iBeacon and the future of shopper marketing in Ireland

Originally posted on TMCC Insights Blog.

Relevancy is the holy grail of the digital era.

Brands can re-target lapsed consumers based upon the content of their shopping carts. We can use Facebook and Twitter advertising to target based upon interests, demographics, likes and friend activity. Digital loyalty data, famously, will even allow a supermarket to foretell a teen pregnancy before the teen’s Dad knows.

In the attention deficit economy, un-targeted adverts and lazy, scattergun advertising campaigns won’t see a return on investment.

Yet, despite the increasing importance of relevancy and contextual targeting, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. As the quote goes, ‘the future is already here,  it’s just not evenly distributed’, but the marketer’s valhalla is on the way, and very soon.

Imagine walking into a store and getting a ping on your smartphone offering you a special offer on a product which you’ve previously browsed online, directions to the product and information on size guides based upon your previous purchases.

Reaching out to customers in the right place and at the right time to help increase engagement and drive conversions has long been a fabled pipe dream, scuttled by poor data, lack of signal, poor customer experience and a general failing of technology.

But it looks like precise location based in store targeting could finally reaching a tipping point.

iBeacon

Currently, marketers are using GPS technology, as well as cellular and wifi connections, to locate people and their devices in order to push out relevant information to them.

For brands who want to target specific areas, like an aisle in a supermarket or a display in a shop for example, these signals aren’t always accurate, and many potentially brilliant campaigns suffer a similar fate. This is where iBeacons and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) comes in.

iBeacon, a name coined by Apple that’s become industry standard for micro-location technology, allows for mobile apps and smartphone to transmit location data using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

BLE allows linked devices to transmit signals to each other while keeping the device’s energy consumption low, meaning your battery won’t be ravaged, and your phone won’t even need to be connected to 3G to be pushed relevant messages.

These BLE signals can be transmitted via compatible devices but also via third-party hardware, commonly known as beacons.

Beacons are a low-cost piece of hardware, small enough to attach to a wall, that are bound to transform a variety of industries.

While NFC has been hailed as a major trend in the payments and smartphone space, users have to tap their device onto an NFC chip in order to be pushed content or make a payment. With BLE, the content is pushed straight to mobile devices, providing they have the brand’s app installed, meaning a frictionless experience for the consumer.

Concurrently, while Apple is the thought leader and research driver in the space, the majority of new devices within the smartphone market are are all BLE compatible, creating an open, agile technology that’s ready to be rolled out.

Usage Potential

iBeacon will shape the future of shopper marketing in Ireland. FMCG brands could team with supermarkets for example to install beacons, allowing targeting of customers with special offers on a new product, information on recipes or usage occasions or even using loyalty ‘clubcard’ data to create relevant shopping lists.

According to Google, 84% of smartphone owners use their smartphone for product research in store. Smart brands are facilitating, not fearing this ‘showrooming’ behaviour, and BLE could further enhance this opportunity, pushing relevant product information even before a consumer has asked/searched for it. Google has also found that shoppers who use their mobile phone in store actually spend more than other customers.

As always, marketers need to be careful to now annoy consumers. If you’ve managed to convince a user to install your app, you need to be careful not to give those users an excuse to delete your app with un-timely, ill judged push messages.

Having said that, the possibilities are mouth watering.

In Store Attribution

As a relevant aside to this, smartphone penetration is rapidly rising in Ireland in tandem with GPS technologies becoming more advanced and 4G connections slowly becoming the norm. Mobile ad spend is rising year on year, yet the issue still exists that while tracking clicks is an effective way to measure an ad’s impact on online sales, the system breaks down when shoppers enter a physical store, where their behavior is harder to monitor.

But even this notorious issue for retailers is being nullified. Google’s Adwords team is reportedly testing a pilot program to help retailers better figure out if their online ads are driving in-store sales, allowing marketers to finally succinctly join the dots between online display and in-store purchases. While the test is still very much in beta, it’s reported that ‘in store attribution’ will allow advertisers to match the anonymous tracking cookies on users’ computers to in-store sales information collected by data providers.

With Facebook reportedly looking at a bitcoin style virtual currency, and Google still pushing Google Wallet, the potential to marry customer data from a variety of sources with reaction to online display to define influence on eventual purchase is almost within reach.

The future of shopper marketing is almost here, and it could begin a lucrative period for early adopters and a new normal for consumers.