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How leading brands can use beacons

People talk about the physical world and the digital world as two separate places – but they’re not. They’re one place, called the modern world. Consumers live in this world. And as marketers, we need to transcend bits and atoms, to create magical moments and meaningful conversations no matter where, when, or how people engage with our brand.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—Arthur C. Clarke

Beacons are a relatively new technology that give us the ability to create this magic. If you’re not familiar with beacons, they’re small electronic devices, about half the size of your thumb. They can be attached anywhere: walls, ceilings, signs, retail shelves, and more. When you come within range of a beacon, it broadcasts a bluetooth signal to your smartphone that prompts a designated app to deliver custom content. This could be an alert, a coupon, a video, or more. The technology is only limited by the imagination.

Beacons currently cost about $20-$40 each and are available from a wide variety of startups and established manufacturers.

Connect with millennials

Beacons can be especially useful in targeting tech-savvy audiences like millennials – a consumer group that would rather lose their car or their little finger than give up their smartphone.1 A 2015 study revealed that millennials strongly consider a brand’s use of technology when forming brand perceptions.2 By using beacons to interact with customers, brands send a message that they themselves are on the leading-edge of technology, casting a positive halo on the brand.

When a brand starts using beacons, they simply need to update their app to communicate with their beacons and program the content to be delivered when users come within range.

So what can I do with beacons?

For brands, beacons can enable a variety of unique marketing opportunities. If you want to create wow and wonder on the cutting edge, here are a few thought-starters:

  1. Personalize your message – An amusement park can deliver a personally-addressed coupon to a family in the park, right when they’re walking past the snack shop. When you develop your app to store user-approved preferences about who your customers are, beacons allow you to deliver hyper-relevant content at just the right time.
  2. Live out in the wild – An outdoor adventure brand could engage with its fans in unique, unexpected settings – providing content relevant to the area or activities. Since beacons can be powered by batteries for months, you have the chance to connect with people far from the grid.
  3. Engage from a distance – Lionsgate Entertainment captures nearby mall shoppers by using beacons to trigger mobile-exclusive movie trailers, leading to additional theater traffic.3 With a broadcast range up to half a football field, beacons can interact with people who aren’t even within eyesight of your attraction.
  4. Create a game – An entertainment brand could use its app to build an engaging scavenger hunt for fans, rewarding them with brand coupons and prizes as they participate. Using their signal strength to measure distance, beacons know how far away a user is with accuracy as close as 18 inches, giving you a chance to play a super fun game of hide-and-seek!
  5. Upgrade your fans – Major League Baseball installed beacons at the entrances of all its parks, allowing fans who’ve downloaded the MLB app to upgrade to better seats.4 Since beacons only broadcast a signal (they don’t collect any info), the beacon simply alerts the MLB app when the fan goes through the entrance, and then the app communicates with the stadium to facilitate the seat upgrades.
  6. Be a concierge – A recent Marriott pilot program used beacons to unobtrusively determine users’ location on their resort property, gently revealing tips and offers that could be redeemed immediately.5 Since the app doesn’t have to be open and active to work with the beacon, even an app that’s dormant or in the background can passively communicate with beacons to deliver value to the user.
  7. Keep content fresh – Odeon Theaters installed beacons on the frames of movie posters in their lobby.6 As users moved from poster to poster, they were able to view trailers for upcoming movies and buy tickets right from their phone. And because beacons don’t always have to trigger the same content, the app could be easily updated to deliver new trailers when the movie posters in the theater were changed.
Just let your imagination run wild…

Beacons are only just now being used by major brands on a regular basis. But with endorsement (and investment) from Apple and Google, it’s clear that this technology is here to stay. As we’ve been brainstorming how to use beacons here at Skidmore, it’s clear that the simple moments they create across the physical-digital “divide” are the magic Arthur C. Clarke always promised.

Want to give it a try? Want to kick around some more ideas? Let’s find ways to surprise and delight your customers with beacons. Give us a call anytime!