Can marketing ever really master omnichannel? (Clue: yes, if they buy a ton of beacons)

Omnichannel marketing

Mastering omnichannel marketing is the dream, the holy grail, the ultimate goal, and plenty other terms and phrases that basically means “oh boy, if we nailed omnichannel marketing we would rule the world.”

But can we ever truly wrestle omnichannel to the ground and make it say uncle?

What does omnichannel marketing mean?

Omnichannel refers to the seamless experience that all business owners must provide its customers in the digital world.

Simply, a customer should have a totally joined-up and consistent journey across all your channels – in-store, online, mobile app, social media, email, everything.

It begins with research and ends with (hopefully) a sale, but in-between there can be all sorts of tributaries and digressions…

Let’s say a search on Google for your product leads to a paid ad for your product, then the searcher clicks through, lands on your website and researches the product. Maybe they’ll add it to their basket, but then there’s a chance they’ll just change their mind and leave.

You could then retarget them with an email or display advertising. Maybe that will tempt them back. Maybe it won’t. Maybe the customer wants to know more about it before they purchase…

Perhaps the same person then sends your company a tweet or an email asking for some help. Your customer service team can reply as quickly, politely and personally as possible. Perhaps that customer then goes into your physical store a week later, tests the product and then asks for assistance. The helpful sales assistant maybe makes a sale there and then, or finally, the customer goes back to the website and makes a purchase from the convenient comfort of there sofa… or a mobile phone while sat on a bus.

Finally a conversion is made!

All of the above sounds ridiculously complicated (and is probably a little boring to read) but we have all behaved in a similar way – but probably drawn out over a longer period of time, with even more channels and false-starts.

The key to keeping your potential customers happy and your brand or product at the top of your mind is to make sure that all of the multichannel experiences above are consistent.

What counts as ‘consistency’ in omnichannel

There are loads of things you should ensure in order to provide a joined-up experience, but the following are very important.

  • Your brand is consistent
  • Your messaging is consistent
  • Your tone of voice is the same
  • Your pricing is the same
  • A customer should only have to deal with one customer service representative, or at least not have to repeat themselves every time they get in contact
  • Make sure all retargeting is relevant to the customer, in email and display
  • Make sure if an item is placed in a basket on the desktop version of your site, that it remains when they visit your mobile site
  • Your various web properties (desktop, mobile web, app) should have the same navigational elements and offer the same native experience
  • Your customer service should be excellent, responsive and personal across all channels – whether in-store, via email or on social

With a lot of the above, it will come down to strong management and a clear vision for what you want to achieve across every facet of your business, especially when it comes to customer service.

But for everything else – especially the automated, retargeted parts – there are beacons.

The true battleground for providing seamless experiences across channels, is the one between online and offline.

Yes you can ensure that your digital-first properties are coalesced, but how can you be sure that the same experience will be granted to your previously digital-only customer when they walk into your store?

Beacons. By having beacons placed around your location, you can be certain that you’re delivering the right messaging at the right time to your potential customers.

With you app downloaded, a visitor can continue where they left off online in your physical store.

Everything added to a basket, or browsed for online, can inform the offline experience. Perhaps a wishlist created on the web can be used to send the user personalised discounts. Perhaps if you have a loyalty scheme, you can remind them how many points they have when they walk in.

Finally everything that happens in a traditionally non-digital setting can be measured, attributed and learnt from – therefore informing the last outpost  of the customer journey in a far more accurate way than ever before.

How live data from beacons can improve your CRM strategy

Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Plugging in all the live beacon-data from your physical business’s locations directly into your CRM system can have a measurable and positive impact on your abilities to personalise offers and messages in real-time.

Let’s explore how this can be achieved, and answer some straightforward questions you may have around a piece of software you may not be using, or utilising to its full potential.

What is a CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, and it refers to any system used to manage a company’s interactions with its current or future customers.

The purpose of this to help automate some of the more time-consuming, labour-intensive customer service chores so you can spend more time and effort developing the actual human-side of your relationship… the one that will lead to a much healthier customer lifetime value (CLV).

Why should you use a CRM?

A good CRM should organise, automate and synchronise all of the customer facing areas within your company, and not just sales, but also customer service and technical support. (Also marketing too, which we’ll get to later.)

It basically means you can chuck all those massive ledgers and rolodexes in the bin, and hopefully means you’ll never miss an important detail or calendar date in relation to your customer, wherever they are in the sales funnel.

This information on your clients is stored in one place, and should be shared with your whole team. Anyone can update the data, and these updates will be made live immediately. This means that everyone in your business is on the same page when it comes to the relationship.

A decent CRM should also provide you with metrics and help you forecast for the future. You’ll be able to see the complete history of your interactions with a client and you can use this to strategise for the future.

What types of data can be plugged into a CRM?

All the traditional channels, such as telephone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings can be entered into a CRM, but the system you choose should definitely come with social integration and be able to harness mobile data.

More and more people are using social as their first port of call when it comes to contacting a brand, and more often than not, this is done via mobile.

However, what about the missing piece of the puzzle?

Many businesses do not have the complete picture of any given customer journey, particularly those with premises in the offline world.

