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.

Pokémon GO, millennials and proximity marketing’s big breakthrough

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Don’t panic, that headline isn’t just an excuse to cram every marketing buzzword possible into one sentence. But unless you’ve been living under a Pokéstop, you’ll no doubt be aware that around 80% of the planet have recently decided to spend their spare time taking ten-mile hikes in search of imaginary monsters.

Pokémon Go is the world’s largest treasure hunt, and while it’s essentially pointless (If fun), it is doing something important. It’s making everyone who plays it realise that location tracking and Augmented Reality can both be done really well.

It may seem odd for a beacon company to be talking about a game that runs on GPS tracking, but actually there’s a huge amount of crossover here (although of course beacons do location better than GPS, not least because they won’t drain your battery in five minutes flat).

A new audience for contextual experiences

One of the most interesting aspects of Pokémon Go! is the audience it has attracted. In the recent past, businesses have become a little obsessed with the millennial market, and there’s good reason. Millennials are the forerunners of customer behaviours that are extremely valuable, but largely absent from older demographics.

This doesn’t mean that millennials are ‘just kids’ however. According to Vox, around 40% of players are aged 25 or over, with just over a third falling into the 24-34 age group.

The incredible rise of Pokémon Go is an indicator of changing behaviour on the part of consumers, but more broadly, it also shows that we are changing the way we interact with technology.

Pokémon Go is now loaded onto almost 6% (Approx 6.46m) of US Android phones. That makes it bigger than Tinder (Which has about 2% of the same market), and almost as big as Twitter:

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Via Business Insider

The only other tech with such a phenomenal rise in recent memory is the mobile phone itself (I’ve spoken about how this is already affecting your business before).

Changing user behavior

The important thing to consider though is that this is all new territory for users. Our devices may be digital, but we still interact with them in an analogue way. We pick up a physical device and (in most cases) hold it to our ear, or jab at the screen.

Pokémon Go is changing this. Users are suddenly aware that experiences can be contextual. That they are improved by being integrated into the physical world.

In many ways this reminds me of online publishing. A couple of years ago, online magazines were published as PDFs, or on platforms like Issuu. To read them, you would download a doc, and turn the ‘pages’ manually.

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Now look at more modern forms like Flipboard, Bulletin, or even the digital comic book industry. The analogue version is changing into a digital, contextual experience.

Users are now ready for communications that blend into their daily lives. Until recently, retailers using beacons have struggled as they try to get users to enable Bluetooth. Users are downloading less apps (but spending more time in the ones they do use).

Thanks to a little gamification and a whole lot of animated Pikachus, Pokémon Go has removed these friction points and allowed its audience to see the value of digital context.

What this means for marketing

So, what does this all mean for proximity? The important thing to remember here is that they enable hyper-local communication, are far more accurate and have a lower cost than GPS-driven apps, and we now have an audience that is not only willing, but actively embracing contextual communication.

The only thing for businesses to decide is whether they want to make the most of this opportunity, or be rushing to play catch-up with competitors in a year or two…

Beacon deployment: Three key focus areas for success

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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.

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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.