What’s Next for the Future of Mobile Engagement? iBeacon and Beyond.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 15:48

To date, many geolocation technologies have not lived up to consumer expectations. And worse, when not used correctly, it can feel pretty creepy. Before Apple’s iBeacon entered the digital tech scene, geolocation was not quite so sophisticated.

There have been many attempts by brands, some more successful than others, to leverage location-based technologies to drive foot-traffic, influence purchases and promote awareness.  Mobile apps like Foursquare, Google Latitude, or Gowalla came on the scene, merging the “offline” and online worlds via “check-ins.”

Today, geo-location-based advertising is a default—whether it’s a deal for a local restaurant in your Facebook feed, or a Groupon Now coupon pushed to your phone based on current real-time location—the majority of geolocation activity has been used for discounting. While it’s a quick win, discounting  does not necessarily reinforce long-term business value. Rather, we expect the best implementations of new geo-tech to actually enhance the entire purchase experience—streamlining from product discovery through checkout process and support.

While location-based offers can sometimes be helpful, they are oftentimes irrelevant because they fail to take into consideration behavior and context. Unfortunately, even the best attempts at geo-location based marketing can feel like spam.

So What’s Different about iBeacon?

What makes iBeacon more effective? Micro-location functionality, via mobile Bluetooth LE-based technology, enables more relevant and contextual mobile targeting. Micro-location technology can monitor activity within very specific locations or zones, like a grocery aisle.

Another big difference: iBeacon surrenders control to consumers, who must opt-in and download the businesses’ app before receiving messages, eliminating the intrusive aspect of location based marketing.

The technology enables brands to engage in-store shoppers like never before, with real-time, relevant messaging. For instance:

  • Lessen fears of showrooming. Retailers have historically felt powerless to showrooming shoppers, who compare competing prices while in-store. With micro-location targeting, brands benefit by directly engaging mobile in-store shoppers at the right moment.
  • Marry bricks with clicks for the omnichannel experience. Retailers have the opportunity to bring together the best of both worlds, enhancing in-store shopping with real-time targeting capabilities for a more personalized and holistic consumer experience.

Where Does iBeacon Fall Short?

iBeacon’s opt-in nature (plus download of the associated app) is a conundrum. It does allow for more relevant messaging to qualified customers, but if the consumer hasn’t taken the preemptive action to download, he or she will never have access to location-based brand messaging.

So, the big question is: will consumers adopt? And, how might  retailers drive consumer adoption? Many retailers and consumers are using or have used NFC, available on many devices and programs like Android and Google Wallet. But, rumor has it that iBeacon is both cheaper and more useful. Any caveats? Consider:

  • Oversaturation. Pinging in-store store shoppers is intimate. If retailers don’t do it right, they run of risk of becoming intrusive, and worse, downright annoying. Micro-location messages and placement must be chosen strategically and carefully if it’s going to work.
  • It’s always on. A recent update to the technology: iBeacon can still detect consumer location and send messages regardless whether the app is on. Even if the user closes out of the app, he or she can still be detected and then receive notifications. So, unless you un-install the technology, select iBeacons will always sense your location. What’s the line between convenience and intrusion? Will consumers think it’s an invasion of privacy?

Where Is Geolocation Tech Going?

Some boldly say iBeacon has the potential to change the way we shop. We’d agree.

Thanks to a study done by the Marketing Leadership Council and Google, we know that most buyers are about 60% through the traditional buying stages by the time they interact with a brand professional. But, micro-location based technologies, like iBeacon, have the potential to disrupt this trend and broaden a brand’s breadth of influence during the customer journey.

Imagine if you could offer your savviest, high-value customers access to brand experts across the globe, wherever they are. Through mobile, in-store targeting, consumers can be made aware of available resources and professionals not available in real-time. Customers might not feel the need to connect with out-of-store professionals, but knowing they are accessible is a good way to build thought leadership and brand loyalty.If the technology does take off as expected, there is great potential to tie live chat and digital engagement features to geolocation technologies. For example, those at checkout or stalling in an aisle could be pinpointed and engaged in real time. Or, if a customer is wandering around the same few aisles for a longer than usual time, they could be engaged and pointed in the right direction for products, or offered help for any questions the customer might have on any given product.

The potential is there; it just takes brands earning consumer trust for such intimate, personalized engagements.  While this feature is hypothetical, if created, we think it could create the ultimate in-store, customer-centric experience that most shoppers are seeking in the age of digital.

Is the future of chat tied to location targeting technologies? Let us know what you think in the commenting section below.

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