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6 things marketers need to know about beacons

James A. Martin | Feb. 25, 2016
Bluetooth 'beacons' are a simple way for marketers to communicate with customers in physical locations, but the platforms and infrastructure behind the tiny wireless sensors can be quite complex. Here's a quick guide to the basics of beacons.

Beacons can help boost customer loyalty by "rewarding not only transactions but physical presence in the store and getting click-and-collect orders ready as soon as customers walk in, and then letting them know," Leddy says.

Marketers are also more likely to get the attention they want for their marketing messages when they use beacons. And the geo-targeted messages beacons transmit can increase the "open rate" of mobile marketing messages significantly. In fact, people open standard push notifications about 14 percent of the time, but they open messages transmitted by a beacon 53 percent of the time, because they're more immediately relevant, according to mobile advertising firm Beintoo.

Coupled with special offers and promotions, beacons can help increase sales of merchandise, food and beverages, as well. For example, at the recent Super Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., Levi's Stadium used about 2,000 beacons, along with the stadium's app, which helped increase food and beverage orders by 67 percent compared to the stadium's previous record, according to John Paul, CEO and founder of VenueNext. (VenueNext developed the infrastructure that let fans order food and drinks from their smartphones and have them delivered to their seats, as well. It also provided directions around the stadium and video replays.) 

5. Do beacons have disadvantages or shortcomings?

As Shelley Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum's vice director of digital engagement and technology explained in a blog post, "there's a lot of overhead to deal with" when deploying beacons. Bernsteincited a number of potential problems, including the need to match the colors of beacons to the museum walls they stick to; keeping the beacons stuck to those walls; and identifying faulty beacons, because the devices typically lack individual serial numbers. 

Managing a network of beacons can also pose multiple challenges. The limited range of BLE devices may mean many beacons are required to fully cover a large area. Marketers may also need to adjust signal strength and manually check some inexpensive beacons on a regular basis to ensure they're charged and working properly. For more expensive beacons, firmware updates and other management tasks can be performed via Wi-Fi. (InfoWorld recently detailed these and other beacon deployment challenges.)

Beacon implementations costs aren't always affordable, either.According to a February 2016 Forrester Research report, "Beacon implementation costs appear to be low … However, many business and technology decision-makers don't take into consideration that the operational costs of deploying and managing these devices on an ongoing basis can be around $300 per beacon per year. For example, with beacons, someone has to manually place one and map it on a drawing. And this assumes that one is using the same type of beacons. Managing beacon technologies from multiple vendors exponentially increases the operational costs to install, update, and maintain them across each of these platforms."


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