Less than a month has passed after the presentation of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch and, finally, the launch of the new iOS 8. As a result, Apple has drawn the attention of all analysts to the new (but not so very new) technology called iBeacon. This technology could change forever the way people shop in physical stores and the way companies shape their marketing strategy and customer experience. No doubt it is creating a revolution, but there is still some confusion around iBeacon and beacons in general, so let's try to understand.
It’s time to get things straight, starting from the first, basic question: What is a beacon? With this term, we refer to a small wireless device designed to constantly broadcast radio signals to smartphones, tablets and other devices nearby. The word ‘beacon’ means lighthouse and that is exactly how it works: emitting signals that mobile apps can listen to trigger an action.
Beacons work with BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), a protocol whose signals can penetrate physical barriers while consuming only a small fraction of the battery power if compared to classic Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. iBeacons, designed to work with Apple devices from iOS7 on, is the ultimate evolution, able to constantly scan for BLE and wake up apps created to communicate with it - even if they are dormant and not running.
Just imagine how this new technology can augment the way clients explore shops and interact with products and brands. Your company will have the ability to properly map the customer journey in the physical store because, with this technology, you can understand exactly where they are and shape a different engagement action (i.e. Gamification) for every single touch point.
We are talking about right-time personalization here! Beacons give you the chance to finally enter the Age of the Customer: engage your clients in the exact moment they are looking at your products, strolling through your aisles or checking their smartphones (or wearable devices) for further information or promotions. You can now send them really relevant and contextual alerts and offers, in real time. From a welcome message to a quick reminder, the only limit is your imagination.
Here are few hurdles companies must take into account as they approach the ‘beacon era’:
Clients’ Bluetooth must be switched on, otherwise the BLE won’t work at all.
Clients must have your app installed on their devices.
Unrequired push notification annoy already overwhelmed users.
Your offer could get lost in the messaging overload, when lots of different beacon-driven push notifications are delivered in a small timeframe.
Who is going to benefit from beacon technology? Retail brands (i.e. fashion firms or CPG manufacturers) are first in line, as they are already starting to test these new location-based sensors to implement better marketing strategies and digital customer experience. There’s a huge amount of information to get through (we are in the age of big data, in the end). The whole industry is more and more focused on how to find, engage and track customers, but we are still in the rollout phase and there is lot to explore and learn.
Stay tuned, because one thing is for sure: because of beacons, marketing will change super soon, and super fast!