Without the ability to identify and measure a customer’s in-store interactions and behaviour, then a CRM will never truly be accurate.

But how can a business take these offline interactions and make them… online?

By using beacons.

How live data from beacons can complete your CRM strategy

By placing beacons in your premises, you can measure exactly how a customer behaves in-store. If you target an individual who has your mobile app, with a specific message or offer, you can answer many difficult questions that most businesses can only struggle to guess at…

Has the marketing worked? Has the notification directed that person into a store? How long did it take? Did they use the offer? Did they buy anything else? How long did they spend in-store?

You could then prompt the customer with a quick survey, asking if they enjoyed the experience and where it could be improved.

All this data could be fed directly into your CRM, and can immediately be used to improve communications and personalise offers for the next person that wanders through the door.

Ultimately, this live data coupled with your existing CRM data, is designed to improve customer service. However, never before have we had the capability to do so in such an agile, on-the-spot manner that takes into account the entire long-term customer relationship.

How loyalty apps are driving in-store purchases

retail_app_users

Let’s take a few minutes to pour over some beacon-related research that will help underscore just how important it is to connect the physical retail experience with your digital channels – particularly your mobile-based loyalty apps.

The world of loyalty cards seems like the preserve of gigantic chain supermarkets that have to compete viciously with each other in order to survive.

But thanks to mobile apps, the mass production of plastic cards and the huge infrastructure it takes to enable these vast data collection programmes no longer means loyalty schemes are just for the retail giants.

Every digitally savvy retailer, from an independent boutique to a small city-wide chain, can build a loyalty app that sits on your customer’s phone and offers great added value, for relatively little cost.

Of course the question is… why should I bother doing that?

Let’s look at the latest stats on customer behaviour in regards to loyalty and mobile apps.

Why should I have a customer loyalty program?

Okay, good question. Simply put, any loyalty programme is obviously designed to keep customers coming back to your specific store rather than a competitor’s. But say your competitor offers more convenience than you (it may just be that it’s closer to the customer), you’re going to have to offer something pretty special to make someone come further out of their way to your store.

That’s where a loyalty program comes in. And I don’t just mean points based systems that accrue meaningless general deals, but genuinely personalised special offers or cold hard money off.

Loyalty programmes work! Here are a few stats from Bond’s recent 2016 brand loyalty report:

  • 81% of consumers are more likely to continue doing business with brands that offer loyalty programs
  • 75% of consumers say loyalty programs are part of their relationship with brands
  • 73% of loyalty programs members are more likely to recommend brands with good loyalty programs

These are huge majorities of customers, all saying “yes, offer us a loyalty programme, make it worthwhile and we’ll come back.”

And it’s not just those of us who are used to carrying around loads of different, forgotten plastic cards in our wallets, younger people who probably don’t even use a wallet anymore use loyalty schemes too…

According to Blackhawk Network’s recent study on shopping habits:

  • 69% of Millennials belong to a retail loyalty program and 70% of those are happy with the program

And according to Software Advice the most important thing that will keep millennials using a loyalty program is the speed with which rewards build up (51%) and the variety of rewards available (38%). It should be worth noting that 50% of millennials stated they would quit a loyalty program because rewards took too long to accrue

The case for building a mobile app for your loyalty program

According to Google, 84% of shoppers with smartphones use their devices to help shop while in–store. But then, you don’t really need Google to tell you this. You already do it yourself. You’d be crazy not to! With huge improvements in mobile optimised websites and network connectivity, why not do 30 seconds of research while in-store to see if you can save some money elsewhere.

But it’s not just the mobile-web that shoppers are using, research from Apptentive carried out in July 2015 shows that a vast number of US consumers are using specific retail apps while shopping, which is helping drive in-store purchases.

  • 88% of respondents used retailer apps
  • 61% said they used them at least monthly.
  • 26% of the app-user population used retailer apps seven or more times per month
  • 71% browse retail apps before buying in-stores, at least once a month
  • 51% have used a retailer app while in store.

Percentage_Of_Shoppers_using_retail_apps

But what do people want from a loyalty mobile app?

According to the Bond research we mentioned earlier, 77% of smartphone users suggested they’d like to see mobile-specific offers such as surprise points or rewards, exclusive content and special birthday messaging.

All of this adds to brand loyalty and all of this is achievable with the data you can collect on your customers.

And customers will of course carry on using your mobile app outside the store. The Bond research suggests that, 57% of consumers are interested in using their mobile device to check their points balances, redeem reward points (55%), find a location/store (54%), and browse reward options (54%) at home.

Ultimately this loyalty culminates in revenue. According to ABI research: 40.4% of respondents who had downloaded a retailer branded app said that as a result, they bought more of the brand’s products and services and 45.9% said the app caused them to visit the store more often.

Joining up your physical retail store with loyalty app

Of course all of these benefits to you mean nothing if you’re not benefiting your customers.

According to 2016 research from Revel Systems and Forrester 93% of executives agree that’ it’s important to integrate digital capabilities into physical locations to improve customer experience while 94% of retailers see in-store digital capabilities as important not only for customer experience but also for store operations.

But how can you achieve this?

