A Peek Behind The Scenes Of Beacons

A Peek Behind The Scenes Of Beacons
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There’s not enough on the practicalities of beacon marketing, argues digital marketing expert Cecile Ferre. The not-so-sexy part of your investment, critical nonetheless. So she went behind the scenes to uncover what’s involved.

A few months ago, I started exploring the key need-to-knows of beacons, whilst also considering cost-effective solutions for small businesses.

For all the marketing press coverage I studied however, there appeared to be little on the behind-the-scenes of beacon marketing. And so, I decided to approach one of the technology providers to explore that facet a bit more.

BlueCats, an established player and manufacturer of Bluetooth Low Energy beacons, accepted to make time to answer my questions, discuss some of the most compelling use cases and – the cherry on the cake – gave me my very own beacons to play with.

The key take-outs from our conversations as well as findings from my latest research and DIY experiment are summed up below.

Who to go to in such a crowded landscape?

In this space, most technology players have an opinion on how, when and why to use beacons. Yet it’s not always clear what they have to offer over and above the competition.

In other words, why would I choose to speak to one over the other if, as a brand or media owner, I am serious about trialing the technology?

Broadly speaking, there appears to be two sorts: the makers and sellers of beacons (e.g. BlueCats, Estimote and Kontakt) and the specialist software developers (e.g. Lighthouse, Localz).

All offer a proprietary beacon management platform that integrates with your mobile apps and other systems, and lets you review the data insights in real time. They may offer additional services also, such as app development or custom platforms.

Aside from affordability, in my opinion, ease of software integration is the other key consideration. The platform needs to integrate into existing enterprise systems (such as your CRM or payments systems) with minimum effort and disruption to the business. Hence it’s a good idea to involve your CIO from the get go to guide and validate your decision.

A local partner is the better option for speedy on-site staff training and roll-out, ongoing technical support etc. Also, if they have scale, they are less likely to fold and leave you stranded with unsupported software in future.

Finally, you may be better off dealing with one partner that owns the product experience end to end (i.e. the devices, SDK’s and management tool). If there is a problem with any facet of the experience, there is no one else for them to pass the buck to – they are it and have to resolve it for you.

Let us know what other key assessment criteria you may recommend from experience, and why.

Getting started – the easy part!

After fitting my beacons with batteries, downloading the Starter Pack, setting up the devices on the web tool and installing the demo app on my iPhone, I used the app token provided to create the notification alerts. All of this was relatively fast and intuitive.

You can set up and manage multiple beacons in multiple sites at any one time. For the purpose of my experiment, I kept it simple and set up my home as the only site where I placed two beacons – one at the main door and one upstairs.

Each beacon has a profile made up of a number of settings including their categories (in my case upstairs and main door), location, battery status, and, more interestingly, target Speed and loudness (note: the terminology may vary depending on the provider).

The target speed (or blink rate) describes the pace of your target (the app user) e.g. do you want to broadcast your alert when they sit, walk or run past your beacon?

Loudness is the broadcasting range of your beacon (up to 50m realistically I am told). Depending on where your target is within the beacon’s footprint, you may trigger a different alert as they enter one of three pre-defined ranges (immediate, near or far).

And so, as I went in and out of the house, up and down the stairs, walking past the beacons within different proximity ranges, the app successfully triggered my various test notifications. And as it did, it helped me understand the meaning and impact of each setting and, more importantly, it made me think of all sorts of possible use cases.

The greater part of your investment is in the ongoing management and optimization.

The set up phase is typically positioned as the least effort-intensive. SDK’s and API’s are provided to make the platform integration into mobile apps and other systems (such as existing content and data management systems) as painless as possible.

In the case of pilots and programmes (e.g. Ted Baker’s pilot), the ongoing management and optimisation require you to commit resources in the form of talent, time and dollars for months at a time.

Diverse talent is needed for different tasks over that period of time – from developers and data analysts to on-site staff for the management and maintenance of your beacons. The make-up and size of your cross-functional team ultimately depend on the scale of your deployment and the complexity of your system integration.

All of this comes at a cost. Yet, a well-researched, carefully planned and manned test-and-learn approach can bring you a greater return faster than you think.

Proximity data is key. Yet it only provides a limited view.

As part of my research, I was keen to clarify the roles and responsibilities over the collection, integration and management of user data.

At beacon level, that data typically consists of the number of visitors, total and unique visits, and the average time spent at the location. This data may be viewed by location, beacon, mobile app or for a set period of time (daily, monthly, etc.).

Proximity data on its own has limited value however. It is a great indication of foot-traffic if nothing else. It is the combined view with the app analytics that is truly valuable as it allows you to measure the effectiveness of your beacon messaging strategy from initial reach through to the final user response.

The app developer is solely responsible for capturing all events and interactions with the app from the very moment the target user is in range of the beacon signal. App analytics typically include the number of push notifications sent, opened and the actions taken (e.g. views, shares, downloads, sales etc.).

Both data sets should be consolidated into one central place, be it an existing analytics dashboard or the beacon platform dashboard. This way, correlations can be easily established, monitored and your messaging optimized in real time.

Finally, it’s worth noting that user privacy and opt-ins are the app developer’s sole responsibility also.

Your beacon marketing is as good as your data integration and management capabilities.

All sorts of game-changing customer experiences are possible thanks to beacons – from VIP recognition and wayfinding through content personalisation on digital screens to mobile ticketing, to name a few.

Ultimately however, the scope of your applications and their degree of personalisation depend on your ability to track your customers’ every move, say, as they browse your site, switch to your mobile app and check into your store – and back.

The reality is that marketers all over the world are still struggling with making sense of all the customer data available to them – and Australian marketers in particular.

According to a recent survey, 95% of Australian marketers don’t have a unified customer view – with 60% of them unable to merge customer profile fragments as data becomes available across channels.

This state-of-play is bound to impact on marketers’ take-up of beacon marketing as a long-term investment; it won’t stop its progress but slow it down as they continue working on connecting multiple data points across channels.

Those industry sectors however, for which innovation in mobile services is a key battleground (e.g. banking and retail), are the ones to watch. They are most likely to experiment with the technology right now whilst fast-tracking their data strategy implementation. Their survival largely depends on it after all.

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Nicky Marshall

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