Marketer's Haven't Figured Out Beacons Yet

Mobile_Notification_Beacon.jpgMarketers are always searching for the next strategy they can try to get more customers in the door and build awareness of a company’s brand. Using beacons is one of these new strategies that marketers are trying and, it seems, not having much luck with.

Beacons are generally thought of as a way to use real-time marketing to push messages to consumers based on location and proximity to beacons. By using a mobile app and push notifications, you can use “geo-marketing” and send consumers messages, promotions, coupons, etc. to entice them to enter your store or purchase more while inside the store.

There are two major problems with this way of using beacons:

  1.       You need to overcome the obstacle of convincing and getting consumers to download a specific mobile app to work with the beacons.

  1.       While real-time, personal marketing sounds like a great idea to marketers, it would be easy to scare consumers when using specific details:

Hi Friend, we notice you’re looking at printers right now. Need some ink? Head two aisles over.

As marketers, we often see this as a perfect, relevant message that could easily remind or push a consumer to purchase more while in store. As a consumer, you may feel that you are being followed or the store has access to your personal information. This can cause a consumer to lose trust in your business and could prevent them from returning in the future or at least removing the beacon-communicating app.

This strategy of using beacons to push promotions is an aggressive tactic that could be categorized as an outbound strategy. There are certainly benefits to some outbound marketing strategies, but marketing is shifting to focus more and more on inbound over outbound, and allowing consumers to find them on their own rather than using force. Forcing consumers to view promotions may lead consumers to be more annoyed by your business than willing to spend more, and as marketing progresses forward, do we really need another annoying outbound strategy?

That being said, beacons do have an enormous potential to provide marketers with something they haven’t been able to do before: track offline behavior.

Marketers have a great number of resources available to track consumer behavior online, but as soon as buyers go offline, it becomes incredibly difficult to know exactly what marketing campaigns are working and how consumers are responding.

Instead of using beacons to communicate with consumers, we could use beacons to track consumers and learn a lot more about the people we are marketing to.

On a broad scale, if you worked for an office supply retailer and you were running a promotion on paper clips, you could track foot traffic in the paper clip aisle before the promotion and how it compared to during the promotion. Using this data, you could make the assumption that if foot traffic increased during the promotion, the promotion was effective. Of course, we would want to get more detailed than this.

Online, you are able to track the advertisements displayed to certain consumers, eBooks they downloaded, pages they viewed on your website and what product(s) specifically interests them. Could we get this kind of data offline?

Beacons certainly have the potential to do this, but aren’t quite at the point to ensure we can track a specific, individual consumer entirely through his or her purchasing process.

Say we could connect a personal ID to someone who viewed a company’s website. If there was a way to connect that personal ID to the person’s device who came into the store, we would have our first bit of evidence that what that person viewed on our website may have helped lead that specific consumer to come into the store. We would then be able to use beacons across the store to track the consumer’s location patterns to know their interests for marketing to them in the future.

Combining data from the beacons and a store’s POS (Point of Sale) system, marketers would be able to see not just where a customer is located during their trip, but could track the entire purchasing process of a consumer. This would allow for data that is almost as good offline that it is online.

Beacons certainly have potential, but they’re being sold the wrong way. Using push notifications, you are not only asking the consumer to go out of their way to download a mobile app, but you are then bombarding them with promotions and personal, real-time marketing that can scare consumers away. Using beacons to collect data is certainly the better way to use them so that you can learn about your buyers’ behaviors and how they navigate offline. Beacons have a long way to go in terms of being able to provide specific data, but as they improve, so can your marketing efforts.


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Christy Laubach is an inbound and content marketer at Greenroom Interactive. A graduate of Babson College, she has a degree in Business Management and has worked with companies such as Constant Contact and WGBH. Marketer by day, trivia host by night, Christy was once voted most likely to spontaneously combust from enthusiasm.

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