If you own a business or are involved in marketing, you may have heard about beacon technology. Perhaps you even received a Google beacon in the post as part of Project Beacon, a program Google launched to send free beacons to businesses with the aim of improving mobile visibility and experience.
Beacon technology has come a long way since its debut by Apple in 2013 and is expected to keep on growing. This year, Global Market Insights predicted that the beacon technology market is set to surpass $25 billion by 2024. It’s safe to say the technology has a lot of potential and is expected to contribute to the marketing landscape in the coming years.
But what do you need to know about beacon technology, exactly? How can it help you meet your business goals? I’ll tell you. Here, I will discuss what beacon technology is, the history of beacons, and the benefits of the technology for your marketing strategy.
1. What Is Beacon Technology?
Beacons are small, wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth technology to send signals to other smart devices nearby. They are one of the latest developments in location technology and proximity marketing. Put simply, they connect and transmit information to smart devices making location-based searching and interaction easier and more accurate.
2. How Do Beacons Work?
The beacon device itself is incredibly simple. Each device contains a CPU, radio, and batteries, and it works by repeatedly broadcasting out an identifier. This identifier is picked up by your device, usually a mobile, and marks out an important place in your environment.
The identifier is a unique ID number that your smartphone recognizes as unique to the beacon. Once connected, the beacon will carry out whatever function it has been programmed to perform. We will go into more detail later on some of the many functions beacon can carry out.
3. Beacon Technology: A Timeline
Now that we’re clear on what beacon technology is and how it works, let’s take a look at when beacon technology was first developed and how it has been adopted around the globe.
10th June 2013: Apple introduces iBeacon as part of iOS 7 at World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC 2013).
1st September - 10th November 2013: Titan installs 500 beacons in Manhattan phone booths for “maintenance purposes.”
6th December 2013: Apple installs beacons in all 254 of their US shops to provide customers with in-store notifications about items, product reviews, and deals.
31st July 2014: Over 50 of the Top 100 US retailers test beacons in their shops.
12th August 2014: 3 UK stores trial beacon technology in their mannequins with the aim of providing prices and links to buying online to customers when they enter the beacon’s 50-meter range. Significantly, customers had to have an app downloaded to receive the beacon’s information. Customers were also tracked on how long they spent looking at an item and their method of purchase in order for the retailers to form a more accurate and personalized marketing strategy.
29th September 2014: The single largest application of beacon technology in retail to date occurs when Macy’s installs over 4,000 devices across their shops.
21st November 2014: Aruba Networks successfully implements “blue dot” indoor navigation using beacons. This offers a cheaper and lower maintenance alternative to Wi-Fi for indoor navigation.
Early 2015: Some of the largest and most downloaded apps, including Facebook and Shazam, begin integrating beacons into their functionality.
14th July 2015: Google launches Eddystone, a platform-agnostic competitor to Apple’s iBeacon. Eddystone is designed to provide location-based content to your smartphone. Being compatible across platforms, it aims to encourage developers to work with beacon technology.
14th April 2016: Google announces Eddystone-EID, which turns your phone, if connected to a beacon, into an encrypted target – safeguarding users when connected.
Late 2016: With users needing to download apps to receive proximity marketing from beacons the popularity in retail begins to stall. However, Google works on making it possible for people to use the feature without downloading any apps, resulting in a resurgence in popularity.
Aug 2017: Bluetooth states that beacon technology will become the foundation of the Internet of Things.
Late 2017 - Present: Google pilots Project Beacon.
Now, you are probably asking, what does this technology actually mean to me a marketer or local business owner? This next section will cover the benefits of beacon technology and just how these could improve your business.
4. What Are the Benefits of Beacon Technology?
The technology itself has lots of applications and potential. Some functions were available when the beacons were first introduced, and some have become available as the technology has advanced.
Improved offline attribution with Google Ads
By connecting the signals of your beacon to your Google Ads account, gain a lot of useful insight into your searcher’s offline activity and may even help you track in store visits. This means that when you serve your Google search ads, you may be able to attribute the number of online users that walk into the store.
Businesses and marketers spend billions each year on their online advertising efforts; therefore, understanding your offline attribution is more important than ever. Traditionally, it has been a marketer’s nightmare to understand how their online marketing efforts are linked to offline attribution. However, by tracking key interaction points of users that have clicked on your digital ads you can understand how effective your digital ads are at driving customers and sales to your store.
A typical example could go like this:
Step 1: User types in search terms “smart black shoes.”
Step 2: Your Google search ad appears.
Step 3: User clicks on the search ad, browses the product, then closes their phone.
Step 4: This user decides they want to try the shoes on before buying, so they walk into your shop.
Step 5: When they enter the shop, their phone picks up an identifier from your shop’s beacon.
