Why Beacons Have A Bright Future

Why Beacons Have A Bright Future

When Apple, Google and Samsung get behind a new technology innovation it’s almost certain to make it to the mainstream masses. And that’s exactly what has happened with Bluetooth SMART beacons, argues Inlight strategy director, Ben Howden.

Ben Howden
Posted by Ben Howden

These tiny, low cost transmitters are not only set to change the future of marketing but also the way we as consumers interact with the real world. It’s hardly surprising that businesses of all shapes and sizes – from large grocery chains to entire shopping precincts, international airports to world class sporting stadiums – are rolling out beacon solutions at breakneck speed.

So what the heck is a beacon? In its simplest form, a beacon is small wireless device that broadcasts signals using Bluetooth Smart technology, an intelligent and power friendly version of the Bluetooth wireless technology that has been around for years. On their own, beacons don’t really do that much aside from transmitting a signal that contains some unique identifiers, which typically include a UUID, major, and minor. The magic happens when applications running on your smartphone, tablet or smart watch pick up these signals and trigger a contextual experience based on those unique identifiers. I’ll bring this to life through some real world examples later on.

Back to the beacons. They’re cheap. They cost anywhere from $10-30 a pop and can last up to three years on a single lithium battery. But be warned; from our testing, reliability and battery life vary significantly between different manufactures. Beacons can communicate with smartphones or tablets that are as close as five centimetres or as far as 50 meters away, which opens up a range of exiting applications for communicating with, and engaging consumers. Not only that, but Apple, Google, Samsung, Blackberry, Nokia, Sony and pretty much every other mobile device manufacturer offer native support of Bluetooth SMART, which means that the majority of the Australian population are walking around with beacon enabled devices in their pockets already. Add to that the growing wearables market (all powered by Bluetooth SMART), and you can see why beacons are quickly becoming a very attractive proposition.

If your business has a footprint in the physical world, there’s a fair chance that beacons are a big deal. Let’s get back to those real world examples I mentioned earlier on.

Next time you walk past your favourite shopping mall, your smartphone will detect an in store beacon and automatically let you know that a product you were looking at online early that day is on sale inside. Once inside, product based beacons will offer up detailed product information and targeted offers as you’re browsing the shelves. Now imagine that at the same time your smartphone has recognised a beacon at the cashier and has triggered your customer profile on an iPad dashboard for the customer service assistant. The profile contains details on your shopping preferences as well as past purchases. All in the name of offering you a more personalised and tailored shopping experience.

Sound a bit creepy? Before you jump to that conclusion, you should be aware that in order to deliver messages and content using beacon technology you must first gain permission from the end user via the application. And there are rules that can be setup to limit the number of notifications that are sent to a user in a given time period. If you fail to deliver value and abuse the capability with low value content, your app will be deleted. It’s that simple. Your mission should be to ‘surprise and delight’ the user. Do that and you’ll be rewarded.

If you think about it, beacons enable something that we as marketers have been dreaming about for a very long time. The ability to reach the right person, with the right message, at the right place and at the right time. Say I have a supermarket app installed on my phone with my Flybys card linked to the app. I walk into my local supermarket and my smart phone picks up a beacon in the nearby dental isle. The app scans my Flybys purchase history to see if I’ve bought a toothbrush in the past six months. The answer is no and because of that little insight I’m presented with a message telling me that I’m overdue for a new toothbrush. To sweeten the deal I receive a time sensitive discount that is too hard to resist. It’s one to one marketing like we’ve never seen before. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But it’s not just about marketing. From arriving at the airport, to visiting your local bank branch, to taking a trip down to the local car dealer in search of some new wheels, beacons offer us the opportunity to significantly enhance the customer experience through the delivery of contextual (and helpful) information based on your exact location. And we all know that customer experience is the way to capture the hearts and minds of our customers. Just look at how companies like Uber, Amazon, Zappos and Apple have redefined what a great customer experience looks like.

How about another example? You’re at the beach on a hot day, and it’s packed with people. You’ve got your two kids in tow and you find the last remaining patch of sand and stake your claim with beacon towels and a beach umbrella. Before the kids take off to build sand castles and play in the shallows, you put a simple beacon device around their wrist. Open up your smartphone, set a range – say 20m – and if the kids go outside of this range you’ll receive a notification along with directions on where to find them. A simple solution that tracks the most important assets in your life – your kids! Now think of all the other valuable assets you could track with beacons. Hospital equipment in a busy hospital. Your car. Building materials on a construction site. Employees on a high risk work site. The list goes on and on.

I hope that by now I’ve painted a clear picture on how these low cost transmitters are set to transform a number of different industries in a big way. But before I conclude, there’s another benefit that I haven’t yet covered – analytics. That’s right, every time someone with an enabled app comes within range of a beacon there is an opportunity to capture the data it creates. With beacon powered analytics you can start to understand real world behaviour, like store visits, dwell time, pathing and conversions. We like to refer to it as “Google Analytics for the real world”. One caveat though. Whilst beacons can provide rich and detailed information on both visits to your physical locations and subsequent engagement with your app – it only includes users who have your app installed, not the entire population. But it’s still immensely valuable data. Imagine you own a network of national stores. Now imagine that when each person exits one of your stores and has downloaded your app, they are presented with a simple ‘rate your experience’ prompt and the results are recorded. Pretty quickly you can understand which stores are delivering a great experience and which stores are not – arming you with a set of data that allows you to optimise the in store experience.

So there you have it. A little insight into why we think beacons have an extremely bright future. Beacons are definitely not right for every business, but there’s no doubting that for some businesses they can provide a huge competitive advantage and engage customers in new and exciting ways. Let the beacon revolution begin!