Adding iBeacon to Your Mobile Strategy | Guest Post

Ever since Apple deployed Beacons across 254 of its stores in the US, there has been a substantial buzz around these tiny devices, that businesses believe will act as the magical bridge between the offline and online worlds. According to a recent study by eDigitalResearch, 78% of consumers agreed that they would be happy to receive personalised messages from retailers.

As museums like The Neon Muzeum and Rubens Arts Museum, and hotels such as The James and Starwood Resorts get to grips with the technology behind beacons, consumer opinion indicates that these low-cost pieces of hardware have a huge potential to revolutionise experience across industries.

Although beacons are gaining momentum, many businesses are struggling to figure out how to integrate beacons with their existing mobile strategy. Here are seven steps every brand should take prior to launching their beacon strategy.

 1. Choose between having an app or not

To reap the benefits of iBeacon technology, you need to have a mobile app with which the beacon can communicate and interact with. Most brands are trying to enhance their customers’ experience by adding location-based elements such as indoor navigation, contextual notifications etc., to their existing app.

(a) Build your own mobile app

Retail brand, Tesco, recently deployed beacons to push messages through their app to notify customers in store, when their online order is ready for pickup. Adding on to that, with the recent iOS 7.1 update, retailers can now use beacons to wake up their branded mobile apps, even if they are shut down. Once your customer is in close proximity to specific beacon, the app will listen for beacons and sent a message through the lock screen. Thus, it helps you enhance your customers’ shopping experience through effective customer service.

The downside here is that, unless the brand has their own development team in place, app development can be quite taxing. Moreover, it also requires brands to handle beacon deployment single-handedly. This can be quite expensive, especially if they have multiple branches across the globe.

(b) Customize a generic app

You can also choose an existing generic app, such as a one that is optimised for your target market say museums or stadiums, and then use dedicated tools provided by them to customize the app to your needs. This way, it not only helps you easily provide a rich user experience, but also simplifies app development to a great extent.

For example, Fluwel’s Tulpenland (Tulip Land), a theme park that specializes in displaying Dutch tulips, recently customized mApp, an app developed by LabWerk specifically for museums, that wish to offer a good experience to their visitors. The app uses interactive content  such as images, video and audio to tell the story of tulips in a very personalized manner.

(c) Integrate with an existing sales app

If you don’t already have an app in place, then this is probably the best way ahead. The main advantage here is that you will be providing your service through an app that already exists on your customer’s smartphones. From PowaTag, a mobile commerce app with 240 leading retail brands on board to Vente-Privee, a leading mobile commerce app in the European market with 5000 partner stores across France, the market is abound with services that offer retailers an opportunity to send their customers relevant contextual messages in-store.

Adding on to that, there are other companies that offer services allowing brands to take advantage of an already existing iBeacon network. Condé Nast’s 19-year-old recipe warehouse, Epicurious, for instance, leveraged inMarket’s iBeacons to deliver push notifications on recipe suggestions to shoppers’ apps and thus drive in-store sales.

Integrating with an existing sales app, however, comes with its own set of disadvantages too. Not only will your brand’s message drown under those of others, but with too many brands pushing notifications through the same sales app, you are sure to annoy users. The only way to fight it, is to craft smarter messages that add value to your customers’ context.

(d) Integrate with Apple’s Passbook

While mobile apps are one of the most commonly used ways to leverage beacons, they are not the only ones. You can also tie up with Passbook, an existing ‘utility’ application on Apple devices, with your iBeacons. The primary advantage here is that, it does not require your customers to download a third-party app. They can just add a store-specific pass or loyalty card to their Passbook and once in-store you can detect a user’s location using iBeacons to trigger various messages and offers through their ‘Passbook’. This will save you the hassle of creating your own app.

Key Takeaway:

If you already have a branded app that is used and valued by your customers, then you can easily build upon it by adding location-based elements to the app. On the other hand, if you do not have an app, you can simply integrate with an existing sales app or Apple’s Passbook.