Step 6: The beacon recognizes that this phone is the same one that clicked on your search ad and links this data with your Google Ads account as a “store visit.”
And voila, by installing a beacon in your shop, you have dramatically improved your attribution modelling. By logging actual store visits from your search ads, this technology will help you understand the impact and effectiveness of your search ads. If you see they are driving lots of visits to your shop, you may want to invest more in search.
However, if you find very few users are following up their initial interest with a store visit, then you might not see a large enough ROI from your search ads. By gathering as much data as possible on your marketing activity, you can better understand what is working for you and what is not – and you can adapt your marketing strategy accordingly.
TL;DR: Beacons don’t guarantee in store visit tracking, but can help improve measurement if there are already enough quality signals in place. We often struggle with clients who go out and buy a $200 beacon and then get frustrated that they still don’t meet the criteria for tracking in store visits.
This was initially the biggest selling point of beacon technology when beacons were released in 2013. Even though out-of-store marketing hasn’t taken off as much as people had expected, it nevertheless has plenty of potential for the right businesses and for marketers willing to invest in it.
Any important information that you want your potential customers to know can be transmitted directly to any receptive devices that are within the range of your beacon. This could be a simple alert to notify the user that they are within range of your shop. Or, the alert could be something more complex, like sending messages related to discounts, loyalty programs, and competitions that you are running. The brands themselves can also push individual product discounts using your in-store beacons.
By using this location-based technology, you can personalize your out-of-store marketing, helping you monetize any potential foot traffic. With mobiles now an integral part of everyday life, proximity marketing will only continue to grow. Therefore, implementing it effectively it will add another dimension to your digital strategy.
Advanced data gathering
The positional accuracy beacons can give you is up for debate, but it is clear that this Bluetooth technology is an improvement on other proximity technologies like GPS and WiFi. With this greater accuracy, you can gather more reliable information on how and where your customers are moving throughout your shop.
You can use this data in tandem with your ecommerce stats to adapt and improve your product listings and in-store layout. If you are finding that the majority of your customers are spending their time browsing your homeware section at the back of your store, perhaps this area could be expanded or brought to the front. Ultimately this data could help you refine your customer journey, tailor future marketing campaigns and boost your in-store conversions.
Google My Business listing improvement
Installing a beacon in your business will also help your Google My Business listing. The beacon itself can track popular visiting times for your company improving the accuracy shown in the GMB listing. Through Google’s Local Guides service you can garner more reviews for your business. The beacon will also help you gather more information on check-in and request users to upload photos of the venue.
An up-to-date and detailed GMB listing is essential for local SEO. Therefore, using a beacon can help supercharge your data collection and ensure your Google My Business listing stands out from the rest.
We can see the benefits of beacon technology for the marketer are clear, but we can’t forget about the consumers themselves. Beacons help improve the user experience by adding an additional layer of personalized interaction during the shopping experience. Targeted ads and offers from their favorite brands build trust, security, and familiarity. With consumers now having so much choice in the retail market both online and offline, building trust in your brand has never been more important. In a study by PWC this year, they found 35% of consumers ranked ‘trust in brand’ as among their top three reasons for purchasing in retail.
5. The Future of Beacons in Marketing
The possibilities of beacon technology in proximity marketing and location-based technology are numerous. As data gathering tools, beacons offer Google a chance to better understand businesses that use their services, as well as the users themselves, in order to improve their algorithm.
The logistics and transportation industry is one of the main benefactors of improved location-based technology. Bluetooth low-energy beacons can be used for more accurate asset tracking, particularly indoors.
In addition to tracking objects themselves, beacons could be used to track people such as patients or doctors in hospitals during emergencies. The focus may have initially been on the retail industry, but as the technology matures, we can expect other sectors to follow in understanding how beacon technology can aid their day-to-day activities.
Final Thoughts on Beacon Technology: Stay Tuned
It is difficult to say how popular beacon technology will become; the technology is still relatively fresh off the block and has had its fair share of setbacks. Upon their release there was a lot of hype and plenty of promise, yet beacons did not take off as many expected. However, with Google’s recent plans to make the platform agnostic and easier for developers to program, we can expect more companies to adopt the technology. One enormous advantage beacons have is that they are relatively inexpensive in comparison to other technologies, so businesses large and small can adopt the technology with very little risk.
Ultimately, beacons will help you better understand your audience, supporting and complementing your other marketing activities. The online-to-offline attribution modelling, user-focused proximity marketing potential, and Google My Business profile improvement the technology can offer is something every marketer should know when considering using beacons.
About the author
Elliot Haines joined Hallam Internet in 2017 as a Digital Marketing Executive and is interested in developing a rounded skill set in digital marketing.