How beacons can help you join everything up into one brilliant customer experience

Build that loyalty app, give it to your customers for free, and place beacons around your premises to trigger specific deals and helpful store advice.

Make the most of it by offering free Wi-Fi in-store, and don’t be shy about it either. Also do encourage your customers to enable their customer loyalty apps with simple guides. Promise that that the push notifications will be ‘worth it’ then prove it by sending a brilliant one-time offer when they walk into your store.

Use the data you’ve accrued about your app users to tailor genuinely helpful bespoke offers and offer true personalisation.

Make their shopping experience as pleasurable and fun as possible, while also being brilliantly helpful. They’ll not only come back to your store, but also use your app while at home too.

Using iBeacons to create unique customer experiences: An Edgelands case study

Using ibeacons in public spaces

Recently the blueSense team took a trip to London’s Barbican Centre to check out Edgelands,  a new audio installation that uses beacons to communicate with visitors and allow them to understand the building’s unique architecture and history in a new and innovative fashion.

It’s one of the more unique and interesting uses for beacons we’ve come across, with a real focus on the user experience. We spoke to creator Hannah Bruce about the technical and creative challenges involved, and why beacons were the technology of choice for this installation.

Can you tell us a little about the ideas behind Edgelands?

There’s a hopefulness about the architecture of the Barbican, set in concrete, a strange relic of radical urban planning. As artists, we were interested in about what this Utopian vision might mean today. We talked about traditional notions of Utopia, the concept of an ideal state that comes from Greek words literally meaning ‘no place’, but also an alternative conception that evokes Utopia as a temporary moment in the here and now (an intensification of everyday life).

Using iBeacons in public spaces

I was particularly interested in challenging these concepts of Utopia to resonate on a personal, human scale. Is Utopia just a wish, constantly deferred, or might we discover fleeting glimpses of it embedded within our everyday lives? How can we acknowledge individual difference within those glimpses?

Artistically, it was a huge challenge to find ways to generate these temporary moments of intense experience, when we know that every visitor is going to be different. You might find a historical fact fascinating, whilst someone else might find a sound evocative, or a particular architectural decision revelatory.

So we tried to leave space for difference. Are you a history person? A senses person? A number person? Or a physical person? How does that affect the way you experience this Utopian space?

What made you think about using beacons for Edgelands?

The beacons came into the picture as a practical solution to an artistic problem. My number one essential rule, is never start with the technology! Always start with the artistic concept, identify the challenges, and work out whether technology can be one of the many tools that solves those challenges.

In terms of our artistic concept, Utopia is often imagined as an island state. We wove this imagery into Edgelands by producing different ‘islands’ of sound that visitors can discover as they explore the foyer spaces. It’s as if you are at sea, floating on a raft, and every now and again you ‘hear’ a glimpse of land and pull yourself onto the beach to rest and listen…

ibeacons apps on Google Play

Practically, we wanted the soundtrack to relate directly to specific places in the building, but because of the disorientating, complex nature of the space, we didn’t want to force people to navigate a particular route.

So that’s how we arrived at the idea of using Bluetooth low energy beacons. We wanted localised ‘islands’ of sound, triggered by a visitor’s proximity to a specific place or view in the building. People could wander freely, and when they got close to a beacon that particular “island” audio would play.

Thanks to a University of York R&D research grant, we already had experience of working with Bluetooth beacon technology. We first used the Bluesense beacons at Hoxton Hall, an amazing Victorian music hall hidden in the heart of East London. The Hoxton team commissioned us to create a pioneering visitor experience, responding to the hall’s historic 150 year old archives.

Rather than creating a dry museum display, we wanted to be true to the building’s performative music hall history. We were determined that the experience should be artistic, emotional and atmospheric (rather than just an opportunity to look at objects and read facts). We wanted visitors to have the sense that the building was almost a character itself, responding to their presence (and that as a visitor you also play a role in the building and become part of its story).

The beacons were an ideal way to give visitors the impression that the building was animate – for example, as someone enters a room the lights come on, and a voice speaks very naturally as if chatting to them in the same room (but the voice is based on a character from 100 years ago). Eerie, but magical.

The combination of Bluetooth beacons, and sound recording techniques such as binaural sound, allowed us to achieve this. Using headphones, binaural sound imitates the way our ears naturally hear the world, and can have a dramatic immersive effect. For example, many visitors are amazed when the person they hear descending the stairs behind them turns out to be fictional!

How did you get on with setting up the beacons themselves? Did you have any technical challenges to overcome?

The technical challenges kept us on our toes. Thanks to a University of York R&D research grant, we already had experience of working with Bluetooth beacon technology. However, every new project comes with unknown factors.

At the Barbican, the foyers are huge open spaces with different intersecting levels, full of concrete surfaces. We already know we can use architectural features and building materials to our advantage to deliberately obscure signals and manipulate the trigger point (alongside adjusting beacon strength, advertising frequency etc). Of course, in a place like the Barbican this gave us a lot to experiment with – it’s a concrete jungle! But we had no idea how the beacons would behave in such large, cavernous areas.

