How to use iBeacons right ?

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loyalty program using ibeacons
Two years ago, iBeacons were the cool new technology that Apple put into its iOS7 that was going to slay QR codes and every other mobile marketing technology while simultaneously transforming the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.

When they first launched, many marketers assumed iBeacons themselves delivered content to users but they are really just a relay that passes on information when requested. iBeacons always require customers to install an app. Nevertheless, their location-based technology has the potential to be an extremely powerful sales generator for retailers of all sizes, allowing them to collect data and send targeted notifications to prospects and customers on their smart phones. Compatible with both Apple and Android devices, iBeacons work constantly and quietly in the background so when a customer pulls out their phone, the right content is there waiting for them, almost as if by magic.

However, iBeacons struggled to deliver on their promise, despite retailers such as Tesco and Asda experimenting with them to prove they could be used as a successful marketing tool. 

When iBeacons fail

Beyond the supermarket aisles, London’s Regent Street sought to deliver “exclusive personalised content to shoppers” with an app specially designed to turn smartphones into sales tools.

Crown Estate roped in over 120 retailers including Burberry, Banana Republic, All Saints and Zara to participate. A dedicated mobile app analysed users shopping preferences to create a personalised list of relevant brands and used iBeacons in stores to push messages and offers to consumers’ smartphones as they walked along Regent Street.

In practice, users of the app reported that while they received location specific messages, most were simple ‘sale now on’ notifications and none were time-specific.

The Regent Street app was notable for bringing together differing brands, marketing identities and target demographics into a single app, but while the technology worked, the critical consensus was that the app did little to drive engagement beyond generic promotional messages. The trial failed to capture the imagination of shoppers and was a disappointment considering the potential of the app as a tool to bridge the online-offline divide and deliver personalised location-based messaging.

When iBeacons succeed

tb-app_bigA more successful deployment ran at Sydney’s Australian Museum who used beacons to engage visitors by gamifying the customer experience.

One of the primary challenges faced by museums is how to engage younger visitors. In response to this, the museum developed a beacon-enabled app called Trailblazer:  a scavenger hunt for 8-12 year olds and their parents that allowed users to collect items throughout the exhibition.

The app gamified the experience of visiting the exhibits using a ‘radar’ feature, shown by a hot and cold sensor bar. This indicated how close a user was to the current object (beacon) they were trying to locate. The radar calculated the distance between the device and the object (beacon) and then used graphic prompts to direct players.

Visitors to the Trailblazer exhibition who had used the app were asked to complete a survey on their experience. 85% had visited all exhibits and collected all items within the app, reflecting a high level of user engagement,

Although this example relates to a museum, gamification is being trialled by retailers and is forecast to be an essential element to drive customer marketing and loyalty. Retail adoption of gamification is predicted to increase by 181% in the next five years, according to Boston Retail Partners.

Our take

Businesses need to be sure they are leveraging beacons in the right manner.  A good mobile marketing strategy is one that considers why customers would first download an app. Offers alone are insufficient incentive. A business needs to solve a customer need, such as getting rid of paper loyalty cards, or delight them, by improving their overall experience, using gamification for example.

If a business can demonstrate a trigger for this initial interaction – the download of an app – it can start to engage with a user. iBeacons can be used to gather customer insight, which can form the basis for meaningful conversations, and over time increase sales.

Businesses need to remember that customers are always in control; if they feel they are only being fed advertising or messages are intrusive, generic or irrelevant, they may still choose to uninstall the necessary app, ending the dialogue.

A successful beacon strategy needs to think beyond the initial app installation and consider whether communications are customer centric and relevant throughout. Brands need to have a dialogue with customers and learn from their responses rather than thinking of iBeacons as a one-way outbound transmitter.

We strongly recommend a customer centric approach to iBeacons and rather than just thinking about what the business wants to say, think about what the customer wants to hear.

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