Digital & Social Media

For Better or Worse, Signals Point to 2015 as the ‘Year of the Beacon’

For Better or Worse, Signals Point to 2015 as the ‘Year of the Beacon’

The year 2015 might be the “year of the beacon,” but whether or not we look back on it fondly will depend on whether we learn from past content mistakes.

Beacons – those small, wireless devices that send signals to nearby smartphones and tablets – might really be the key to bridging online and offline worlds. Before they can accomplish this, they’ll have to survive the next phase of experimentation and deployment. And it could get ugly. However, content marketers who’ve been paying attention the past few years have a head start.

Most marketers by now are familiar with the basic idea. A shopper walks into a store and a beacon inside sends a simple signal that wakes up an app on the shopper’s phone. The app could display images, video, in-store maps, coupons or any other type of content related to the store or an item in it.

The Beacon Explosion
Experts are predicting an explosion in beacon use. Business Insider says half of the top U.S. retailers are already testing beacons, and a third of them are expected to have beacon technology in their stores by the end of 2015. It’s not limited to retail, of course. Museums, libraries, events, restaurants, airlines, hotels and sports stadiums are using beacons to help deliver relevant, real-time, contextual info.

So get ready for a lot of beacons. Probably too many beacons.

But while it’s relatively easy to install beacons and develop related apps, getting consumers on board may not be as simple. For instance, we already know that too much beacon-triggered messaging doesn’t work. Todd Dipaola, co-founder of beacon company inMarket, told AdWeek: “We tried small test groups and found that, surprise, surprise, when the phone buzzes too much, consumers ultimately don’t come back and delete the app. They’re done with it.”

What the Past Tells Us
In fact, inMarket found that more than one message per location was too much.

You could compare this time to the early years of brands on Facebook. It was easy to start a page and inundate fans with messages, so that’s just what some brands did.

But consider what has to happen for beacons to work at all: Someone has to download your app, enable location services and opt in to receive push notifications from you. That’s a big deal. That person is trusting you with valuable space and valuable data. Just as communicators quickly learned to treat social media timelines with care, winning the competition for smartphone notification space also will require creativity, strategy, thoughtfulness and restraint.

Brands that are already earning consumer trust by providing great content in other areas are in the best position to succeed here, in terms of getting users to opt in – as well as keeping them around. That’s because the same rules apply: Content must be useful and offer real value to the consumer, whether it’s contextual information, convenience, savings or entertainment.

They’ll have to survive the next phase of experimentation and deployment. And it could get ugly.

Social media and content marketers can apply another lesson: The extent to which content can be individually targeted directly affects its potential success. Like targeting a sponsored social media post based on specific user characteristics, using beacons (and your app) to deliver personalized content related to shopper history or real-time context is much more likely to provide value for both you and your customer. In other words, if all you’re planning on is generic promotional messaging, don’t even bother.

But most important, it must be transparent. Your users should know when you have beacons installed and how your app is interacting with them, including what data is being collected and how it’s going to be used.

Beacons, when integrated into a digital marketing strategy, could represent a major leap forward toward real omnichannel retail. It’s up to us, as marketers, not to mess it up.

Photo credit: Prophets Agency (Rubens House case)


About the author

Christine Lusey is Freshwire’s social media director. She oversees best practices policies across all social platforms, contributes to client strategies and guides Freshwire’s branded content. A lifelong tinkerer and tech enthusiast, she also helps identify important industry trends emerging at the intersection of creative technology and the consumer experience.