Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Beacon Technology: Proximity can be a win for advertisers, and a win for customers

By Rob Weatherhead, Chief Consultant, Agent Wolf

Rob recently appeared on BBC Watchdog in a, mostly negative, spot about use of beacons by advertisers. Here he provides a more positive counterpoint view on the benefits for advertisers and consumers.

It is fair to say data, and its use for advertising, has taken a bit of a kicking over the past few years. The misuse of data has made global headlines, influenced elections, and grown in public awareness in Europe thanks to high profile legislation. As a result, the public have a perception of data and targeted advertising which is largely negative.

When asked about ‘targeted advertising’ the general public will often end up using words such as ‘creepy’ and ‘annoying’.

A lot of the conversation neglects the fact however that most data collected only becomes a privacy issue, or generates the annoying or creepy situations people like to discuss, due to the user of said data. The data in itself is generally faceless and uninteresting, until it is matched with other more personal information and leveraged in an attempt to make you buy something. The advertiser or tech provider decides how they want to use that data to profile you, target you, or how frequently they want to pursue you.

A few weeks ago, I appeared on a segment for BBC Watchdog talking about beacon technology and how it works. BBC Watchdog (if you haven’t seen it) is a consumer reports programme highlighting issues with products and services they believe are not favourable to consumers. This means they tend to focus on the negatives or concerns around something.

And in the case of beacons this was the transparency of their use by advertising technology and retailers. What they didn’t do was talk about the potential positive use cases.

Data in all forms can be used by marketers and advertisers to make advertising relevant, useful and engaging to its intended audience. The same principle applies to proximity data and beacons. So, what are the positive use cases for proximity marketing and beacons in particular?

Making advertising useful

Proximity data, like much of the data held on individuals, can be used to make advertising useful, or misused to make it feel intrusive.

A beacon is a simple location transmitter. It doesn’t collect data, hold data or receive data. So in and of itself it cannot be considered either a good thing of a bad thing. It is down to the recipient of the signal, and how they use the information that determines whether it can be useful or not.

Proximity of a store or within a store can be a highly effective tool to make advertising more meaningful to customers. Knowing somebody was in store and then opened your app can help promote relevant offers, delivery options, and discounts that the customer will find very useful.  If you know somebody frequents a store, perhaps they would be interested to know there is a sale on in the store, or a new line has just become available. Or maybe its as simple as letting them know the busy times for the store so they can visit when it will be quieter. All useful utilities, all powered by proximity and beacon technology.

In store navigation & marketing

For large stores, beacon technology is the enabler for in store maps and navigation which can be very useful for customers. Navigating them to aisles and products without the need for them to scour the whole building.

Such precise location information can also provide the capability for targeted and useful marketing messages, offers and alternatives. Knowing somebody is in the shampoo section of your store, and providing them with today’s discounts on their phone delivers a great user experience and successful marketing for both the store and the shampoo brand.

Extending the reach of offline media

Beacon usage also extends beyond the world of digital advertising. Beacons in outdoor units can be used to extend the reach of your offline activity or measure the effectiveness of footfall driving campaigns, whilst at the same time create a better customer experience.

In one implementation Diageo worked alongside Taylor Walker Pubs to integrate information about the busiest times within a venue to which one they used in their advertising. Thus managing demand across their pub network as well as improving the customer experience of those that responded.

Targeting your non-target audience

Many brands obsess over their target audience. The profile of people that make up their typical customers, and so the people they want to target to buy more. But in doing so they discount large swaths of potential and existing customers that could be in market for different reasons.

Have you ever been wondering down the high street wandering what to buy your better half for a special occasion? Or been tasked with picking them something up on a shopping trip without really knowing what you are looking for?  You aren’t likely to be the target audience for the brand stocking the product you might be interested, but you are going to be in the proximity of store or even within it.

Beacon technology, proximity marketing and an appreciation of ‘showrooming’ can help you reach this potential customer even though they don’t fit the profile of your target audience.  Whilst at the same time, maybe you can help them make a better gift decision!

Advertisers, its over to you

How proximity data and beacons are used, is down to the advertisers. The choice to be intrusive and annoying, or useful and enabling lies with them. So advertisers, it’s over to you…