Our worst fear was that the Bluetooth signals might replicate small children running around a hall of mirrors at a funfair – getting reflected and distorted, bouncing off balconies, scrambling through pipes. Potentially the signals could have appeared in all shapes and sizes in entirely unexpected places. Luckily our alpha-testing went much more smoothly than we’d anticipated. Maybe that’s what happens when you make a piece about Utopia…

We also knew from previous work that the hardware of Android devices differs dramatically when it comes to Bluetooth capability. In August 2015 OpenSignal reported that there were just over 24,000 distinct Android devices, with a beautiful image to represent the fragmentation:

Android Device Signal Fragmentation
Android device signal fragmentation – Check out the interactive version at OpenSignal.com

Due to the significant bluetooth variation in the android devices, we realised that a calibration system would be essential if we wanted to trigger sound at roughly the same proximity across a range of devices (and artistically, because of the site specific nature of the narrative content, a universal trigger point was very important to us). Even though Apple devices vary less, a calibration system was still useful across different models, devices, operating systems etc.

How is the project being received by visitors?

Edgelands launched fairly recently, so we don’t yet have a body of feedback for this piece. We encourage people to leave feedback – we have a traditional written option, and there are also feedback buttons you can click in-app which allow you to email us thoughts.

Interestingly, at Hoxton Hall we have received an unexpected amount of feedback from visitors, mainly about the artistic impact of the experience. I don’t have any hard science about this, but I suspect its because visitors have a very personal, atmospheric experience which fires their imagination, and they are in a reflective state. When they finish the experience, they are invited to complete a feedback form, and I suspect we catch them at a point when they are fully engaged and immersed.

How did you go about getting past any initial self-consciousness so that visitors can immerse themselves in the experience?

Our audiences tend to dash to the venues we work in, straight from their busy lives. They have often travelled on public transport, fought their way through crowds, had busy days at work or with kids, and arrive frazzled with their head in survival mode. Life can be very overwhelming at times, visually, aurally.

We all have techniques to screen things out. Its almost as if we have our own mental algorithms that unconsciously help us filter things we don’t want to see or hear. As artists, we’re interested in creating an environment where, rather than screening things off, people open themselves up to their surroundings. This doesn’t happen easily – it’s a two way process of trust. Our audience have to trust that we’re going to look after them, and we have to trust that they are going to engage with complex concepts and be generous with their time.

We have found its very important to help people enter a different kind of head state, and this can’t be rushed – there’s a kind of liminal threshold that we have to invite people to cross. For this reason, we always think very carefully about the first few scenes. These opening minutes are critical for imparting practical info, but they also need to be immersive, set the right tone, open people’s hearts, make them intrigued, notice their surroundings, and a multitude of other difficult things.  As one audience member said about a previous piece we made: “I’m normally really cynical and critical but I just really enjoyed this experience… it was like slowly lowering into a warm bath.”

How are you measuring usage and effectiveness?

We use Developer analytics to monitor App units. We also have ipods available for people to borrow at the Barbican if they don’t own a smartphone or tablet, so we have to keep a more old fashioned tally of these loaned devices!

Many of our customers have a commercial imperative driving their use of technology. It seems that by avoiding that, you have been able to concentrate wholly on the context of the experience.

Do you think this would be affected by a more commercial approach?

I think on one level you are right in saying that we take a more contextual approach to what we are doing. We use a whole battery of techniques to support our concept, and the technology is just one aspect. The complicated, and magnificent (!) thing about our approach, is that we draw on a combination of strategies to ensure every “experience” we make for audiences is holistic.

In any single commission we consider site, content, technology, audience behavior, audience emotion, atmosphere, light, architecture (and the list goes on) as integral elements of our toolkit. So we think much more broadly and artistically, about live holistic experiences, rather than just using location based push notifications to sell ‘stuff’.

Of course, there are many things that make this easier for us than in the commercial world. Our product is an experience, not a material product. We can give assurances that we aren’t capturing anyone’s device data, which removes that potential barrier to participation. Edgelands is an experience that audiences have sought out, and chosen to participate in – we start with an already interested party (although I suppose that many consumers are already interested).

Of course, there is an element of commercial imperative for us. We have to pay our artists and technologists. Commissioners like the Barbican and Hoxton Hall spend money on this work because it adds value to their assets.

It might not be measurable in terms of direct sales but it means that people are attracted to the Barbican, spend time in the building, might buy a coffee, see their ads for other shows, buy a ticket for something else, or, like traditional advertising, see the Barbican as a leader in technological and artistic work. One of the key elements of the brief from the Barbican was that they wanted to transform the foyers into a new creative platform spanning the length and breadth of the Centre. Our role was to find ways to make these spaces central to visitor experience.

I think there’s probably a lack of imagination with many commercial approaches to BLE beacons. There are experiential, atmospheric, environmental elements which can turn consumption into a more contextual ‘experience’ for a consumer. I suspect that the importance of these nuanced elements will increase, as the novelty of receiving a push notification wears off.

In the same way that we learn from and use technologies from the commercial sector, there are definitely lessons that the commercial sector could take from our ‘artistic research’. We invest significant time (and money) into thinking about how to direct people in an interesting way via narrative, how sound design and music composed for a specific place can affect the ‘user’, how to subtly influence or encourage people.

