You are here

iBeacon: The Future of Content Marketing?

It was easy to miss. Back in June 2013, Apple announced it was introducing a seemingly innocuous function in its new operating system iOS7 entitled iBeacon.

Fast-track several months and now developers and marketers alike are starting to realise its true significance. The hype has gone into overdrive with the Washington Post claiming: “It may change the world forever.”

Where are you?

iBeacon is essentially a technology that allows smartphones and tablets to take on a whole new level of location-awareness.

With a low cost transmitter, a business can broadcast tiny Bluetooth Low Energy radio signals to a device that features iBeacon, allowing the two to talk to each other.

Importantly, it allows really precise geo-location targeting – based on the proximity of the device to the transmitter. Think the Minority Report view of personalised advertising finally made possible. Pretty exciting, huh? 

What the heck?

To give you a sense of the use cases for iBeacon currently being floated…

….The movie lover passing a poster for a new release gets pinged an offer for discounted tickets via their cinema app along with a link to the trailer….

…The punter in the vicinity of one of their favourite stores receives a VIP offer via the store app on their phone – trying to entice them in…

…The indecisive shoe shopper who’s spent several minutes next to a lovely pair of high heals receives a notification from her loyalty app that the store has her size currently in stock and in her favourite colour…

….The motorist using an iBeacon equipped car park can be navigated to an empty space using their Car Park App – and then directed back to their parking space on foot once they return.

And so the list goes on.

The opportunities are rife to combine precise geo-location targeting with context (e.g. time of day/aisle they’re in/purchase history) to engage with mobile users in new ways. And it doesn’t need the user to do anything – they don’t even need to take out their phone.

This isn’t just a vision either. Wired estimates that there are already 200 million iBeacons out there. And the capability isn’t just limited to Apple devices – a multitude of Android and Windows devices have also embraced the Bluetooth Low Energy standard. The transmitters are also readily available for less than $100 – check out the likes of Estimote or Roximity for example.

Right here, right now

Amidst the use cases there are now real-life case studies:

  • Apple began using iBeacons at all its 254 retail stores in the US in December to help customers shop or pick up an order they’ve already placed. 
  • Customers at Bar Kick in London can now spend their time between games of table football poring over the digital editions of two magazines in the Newstand app of their phone – delivered free of charge via iBeacon.
  • Visitors to a museum in Antwerp can now interact with the ancient works of Rubens using their smartphone or tablet – without having to keep on punching three digit numbers into one of those walkie talkie style audio guides. 
  • In the US, Major League Baseball is installing a couple of thousand transmitters in stadiums to work in conjunction with their smartphone app called At The Ballpark. Visitors will be able to get directions to their seat based on their current location and also queue-bust – being directed to the shortest queues when buying a beer or a hot dog. It will also be used to offer discounts on merchandise. 

There’s talk that iBeacon and specifically the Bluetooth LE standard is a Near Field Communication standard killer. It offers a far greater range (NFC is only operates at very close proximity). And with time, could become a viable means to make mobile payments. For instance, imagine going into your local Pret a Manger or deli, grabbing a sandwich off the shelf – getting a notification to confirm payment, giving approval using Touch ID, and you’re off. No hanging around. Just a confused shop assistant wondering whether you really paid. 

Is this the future of content marketing?

In short, yes. What better way to combine geo-location and context to deliver highly engaging and relevant content to prospects and customers? The film trailer pushed to people viewing the movie poster, the Bar Kick digital magazines, the interactive Museum guide – it’s content – all delivered in a convenient, timely and targeted way.

Significantly, it’s also a great way to gain yet more insight into the way consumers behave – and interact with that content. One problem it could solve is arguably one of lead attribution. Today it’s pretty tricky linking up where a customer starts their journey (e.g. discovers your business via an initial search or through some form of social media) with their final purchase in-store, especially with ROPO (Research Online Purchase Offline) so common. However, by using iBeacon it may now be possible to join the dots, identifying which customers actually go on to purchase – how much they spend and where. With that insight and by closing the loop, marketers can truly optimise their tactical mix to deliver the very best return.

“It’s not for me, I’m in B2B.” Wrong.

For B2B marketers, this may all seem very attractive for our B2C counterparts but you may be scratching your heads thinking, what the hell does iBeacon mean to me? So how can you use location and context to your advantage?

Take events. Whether you host your own events and want to deliver the very best experience to delegates or you’re an exhibitor at a big trade show and want to gain real stand-out, iBeacon could help you do just that. Okay you’ll need to persuade your audience to download your app to their smartphone or tablet first, but then this is where you could get really clever. On arrival at the venue, imagine being able to direct them to appropriate exhibitor stands – with different incentives along the way. Once at the stand, exhibitors could push relevant, interactive content to the devices of interested parties based on where they dwell – while capturing their LinkedIn profile or in exchange for a Tweet or Facebook Like. You could send alerts reminding them that the presentation they’ve signed up to is coming up and guide them to the appropriate room. Notifications could also be used to help them avoid the queues at on-site cafes and bars. Post-event, event organisers could analyse delegate flows around the event, sharing the information with future exhibitors and allowing premium pricing of exhibition spaces with high footfall. 

Consider the visitor experience at your own offices. On arrival at reception, staff could automatically receive notifications that their visitors have entered the building – and the visitor could be identified and greeted by name by the receptionist. Visitors could be offered access to digital copies of the latest newspapers or industry rags on their smart device to muse over while they wait. They could also use their device to interact with different information points in the reception area – for instance, watching short informative videos on their device or saving them for later. The same could be done to transform tours of your warehouse, manufacturing operations or labs into far more interactive experiences, while also delivering health and safety information if someone strays into a high risk area. There’s always one.

Think about how iBeacons could change the way your employees work and even collaborate. iBeacons could be used to help them locate a vacant hot-desk or available meeting room. They could be used to identify whether a colleague is located nearby and available to join a meeting. Internal posters could push informative videos or content to passing sales executives to support new campaigns via their smartphones. Or you could enable employees working on-site to be pinged with relevant and timely announcements.

Also, think about how traditional ad sites, like billboards, could now become a more viable and cost-effective medium for B2B advertisers. We could soon see a situation where they can deliver the same level of contextual targeting as online ads. Where your ad only appears when one of your targets is approaching – significantly reducing wasted eyeballs by ensuring your ad is only viewed by the right person at the right time. 

No doubt, the thought of geo-targeting will be sending a shiver down the spines of some. And marketers will have a responsibility not to abuse its potential. That said, to be effective it requires the permission of consumers – who can and will dictate which brands are allowed to push communications and content their way.

Where do you stand?

So there it is iBeacon. You could call it the realisation of the Internet of Things. Or a smarter way to reach and engage customers. Or the future of content marketing. One thing is for sure, it’s coming to a device near you soon, that is if it’s not already in your device.