 2. Focus on proper communication

When it comes to location-based mobile marketing, it is highly crucial that you have a strong understanding of your customer’s context, including their purchase history, current location, and proximity to beacons to push relevant content and access to services. At the same time, you must ensure that you don’t overwhelm your users with notifications, as it could nudge them towards opting-out or un-installing your app.

The key here is to have a deep understanding of the value you can offer your customer and deliver it in the best way possible. You can start by focusing on making the message more contextual and valuable. For example, most customers appreciate helpful, relevant and timely concierge reminders when they are in-store. You can use this to your advantage by pushing alerts reminding them of a recent recipe or items on their shopping list. That way your marketing techniques will continue to add value to their shopping experience.

Key Takeaway:

While pushing relevant content helps boost sales, ensure that you don’t overwhelm customers with notifications, as it may cause them to delete the app altogether.

 3. Arrange for remote beacon management

Going ahead, once you deploy beacons in large numbers across the country, remote beacon management will become highly important. This requires beacons to have some sort of network access while empowering brands the ability to detect each beacon, and turn it on or off via backend. This is one of the main reasons why brands are considering the using beacon platforms while deploying beacons on a large scale.

Key Takeaway:

If you need to deploy beacons on a large scale at multiple branches across the country, then it is best that you leverage a beacon platform to simplify remote beacon management.

 4. Use multiple beacons for improved accuracy

Though the iBeacon technology works best at increasing indoor-location accuracy, it is very important to keep the level of accuracy in mind while deciding on a multi-beacon solution. The more accurate the positioning you require, the more the number of beacons required to be deployed.  If you are leveraging beacons to navigate your customers or visitors around the venue, you may not need as many touchpoints as required in the case of helping them locate a product within the store.

Key Takeaway:

While deciding on a multi-beacon solution, consider the level of accuracy in mind. The more accurate the positioning you require, the more the number of beacons required to be deployed.

 5. Equip your employees to offer better customer service

You can also use beacons to capitalize on the multichannel habits of today’s shoppers. For example, a retail store can equip their sales associates with tablets and smartphones that integrate with beacons to alert them when a customer reaches out to them for assistance from within the app. That way, these smart stores can use the location information of their customers to accordingly send the sales associate with the right amount to expertise to the right department. Further, you can use beacons to send important customer information based on the items pinned by a particular customer on pinterest or products on his/her wish list, to help your sales associates bring up additional product details.

Key Takeaway:

You can empower your sales associates by integrating their mobile devices with in-store beacons in order to alert them when a customer reaches out to them for assistance.

 6. Ensure that your app is secure

When it comes to beacons, privacy has long been a major concern among consumers. This, however, is a misconception about beacons. They’re only capable of identifying a particular mobile device’s proximity to beacons and any notification is triggered only by the app and not beacons. Beacons, by themselves, cannot track or collect data about customers.

Further with Apple having recently locked off the ability for users to manually input Beacon UUID numbers into an app, apps can no longer scan for beacons that aren’t their own. You/your developer has to program your app by actually specifying the UUID of the beacon that it is connected to.

Key Takeaway:

Although, privacy has long been a major concern among beacon consumers, beacons by themselves can not track or collect data about customers. Test your app for such security vulnerabilities.

7. Integrate with your marketing strategy

Once you launch a beacon-enabled app, the next crucial step is to integrate it into your overall marketing plan. You can modify your email and social media campaigns to drive app downloads and encourage people in close proximity of the beacons to give it a try.

Key Takeaway:

Ensure you drive more app downloads for your beacon-enabled proximity marketing strategy to be effective. Plan your promotional campaigns in advance to increase your ROI.

Thus implementing a context-heavy iBeacon strategy can result in superior customer engagement, better sales and higher brand awareness. The above mentioned pointers will help you integrate iBeacons into your marketing strategy with ease.

Guest Author Bio:

Ravi Pratap is the CTO of MobStac, a mobile platform company enabling location-aware apps for content and commerce. MobStac’s Beaconstac platform enables businesses to deliver superior customer experiences through the use of iBeacons for engagement, messaging, and analytics. The company was founded in 2009 and has offices in New York and Bangalore.

He can be followed on twitter at @ravipratap or you can connect with him on Linkedin.

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