We might not use these tools in order to make direct sales, but I think many of the influencing factors could span both worlds. What I think is unique and essential to our approach is the craft, the subtlety, and the quality of the whole. It’s not the same as piped music or library music or someone telling you ‘now go to the next exhibit’.

There are always cultural overlaps between theatre, and the society in which it is watched. So, although I think there’s a tendency in the arts to see the commercial world as a Big Bad Wolf, there are definitely significant influences from one to the other. In Exeunt, an online theatre magazine, I was fascinated to read various theatre critics recently drawing parallels between the culture of consumption, and the experience of seeing an immersive theatre show. Alice Saville suggests that “immersive theatre feels like a capitalist playground”.

I certainly think that the increase in scale, grandeur and sumptuousness of work by companies such as PunchDrunk or DreamThinkSpeak reflect their audiences’ interplay with other experiences – shopping, festival going, even watching TV. And how about glamping? It is not just luxury camping, its about imagining yourself into another lifestyle, an “immersive experience” of glamour which means your short break takes on an escapism combining material consumption with imaginative action. You practically star in your own “immersive theatrical experience”. In a commercial context, Cornetto has aped the zeitgeist of “immersive theatre” and binaural sound with its “Cupidity” events at Westfield in 2015 and 2016.

Cornetto Cupidity
Cornetto’s ‘Cupidity’ short film event at London’s Westfield Shopping Centre

I think that on the whole, artists are very good observers of society, and I think the skill of bringing consumption and experience together is one that is proven in work like Punchdrunk.

I suppose I am intrigued about what might happen if a company with a commercial drive was courageous enough to risk committing to a more contextual, holistic approach to using beacon technology. I suspect that focusing on the whole experience rather than the immediate sale, might have interesting results.

Do you have any future plans for more beacon projects?

I have a bad habit of dreaming up a new piece every time I discover a new building or take a walk, so its really just a question of finding the support to match the ideas.

Currently, we’re in the early stages of a some exciting discussions about a number of beacon projects (if I told you I’d have to kill you, of course), and we are continuing our R&D into Bluetooth technology and the internet of things, supported again by the University of York. I think one of the refreshing things about both the artistic and creative technology worlds is that people are generous with ideas, collaborations and time. So it’s a question of opening up conversations.

Its been very exciting working with the Barbican team, because as producers they work with a highly collaborative commissioning approach. As artists, we had a role in supporting the vision for a ‘smarter’ Barbican building in the long run. It’s incredibly exciting to be on the cusp of a wave, working in a building with staff willing to be daring and innovative, supporting artistic risk.

I think many arts centres and spaces have managers who are slightly intimidated by technology – digital natives are in a minority at managerial/executive level – and so the shift is slow at the moment, but I think it will explode in the near future. Recently I went to an exciting symposium at Warwick Arts Centre, run by Ludic Rooms, which brought together arts professionals to look at interactive and networked technologies and their use in the creative process. There were some really exciting people and projects there, such as Melissa Mean at the Knowle West Media Centre, Nikki Pugh who is an associate artist at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, and Sam Howey Nunn who runs Artful Spark

Its fantastic to be supported by organisations such as the Barbican and the University of York, so we’re excited about what the future holds.

Visitors to the Barbican can experience Edgelands until October 7th, 2016. Find out more about the technology behind this project on our product pages, or check out our A-Z for other use cases. 

Keeping track of people with beacons: Privacy, relevancy and optimisation

tracking_people

Recently we’ve been talking about using beacons to track assets, but it’s worth remembering that in many cases, the most valuable asset might be a person.

When we talk about tracking people, there are often some concerns about privacy involved, so I thought I would look at some of the situations where you might want to track people (either anonymously or specifically) and address these issues.

Privacy Concerns

Let’s talk about privacy first of all. While it is an important and understandable concern, it is worth remembering that attitudes around tracking are evolving. In many cases, online users are willing to trade a small piece of personal data (an email address for example), in return for information.

What matters here is making sure that the information or service you are providing is relevant enough. In order to collect this information, you will need not only to clearly inform the user about what information you need, but also where you plan to use it, and what they will receive in return.

It’s also worth mentioning that beacons themselves are fairly passive devices. They cannot transmit any information at all to your phone without explicit permission. In most cases this involves allowing an app to receive messages and send push messages, as well as enabling Bluetooth.

While some efforts are being made to address the need for an app (and Bluetooth devices like fitness wristbands often come with appropriate software pre-installed), it is still the default for most devices. This brings us back to relevance and value again. Points of friction are best addressed by providing something genuinely useful.

This is actually a microcosm of the wider mobile commerce market, where many businesses invest in a mobile site to initially attract users, before attempting to ‘upgrade’ users to a dedicated app to increase ‘stickiness’ once they have already proven value. For now there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this, as value changes from business to business. It’s one of the main reason we offer consultation services for our customers, so that we can learn more about the specific needs of customers.

Use Cases

As mentioned, there are a number of reasons you may want to keep an eye on people, and it’s important to remember that it doesn’t need to be a Big Brother-esque scenario. Simply anonymously tracking devices as they enter and leave areas can add enormous value. Here are a few different use cases:

Optimising workflow

In previous posts I mentioned that tracking assets could speed up the flow of goods from warehouse to store. The same is true of people. Ever booked a taxi to the airport, and then waited for your delayed departure? Think what you could do with the spare time (Duty Free is calling your name…).

