When iBeacon technology burst onto the scene in 2013, retailers scrambled to understand the hype. Roughly one quarter into 2014, the industry has struggled to evolve beyond early adoption. Common themes for inquiries remain, “What exactly can we do with iBeacons?” and, “Does this technology actually help me sell more products?”
To break this stagnation and understand what to do next, marketers need a roadmap. Let’s take a look at where iBeacon stands currently and what to expect from this technology in the future.
Today, most marketers view iBeacons as a proprietary Apple technology that uses a Bluetooth LE connection to power high accuracy location-based marketing. By placing multiple iBeacons in various store aisles, brands can send browsing customers hyper-targeted information to create a novel shopping experience. Though non-Apple beacons exist, iBeacons provide access to the coveted iPhone user demographic and early brand testing has revealed potential for success.
However true, these points provide little actionable insight. Retailers still need a sophisticated enough mobile app to trigger Bluetooth-activated messaging, the operational appetite to purchase/place iBeacons throughout every store and, most importantly, sufficient trust designing effective location-based marketing (a technology that ventures close to the privacy line). To develop the above, brands need to adopt a more clear and financially driven vision than “novel shopping experience.” Instead of focusing on campaign functionality and buzzwords, marketers should view iBeacon as another channel to collect segmentation data and learn about customers and their preferences. Beacons effectively tag customers with various location segments, making them an ideal platform for data collection. Those that integrate iBeacon into an existing customer data strategy, rather than developing new channel outreach in a silo, will find the most success.
Throughout the rest of 2014, look for excitement around iBeacons to continue to grow. Marketers love the philosophy of location-based marketing, especially as smartphones continue their rapid rise to U.S. ubiquity. In part fueled by the iBeacon hype, investment in all forms of location targeting will expand. Marketers that haven’tyet launched any form of location-based marketing should begin to acquire this experience immediately. For those in search of a starting point, an easy inroad is zip code and GPS targeting via email and SMS/MMS.
As 2014 comes to a close, location accuracy will start to become a differentiator for the various “LBS” technologies. Precision of outdoor GPS, cell phone tower and other segmentation data will drive the way marketers adopt and integrate location into their marketing campaigns. Though awareness and knowledge of LBS will grow for all marketers, early adopters will remain the sole group to foray into actual implementation and execution. As is the case for all marketing technologies, the pragmatic mainstream majority has to see significant evidence of success before launching widespread, full-scale programs.
By 2015, a majority of leading brands will have launched simple iBeacon messaging campaigns that provide customers with offers or coupons based on their in-store beacon location (similar to today’s Starbucks Passbook implementation). To augment these customer experiences, forward-thinking brands will also start to offer complementary features for payment (e.g. NFC). For example, customers looking at a Crate and Barrel couch will have access via iBeacon to options for fabric choices, colors and delivery dates. Through a payment integration, they will be able to purchase the rights to that couch on the spot. This will drive revenue, as customers can make faster decisions unhindered by the friction that comes with a traditional shopping experience.
In Q3 and Q4 of 2015, look for brands to become more sophisticated with their location targeting. Beyond location at a single point in time, campaign flows will include time spent near a certain beacon, elapsed time between beacon visits or frequency of visits near various beacons. With a younger demographic continuing to acquire more purchasing power, overall trust in activating location will become more mainstream. Customers as a whole will possess increased awareness about privacy regulation, further increasing LBS usage.
Eventually, iBeacon can put an end to lines at checkout. Customers will have the ability to gather all of their products in a shopping cart and pay via their mobile phone when they are ready to exit. Personalization via data segmentation will make Tom Cruise’s minority report experience more real than imagined.
What To Do Right Now
To adequately prepare for what’s coming, brands need to start developing a mobile marketing strategy focused on customer data. Dive into the more mainstream channels now, such as SMS, MMS, push and email, in order to acquire the requisite LBS data chops to launch iBeacon campaigns in the future.
Above all, a focus on data hedges against technology risk. Those that pour resources into trends that provide cool customer experiences but little insight into long term lifetime value are effectively buying stock in channels that may not emerge from the pack. We all know that technology evolves constantly. Focus instead on customers, as they will always be the ones making purchases.
Understanding iBeacon – And How to Be Successful Now