Beacons: industry must take note

For many marketers, the simple joy and efficiency of using a medium that touches 244 million Americans each week is validation enough. But for those who feel the enormity of radio’s reach alone doesn’t cut it, the key to the medium’s future could be how it integrates with sexier platforms and provides a catalyst to drive consumers to the digital medium du jour.

If radio remains a core initiator to advise consumers what to do and where to go, the new tail end of the equation might be beacon technology—in-store, Bluetooth-transmitting sensors that communicate with shoppers’ mobile devices, alerting them to products, deals and aisle locations. It’s anticipated some 15,000 stores will have them soon.

This latest engagement tool, which requires manufacturers to ante up the funds and consumers to download an app, directs shoppers to areas of presumed interest based on previous interactions, purchase history, and an in-depth knowledge about their shopping preferences. And it’s a gift that keeps giving, collecting information about their shopping behaviors and using it to direct their experience on the next visit. Think loyalty programs, shopper rewards, and, thanks to friends like PayPal, even the ability to skirt checkout lines and pay via smartphone. It’s geo-fencing but on steroids, netting a one-to-one customer engagement.

I believe this technology will be very effective, especially with younger shoppers who seemingly have marginal concerns about the Big Brother nature of digital marketing intervention. The tradeoff for shoppers is store visits that are more efficient, informative and cost-effective.

As far as the path to purchase goes, think of radio as the first act, not only pushing consumers to other media for further interaction, but representing the last communication shoppers engage with (in the car) closest to the point of purchase (the store). At the other end, beacons could serve as the sale’s “closing” act. After all, in order for in-store beacons to work, you first have to drive people to the store.

While beacons present a compelling opportunity, they are not without risk. Here are some things for marketers to consider to insure a good shopping experience, positive word of mouth, increased app downloads, and best results:

  • Keep the message relevant and contextual so shoppers feel they are being helped, not pitched.
  • Keep the message short, meaningful and to the point—a quick read.
  • Take advantage of the screen by serving images that reinforce the positive benefit or experience that awaits the purchaser.
  • Test the formatting so the message is easily viewed on all smartphone models.
  • Don’t overdo messaging frequency, as you’re talking to the same targets each time; if they feel bombarded by messages they’ll be turned off by the experience.
  • Don’t jump into beacon technology just because it’s here, hot and happening. Think it through and tailor your message so that it results in a positive reaction from the shopper.

And as for the radio industry, it’s time for any broadcaster that has cringed at the threat of technology to embrace the opportunity to create partnerships that extend on-air messages and offer radio-exclusive branding. Open the dialogue with retail stores in your area and discuss how radio can be the catalyst at the front end of the marketing experience, leading shoppers to the beacon domain.

The use of mobile devices has transformed the in-store shopping experience, and the burgeoning proliferation of in-store beacons is the latest example. This is too good an opportunity for radio to be standing on the sidelines for.