In a business situation, it shouldn’t be used to ferry staff around like drones, but knowing where I need to be, and when is extremely useful. If a delivery is running late, then I can prioritise other tasks to fill in the lost time. If a task requires a set amount of time to complete, then my progress can be monitored. It can cut down on a huge amount of wasted time and allow me to more efficiently organise my own day.

Building better environments

One of the easiest beacon implementations is simply tracking the movements of devices around a space. With a management system like superHub, it’s easy to see where people enter, how long they stay, and where they hover.

Which in-store displays are attracting the most attention? Are customers spending so much time in the dairy aisle because they love looking at the cheese, or because they can’t find the eggs easily?

Using_beacons _in_warehouse

Keeping track of their movements and interactions is entirely non-intrusive, but allows you to optimise your physical space – be it supermarket or warehouse – so that people can easily find items, and also keep moving during busy periods.

Renting devices

Recently a couple of the blueSense team visited the Barbican in London to try out Edgelands, an interactive experience which uses our beacons to showcase the building’s unique history and architecture (Look out for more on that in a future post). Before we began though, I realised I had forgotten my headphones.

Luckily I could rent some from the shop. Unluckily it involved handing over my drivers license and making a cash deposit (They were very nice Sennheisers, so I appreciate why).

iphones_Beacons

It is possible however, to avoid this. Thousands of museums, parks, zoos and attractions now offer experiences with an audio-visual element, and hand out dozens of iPods, tablets and headphones to go with these. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just take one without needing to fill in the paperwork. This actually works for all kinds of items, from headphones to bicycles, with your personal device linked to a specific device that can be easily tracked.

Tracking children in public spaces

There is also a safety element involved in tracking people. We’ve talked before about shopping malls using beacons for wayfinding, providing maps that point out key features. While this is useful for adults trying to find their own way around, it may not be quite as useful for children.

beacons_Retail

Several large malls are now experimenting with beacon tracking for wristbands, meaning you can easily keep an eye on your children, even if they have been distracted by the enormous M&Ms display and run into a shop they shouldn’t have.

This also works for themeparks, zoos, and all kinds of complexes where many people need to be safely identified and guided.

Meetups and networking

Finally, what kind of marketer would I be if I didn’t mention networking? In the past I’ve worked with events that have used apps and RFID to track users, but beacons can actually offer a much wider experience with a much higher level of personalisation.

They can easily supply you with live information on who else is in your vicinity so you can optimise your networking time, and allow vendors to know when important clients are using their stands. In the past this kind of data has relied heavily on word of mouth feedback, but with beacon tracking you would be able to identify exactly who had visited which booth or conference session throughout the day.

Finally, there is also the added bonus of providing live information on the event itself – knowing which sessions are starting and finishing is a huge boon, as is automatic check-in to events.

Keeping track of people can provide us with a huge amount of new data, which in turn should allow businesses to optimise their own efforts internally, and provide far more relevant messages and experiences for users. If you’d like to know more about tracking, check out our proximitySense platform.

How can beacons help with asset tracking and management?

asset tracking

When we talk about beacon deployment, there’s a tendency to focus on consumer-facing applications. Retail has been the sector driving adoption in many cases, and being able to track customer flow – or even a specific customer – has clear, measurable value.

However, customers aren’t the only thing that has value within an organisation. While it may be less ‘sexy’, asset management is an area where beacons can provide massive business value. I thought it would be useful to look in more detail at asset management here, and lay out a few simple use-cases.

What is asset management?

Before we get started, let’s define our terms. Put simply, a beacon can tell you where any given asset is at any given time. So no more lost equipment, much faster and more accurate stocktaking, and even status monitoring. If something goes down, you can know about it right away. 

Using beacons to track items is also extremely simple. You can simply attach a beacon to the item and monitor these through a management device like our superHub.

Let’s consider a few typical use cases.

Locating assets.

A number of organisations have experimented with tagging items with RFID chips in the past. While these are useful, they have a limited range, which means they are not useful for larger spaces. Beacons have an advantage here, partly because they have a larger range, but also because they can be deployed in groups.

Beacons_asset_Management
You can easily cover a large warehouse space with just a few beacons. For other internal spaces (where you have to deal with smaller rooms, corridors, lifts etc.), you can quickly deploy beacons in fleets to give total coverage.

It’s also worth noting that beacons offer greater security, and more control over the type of signals being broadcast and accepted.

One case that we have talked about internally is hospitals. Medical equipment is very high-value, and quickly locating the right device can literally be a case of life and death.

Beacons_asset_Management

Medical scanners and devices are routinely wheeled from place to place within hospitals; so tagging them with BLE beacons makes perfect sense. Because beacons use low-energy signals, they also avoid interfering with device operations.  This also allows usage patterns to be monitored and optimised.

Inventory and logistics.

Warehouse inventory can be a time-consuming process with a great deal of manual work involved. Staff are often required to scan stock in and out of various warehouses for transit, and stocktaking often involves manually recording each and every item in turn. 

