Beacons and the Future of Mobile Marketing

With mobile marketing booming, brands are getting a slew of new touch points that will seamlessly merge the digital and physical worlds to form relevant connections with consumers at various stages of their purchase cycle. That’s the underlying mechanism behind Facebook’s newest mobile marketing initiative based on its beacon technology.

A few months back, Facebook made its Bluetooth beacon technology widely available for retailers and local businesses all over the U.S. Beacon technology allows stores to deliver real-time offers and other relevant content to shoppers’ smart phones based on their proximity to the business.

Facebook is betting on the power of its beacon-based mobile marketing to drive foot traffic to retailers and reach shoppers at crucial moments that lead to purchase decisions. Google has also emphasized the importance of those moments: “Mobile has fractured the consumer journey into hundreds of real-time, intent-driven micro-moments. Each is a critical opportunity for brands to shape our decisions and preferences.” With beacons, Facebook is trying to capitalize on those moments and make customers’ mobile phones act as magnets to draw them into the store.

Beacon marketing gives retailers the ability to target consumers with useful information (including product and sales offers) at the right times and in the right places. Beacon technology has been generating buzz since 2013 when Apple first introduced its iBeacon technology and Google its beacon standard Eddystone. The adoption rate has been relatively slow, but predictions are that beacons will drive around $44 billion in retail sales in 2016. Facebook’s initiative will make the adoption easier because shoppers already use the Facebook app while in and around stores. The whole experience is contextual and personalized, as the content of the served messages will be defined by a user’s unique network of friends and connections. This type of mobile targeting with unique custom messaging served to each shopper has been fairly limited up until this point.

Facebook’s beacon marketing is closely related to and works together with its feature called Place Tips. Facebook originally introduced Place Tips in January, with hundreds of businesses in New York City including the Metropolitan Museum, Dominique Ansel Bakery and the Strand Book Store testing the feature over the last few months. Place Tips is a feature that provides tips at the top of the news feed for Facebook users when they enter a business or landmark. Tips are unique to each user, mixing friends’ recommendations, upcoming events at the locations and posts from the business’ Facebook page.

The best way to activate Place Tips is with the Facebook Bluetooth beacons. Once installed, the beacons trigger Place Tips in the Facebook app when a user enters the beacon’s vicinity or is actually in the store. For brands, especially smaller businesses that might not have the resources to develop an app (think restaurants or smaller retailers), the program is an opportunity to leverage the power of mobile marketing for no cost beyond maintaining a Facebook presence.

This is how Facebook explains its beacon initiative:

“These beacons use Bluetooth® technology to send a one-way signal to the Facebook app on your visitors’ phones to help us show them the right information. Only people who have enabled location services on their phone and have Bluetooth turned on will receive Place Tips from the beacon at your business.

“When people visit your business and open Facebook, they’ll see Place Tips with information about your business like:

▪ A welcome note and photo

▪ Prompts to like your Facebook Page and check in

▪ Posts from your Facebook Page

▪ Their friends’ recommendations about your place

▪ The beacons don’t collect any information from people or their phones or change the kind of location information Facebook receives. They’re designed not to disrupt the operation of your Wi-Fi or other equipment.”

Facebook is trying to create a mutually beneficial relationship for both the store and the customer. Casual checking of Facebook occurs frequently during shopping. Given that user behavior already exists, there is limited barrier to participation, especially if Place Tips add value through a discount, offer, or other incentive. Beacons also enable stores to gather data on the customer’s location, how much time they spent at each location, and, hopefully in the future, their past shopping behavior.

According to Facebook, businesses using the feature have seen a steady uptick in Facebook page traffic from in-store visitors over the past six months. Ideally, beacons should drive foot traffic to retailers and hopefully boost in-store sales, based on the wealth of information or special offers displayed in real-time on a retailer’s Facebook page. However, the feature is still in its early testing phase and we’re still waiting for more data to support this and provide additional insights.

As a leader in mobile advertising and targeting, Facebook’s new feature is poised to be important by creating new opportunities to engage shoppers in the right places, at the right times, with the right messages. Currently the feature is free for businesses, but it is likely to serve as the foundation of future ad products on the platform. If you’re interested in setting up Place Tips for your business, you can request a beacon from Facebook here.

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