals all week – and there are places your customer goes that are mostly inaccessible to branded messages. With iBeacons, brands can provide deep and lasting value to their customers in the places where they live, work and play.

Say you’re a hardware store: working with local groups to set-up outdoor beacons in a community garden that delivers schedules, tips, ‘digital bulletin boards’, photo archives and other materials. It’s a great boost to the community garden – and a chance to remind consumers of your local focus.

We think of this as affiliate marketing: the ability to use beacons to provide a service in some venue or community where your customers are, and as a result to reinforce perceptions and awareness of your brand.

Brand Strategy #4

Multipoint Marketing: Use iBeacons to Break the Retail Silos

 ROI: Increase impact of branded messages; increase customer loyalty across retail touch points; created integrated networks that act as brand platforms.

Not dissimilar to strategy 3, when you deploy iBeacons in a way that crosses over retail stores or categories you can create a continuum with your consumer. Traditionally, a single retailer becomes a single touchpoint. But with iBeacons, you can (without trying to sound creepy) track your customers from one store to the next and deliver a continuum of messages:

  • A wine company can set up a tasting network of wine stores and local restaurants and give their customers a ‘passport’ that suggests and keeps track of different wines they’ve tasted
  •  A shoe company can have check-in points at shoe stores, sports stores, and fitness centers and deliver different content that is part of a larger experience for the consumer

Brands will need to think about iBeacon as the equivalent of ad retargeting for the physical world: delivering a series of messages rather than repeating the same message for similar stores.

Brand Strategy #5

Use iBeacons to Enhance Cause Marketing

 ROI: Increase engagement, sponsorship recall and frequency and length of engagement for cause marketing campaigns.

Cause marketing continues to be a high-growth area for brands, in  particular for the halo effect it provides by associating with worthy local or national causes. Beacons will be used to provide value first and brand benefits second – but their use will increase the effectiveness and consumer engagement around causes, and will extend the length of engagement.

An app created around a community fundraiser, a ‘run for the cure’, or a grassroots initiative can be used to not just make an individual event more engaging (especially if it uses storytelling to reinforce the positive impact participants are having on the cause in question) but can be used to keep consumers engaged for weeks or months following the event.

Brand Strategy: Respect the Consumer

iBeacons will also pose their own problems as part of what AdAge calls ‘Techno Paranoia’ (a really misleading and provocative term, in my opinion):

“People have shown only limited wariness regarding the ways that mobile devices and apps can impinge on privacy, for instance, and thus far greater resistance to offline than online tracking,” she continued. “Plan for emotion-driven reactions that may seem inconsistent or altogether illogical.”

In general, we don’t think iBeacons will trigger as many privacy concerns as you might imagine, in part because they’ll become mostly invisible and provide a sort of ambient contextual noise.

But we’re not naive and support anonymizing data, respecting consumer privacy concerns, and obeying the most rigid interpretations of law.

But the dividing line for brands comes down to respect: respect your customer, focus on providing them value more than you focus on how much data you can harvest, and recognize that brands will be welcomed into physical contexts if they arrive with an attitude of empathy and service.

We can make the physical world a rich, interactive and meaningful place – one that gives us new choices, options and, yes, the ability to entirely opt out.

So what do you expect of brands in a world of iBeacons and connected devices? What’s the craziest idea you’d love or hate to see in 2014?

And remember…in the New Year…Be The Beacon(tm).

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8 thoughts on “iBeacon and Brands: 5 Approaches to Engaging Customers

  1. There is still a major weakness in BT LE technology, as stated above : they require the consumer to have, first, an APP already available on their smartphone. As such, Beacons are much more likely to provide value in a longer customer engagement approach (loyalty scheme) and largely become cumbersome in a pure client acquisition strategy. Therefore, next to your proximity marketing strategy you also need to defined well in advance your app engagement strategy (= how people will discover, download and give value to your specific app in the retail environment).


  2. Isn’t there another issue around unpublished UUIDs? That is, if a retailer wants to control the shopper’s experience (at least on iPhones) and obscures/constantly changes UUIDs in a way that only their app knows about, it kind of makes it difficult for brand’s apps to function in that environment anyway.

    So the way it appears to me is that (a) non venue-owned apps won’t be able to see beacons, (b) even if they could the accuracy/lag issues are so significant that it’s questionable whether they’ll be able to work – especially in a real-world retail setting where you have many hundreds of products within a beacon’s range, not 3 products like the vendor’s demos, and (c) who in the world would install apps for the thousands of brands that your favorite retailers carry?

    I’ve definitely drunk the beacon kool-aid and I know these things will get worked out over the next, er, years, but I think there are a lot of unreasonable expectations being set by people who clearly know better.


  3. Great News ! But IBeacon has some limitations. GLIIF and iBeacon creates the best possible solution for retail by adding a branded visual element to the shopping experience which the consumer ops to engage with..http://www.gliif.com

    A quick note on GLIIF. We are in BETA. It is a free service for mobile users which includes social networking images and an embedded contact GLIIF in the app.

    Our business model supports generous revenue sharing programs for partners and we are currently looking to establish reliable connections there.

    Every scan adds to a brand concentric network for push and in-app messaging for an open line of communication. Basically a hyper-targetted database is established with our solution.

    The GLIIF Reader is currently available on the Apple App store. Give it a try and would appreciate any feedback you may have..

    GLIIF Reader – ‪https://appsto.re/i6Fy9dJ

    Also have created a few tutorial videos

    Meet GLIIF http://youtu.be/O5WeqUsz8dA 
The Contact GLIIF http://youtu.be/JAfHyVrueH8 
GLIIF Campaign Management http://youtu.be/JVgD8QP1E4c 
GLIIF Social Networking http://youtu.be/GuVt49aBQQc

    We are a boot-strapped startup so do the right thing and share our info.


  4. Very informative article Doug, Training techniques, club information, personal training/up keep, amenities and programming can all be viewed by the member in a hassle-free and efficient manner using beacons. It can be a great source of information and data for the trainers as well, giving them a handy reference to the regimes and diets that they need to make their clients follow. ‪#‎beacons‬ enabled ‪#‎fitness‬ centers is a boon to customers as well as the management, find out how by going through this amazing article: http://bfonics.com/bfonicscms/business/establishing-beacons-in-fitness-centers/


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