Shane BarnhillMonday,13 January 2014

The Snap:

If you’re a digital marketer or mobile app developer, and you’re not investigating how you’ll be integrating beacons into your future plans, then I suspect you will be soon. Very soon. Beacons, for those unfamiliar, are small hardware transmitters that can be used to send push notifications, via Bluetooth, to “devices in close proximity.” These pushes can be simple messages, product reviews, links to information, and even point-of-sale payment screens. To transmit data to a nearby device, a beacon must be within a short physical range of an intended recipient, who must opt-in (or who must have previously opted-in) to allow the transmission. In this way, beacons are set to compete for short range transmissions with Near Field Communications (NFC), and some are already proclaiming “that NFC is dead” because of them.

The Download:

The most well-known implementation of beacon technology to date is Apple’s launch of iBeacons, which went live in the company’s U.S. stores in December. For customers who have not only installed the Apple Store app on their phones. but who have also opted in to be tracked, iBeacons will “offer an augmented retail experience tailored to” shoppers.

Another emerging player in beacon technology is Estimote, which won Best Hardware Startup at TechCrunch Disrupt SF back in September. The company is currently accepting pre-orders for developer kits, which come with a set of three beacons. I ordered mine recently and am anxiously waiting to give them a test drive with a couple of concepts that I’ve been mulling over for some time.

I’m bullish on beacons for a number of reasons, but in this post, I want to focus on how they can help solve three key problems that can be vexing for those of us who are charged with designing mobile solutions to business challenges.

Problem #1: A majority of apps are abandoned by users shortly after being downloaded. According to a 2013 study by Localytics, about 22% of apps are only used once, and less than half are used more than 5 times. Many of these apps are deleted, of course, but a large number sit unused and forgotten on devices. This is especially problematic for developers, given that user acquisition costs are at an all-time high. In all likelihood, these devs have shelled out some serious money to attract downloads, only to have their apps gather digital dust on sub-prime screen real estate.

But beacons can help overcome this type of app abandonment, especially for apps that have particular utility within a geofenced area (for example, near a business). When users of beacon-connected apps pass within range of a transmitter, a notification can be pushed to their devices in order to re-engage them with locationally-relevant information. Sure, push messages are nothing new, but they’re difficult to get right (which I describe below), and beacons ensure that they’re location-based and contextually-relevant.

Problem #2: Push messages are often irrelevant and annoying to users. Many app developers utilize push notifications to re-engage downloaders in order to stem user attrition. But the cadence for push messaging is tough to get right. Some apps have daily push notifications, while others employ push only for major app updates or other key events. But regardless of timing, one thing is certain: push notifications, like television commercials and website banner ads, are a form of interruption marketing, in which ads are forced onto consumers.

Nobody wants to be interrupted by irrelevant marketing messages when they’re having dinner with friends, relaxing on the beach, or spending time with their children. And so, as the chart below from Google Trends indicates, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in opting out of push notifications (). Beacons, however, help ensure that apps serve up messages that are relevant to a consumer’s immediate surroundings. Look at it this way: Is a notification that jeans are 50% off today relevant when you’re watching your child’s soccer game? Probably not, even if you could use a new pair of jeans. But are they relevant when you’re actually in a store, browsing at jeans? The chances are certainly higher.

Problem #3: Carrier limitations on text-to-give campaigns (at least in the U.S.) inhibit mobile fundraising for nonprofits. While many people — especially those who are in the business of selling text-based marketing services — love to tout the 98% to 99% (or higher) open rates for text promotions, the reality is that many nonprofit marketers are struggling to make the dollars add up for text-based mobile giving. With most carriers capping text donations at $10, the opportunity cost of focusing time and effort on text marketing over other (unrestricted) channels is often too high. While text-to-pledge campaigns, which “are used to solicit donations and collect money later via traditional channels (e.g. a charge to a credit card, personal check, etc)” are one method of overcoming text-to give limits, they introduce offline friction into what should be a seamless online process.

Beacons, however, offer promise for nonprofits (Click to Tweet). By placing beacons at fundraising events, nonprofits can message prospective donors with ask amounts well over $10; furthermore, beacons can be used to augment the event experience in ways that make the event more enjoyable for attendees (e.g. one-tap registration, information about a venue, etc.).

In summary, beacons are a promising new technology, and they offer many benefits. But the challenge of overcoming three key issues — app abandonment, irrelevant push messaging, and text-based limitations — can be aided by integrating beacon connectivity into mobile applications (Click to Tweet).

Take Action!

Hat Tips:

Localytics, TechCrunch, Wikipedia, The Verge, EstimoteImage Credit: Flickr

Subscribe to get updates delivered to your inbox