With beacons it’s easy not only to monitor the position of a given asset or container of assets, but you can also receive real-time information on position and stock levels. Transport hubs or even individual vehicles can be easily equipped with beacon monitoring equipment so that any asset can constantly be monitored.

This reduces logistics workload, increases security and enables businesses to optimise their logistic workflows. In the current business environment, where everyone struggles to provide speed and agility, the ability to quickly locate and distribute goods can offer a real competitive advantage.

Process management.

It’s also worth mentioning that the ability to monitor assets does not end with finished products in a warehouse or on a shop shelf.

It’s also possible to monitor parts and materials during the manufacturing process, which again can help avoid bottlenecks in the process and aid fulfilment, and even assign staff to specific tasks based on their current proximity to particular assets. This is a low-cost way to greatly improve efficiency.

There are endless other possible asset management use-cases available, from mobile device management to optimising transport. Take a look at our other use case examples to get inspired, or check out our range of beacons to see which best fit your business.

Beacon deployment: Three key focus areas for success

How_To_Deploy_Beacons

Although beacons are becoming more commonplace, large-scale deployment hasn’t been quite as quick to take hold as those of us in the industry may have hoped. So, what are the main blockers for people wanting to deploy beacons?

While things are different for each individual business, many issues can be filed under three primary headings: People, Processes and Technology.

I thought it would be useful to look at each in turn and see why these issues occur, and how the beacon industry (Including here at blueSense) can help users move past these.

Technology

Let’s start with the tech itself. There are still a few misconceptions around what beacons actually do. Beacons themselves are actually fairly passive. In most cases, an app installed on a device will be doing all of the actual ‘work’ involved in receiving a signal. A beacon initially just sends a pulse of data at regular intervals, which tells the app to begin listening. This is useful because without the permissions granted by the app, beacons are unable to broadcast anything unwanted to a device. This has been a key factor with audiences, and as yet it has been difficult to communicate just how secure beacons actually are.

Once an app begins listening, it will respond to the beacon and grant it permission to deliver a new message. At this point your management software steps in and decides what kind of message is most appropriate. In the case of a retailer it might be a coupon for example, but there are endless varieties of content you could serve. Incidentally, this situation is beginning to change. There is a definite concern that users are using fewer apps than they used to, so there’s now a focus within the industry on integrating into widely-used apps like Facebook or WhatsApp, and also on circumventing the need to use an app entirely.

We’ve been building a network of enabled apps here at blueSense, and as this progresses, it should become easier for businesses to connect with customers. It’s also an area where larger commercial enterprises can help. Many telecoms providers are viewing beacons as a piece of infrastructure, rather than as adtech, and they are well placed to drive the further integration between beacons and apps as they have physical locations and app integration already existing at scale.

Processes

Technically speaking, this should be an easier area to address than the tech itself, but processes often trip up the unwary business owner. Many businesses are rolling out beacon networks, but haven’t taken the time to consider what that means from a strategic point of view.

Beacons themselves can deliver extraordinarily relevant messaging to users, but as with any platform, there is often a tendency to send too many messages. In retail in particular, you may often be dealing with a wide variety of demographics. In an attempt to reach these customers, many stores initially opted to send special-offer coupons to customers. While this is a good way of gauging how willing customers are to engage with location marketing, it is far less effective than personalised messaging.

In many ways this is similar to the issues experienced by marketers using email. In the early days of email marketing , scale was the most important thing.

Marketers were desperate for data and this gave rise to a large and often unscrupulous market for data. Over time, leading marketers have realised that sending less messaging, but concentrating on segmenting audiences and providing messaging at the correct time saw a huge rise in conversion rates.

Beacons are exactly the same. In the case of retail, simple segmentation can be a carried out around use-cases. For example, you could easily segment users who regularly use click-and-collect services and remarket online shopping options to that group. Just because data is gathered from a beacon network, it does not necessarily have to be re-used there.

Marketers are making efforts to join up various channels of communication and the data received from each, and it’s here that beacons may provide the most value – by identifying online and offline customers as specific individuals, and providing them with tailored options. This could be purely commercial; For example, if a customer researches a product online but decides to purchase in-store, then it is easier to attribute value to each channel. Or it could be a far simpler interaction – letting a customer know about an item on their shopping list they may have forgotten. The key here is to provide value and enhance experience.

beacon_deployments
Luckily, value leads to success.

When considering a deployment, it is crucial that you have clear goals in mind, and a way of measuring your results (It would be remiss of me not to mention that our own proximitySense platform is capable of this).

People

Finally, let’s talk about the people involved in the process. Any new technology comes with a learning curve, and it’s important to help both customers and staff understand exactly how and why your beacons are being used. In many cases, it can be a simple transition. If beacons are being used to track industrial assets for example, then the majority of users may see this as an improvement in workflow as there is no need to continuously scan and rescan assets being moved or delivered. In customer-facing situations, the challenges are somewhat different.

As mentioned earlier, there is still some consternation around the security of beacons, and while the majority of the public are becoming more comfortable with the idea of trading some personal data for improved services, these underlying concerns persist. We’ve made a point of addressing this by making our own code open-source, so it’s easy to interrogate where and how your data is being handled, and implement your own security systems and protocols.

