iBeacon and Bluetooth Low Energy technology poised to dominate online-to-offline marketing opportunities
There has been a lot of buzz about iBeacon technology as of late. The technology leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to transmit a signal to determine location proximity to an actual beacon device. It’s an alternative to other location based technologies, Global Positioning System (GPS) and Near Field Communication (NFC).
There are some advantages to using BLE. It is less of a strain on a device’s battery life and, when comparing to the range of a few centimeters for NFC, the signal is capable of extending to much further distances. These advantages present a great opportunity for organizations and marketing teams to develop useful mobile apps that leverage location based services.
For example, museums can automatically push information about a particular work as a visitor enters an exhibit hall. Venue organizers can ping a concert goer with information about the next band to perform at a nearby stage. Resorts can upsell a massage package after a guest has returned from a round of golf. Brick and mortar retailers can push promotions to a customer in the store or provide product information when a customer enters a specific department.
This allows the offline world to borrow from the concept of online retargeting. In the online scheme, a consumer visits a site and that might trigger a retargeted ad to be displayed while that same consumer streams music online. In the offline scheme, a beacon helps to determine the ad or message to deliver to the visitor. In both schemes, it’s about timely communication of relevant content.
In order for an app to communicate with a beacon, there is typically an SDK associated with the beacon hardware. This SDK must be implemented within the mobile app, so the app is able to recognize the right beacon and deliver the right message.
Although, beacons and BLE provide a bridge between online and offline, there is still the need to tie up referrals from an app to an offline purchase. For in-store promotions found through a mobile app, one can envision the use of a barcode that is scanned by the point of sale software. The barcode records certain information about how the customer found the promo code redeemed and credits the appropriate media source.
This is where things could get really interesting. Marketing teams and merchants could decide to incorporate online-to-offline tracking to their affiliates and strategic partners through coordination of beacons, an affiliate’s mobile app, and the in-store point of sale solution. Imagine being able to expand the scope of your digital performance-based programs and, further, being able to track all offline conversions back to the online affiliate.
Despite the great opportunity, it is likely going to be a long road before beacons and BLE are widely used. There are concerns about reliability and privacy. One great article from QuickMobile outlines some concerns around hacking and even an issue uncovered that effectively turned a phone useless as a result of a firmware issue. On the privacy front, while the technology requires the mobile device user to accept location-based services and opt-in to receiving notifications, more than a few are uneasy with the amount of information that a merchant or organization could access and use.
It will be exciting to see this technology take mobile to the next level and we’ll all wait and see what great innovations come next.
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