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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.
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.
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.
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).
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.