On a more practical level, it pays to introduce users to the benefits of beacons slowly. Earlier I mentioned click-and-collect services, which are a useful example as there is a clear value proposition for the customer, and a reason to actively opt-in. This is also true for the leisure, retail and travel sectors. Using beacons to provide wayfinding in larger venues is again, useful without being intrusive.

Having a focus on usefulness is key if the market for beacons is to expand, but they are also key for any user wanting to engage with customers and not distract them. The temptation to push messaging may be the most obvious use of the technology, but it is not always the most useful, or valuable.

Beacons: What’s stopping you?

deploying_Beacons

As a marketer, I spend a fair amount of my time on Twitter, and of course I’m always on the lookout for information about the beacon market, so when a recent Twitter chat popped up discussing proximity marketing I was quick to join in. 

One point that stood out in particular was the various obstacles that marketers felt they faced when deploying beacons. We’ve spoken before about some of the myths associated with the tech, but it seems that many users still believe that beacons are ‘techie’. That they will be enormously complex to set up, and that it will cost a huge amount to do so.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I thought it would be a good idea to address these concerns here – and hopefully help you to begin using beacons for your own business.

Beacons are expensive aren’t they?

First of all, let’s talk money.  Beacon technology is actually very cheap. The devices themselves are lightweight, and in most cases you will not need a huge number to begin experimenting. Our V3 beacon has a range of up to 100 metres (330 feet).

To give you an idea of how far that actually is, meet the Hybrid Air Vehicle:

Hybrid_Air_Vehicle

That’s the world’s largest passenger aircraft. It’s a little larger than a football field. Oh, and it’s 330 feet long. Pretty big eh? And just in case, we also have a long range beacon, for those times when you absolutely have to send a message to someone standing at the opposite end of four Olympic swimming pools.

It is worth mentioning that signals from beacons do ‘bounce’ off various surfaces like mirrors or light fittings, so most users will need more than one (I’ll talk more about this in a moment), but even so, the cost is very small. Here’s why:

First of all, our beacons are built to stand up to all sorts of abuse. They can take plenty of knocks and keep on transmitting. Even if you particularly enjoy knocking them about or keep running over them in a forklift, we have an especially tough weatherproof version that will – quite literally – take anything you can throw at it.

Because they are so strong, it means they will also last a very, very long time. A regular beacon has a battery life of around two years, while an extended battery version will keep going for five years, non-stop (Or if you prefer, the same amount of time as the Starship Enterprise).

Star_Trek_Quote

And it’s worth mentioning that beacons can last even longer than that, but five years is actually about the working life of a regular AA battery. The battery will give out before the beacon does.

This brings us back to cost. Over two years, you’d be paying about 2.7 pence (3.9 US cents) per day. If you sent messages to five people during that time, each one would cost you half a penny. 

OK, so beacons are cheap to use, but aren’t they complicated to set up?

You probably know where I’m going with this already, but just in case: Nope.

Terms like ‘real-time data and ‘proximity marketing’ can make things sound complicated. With any new technology there is a certain amount of learning that has to be done, but in this case it’s more akin to figuring out your new mobile phone than ‘learning to code’.

This where Proximity Sense comes in.

Proximity Sense is our beacon management platform, and we’ve designed it to be very, very user-friendly. As a user, all you have to do is turn on your beacons, and add a message for a group of beacons, or for each individual one.

manage_iBeacons_easily

This could be a simple ping letting you know where the beacon is, or you could upload a nice picture, and add a message (‘Buy one, get one free’ for example) or, well, there’s a lot of possibilities.

The whole thing takes a few minutes. After that, you can pop in to look at the results whenever you need to, but if left alone, the beacons will continue doing their thing for the next two years.  Oh, and if you want particularly detailed analytics information, or have a lot of beacons that you are setting up with different messages, or need to manage them in many different locations, we’ll even do it for you.  Which brings me neatly to my next point…

Earlier I mentioned that beacon signals can bounce off certain surfaces. This isn’t a major problem, but it does mean that some thought needs to go into where you place your beacons. We’ve also spent a long time working with beacons here at BlueSense, which is why we send qualified engineers out to take care of this part for you – easy! We can make sure that you’re beacons are in the right place to reach the right customers.

Anything else I should know?

Finally, some users have found that managing beacons can be a bit of a pain. If for example, the battery does go in one of them, then in the past you would have had to wander past each beacon checking them in turn, rather like checking the bulbs on a string of Christmas tree lights.

We thought about this, and that’s why we’ve also produced our Management Hub.

Beacon-monitoring-Hub

The Hub plugs straight into your wifi, and keeps an eye on groups of your beacons to make sure they are all running smoothly. Having this happen automatically also means you can easily check which beacons are getting the most engagement. If one isn’t reaching people, you can simply move it to a busier area. This means you can quickly optimise your campaigns to reach the most people.

So, beacons are inexpensive, long lasting, and easy to set up. What’s stopping you?

We’re always looking for ways to improve how beacon technology is used, so if you have any other issues, or you want to get started with beacons, drop us a line and let us know how we can help.