In the summer of 2013 Apple announced its new iBeacon technology platform. However, I just recently began to understand and appreciate the massive potential for marketing, customer service and research the technology delivers. While there are many other applications, its use in the retail, travel and QSR/Fast Casual restaurant space are some of the most obvious. Before diving into some examples of how the iBeacon can be used for marketers, I’ll try and provide a description of what the technology is and how it works.
Beacons are tiny devices (the size of a USB stick) that transmit relevant information to users when they enter a designated physical space. Beacons consume very little power and can run for two years on a coin battery, and won’t drain your device’s battery anywhere like a GPS or wi-fi connection. Beacons are very inexpensive (less than $50) and do not communicate directly with the web (no wi-fi or broadband connections).
Think of the iBeacon as GPS that can work indoors (“true” GPS must have a direct line with the GPS satellite to accurately assess one’s location, thus only works outside). The iBeacon is remarkably accurate in pinpointing your location and has a much larger range than the approximately 8-inch range of near-field-communication (NFC) devices.
Another important distinction between GPS, NFC and iBeacon technology is location vs. proximity. Unlike the other platforms, the iBeacon can be programmed to detect several proximity (distance) levels and adjust messaging accordingly. Location is important, but not nearly as important as proximity; knowing that you are in a store is one thing, but knowing exactly where you are in that store is another. Are you in the vicinity of an item or literally right next to it?
Currently Apple does not actually manufacture an iBeacon. However, over the past three years, Apple has invested in Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), embedding the technology in all iPhones, iPads and even in Apple TVs. Bluetooth LE makes possible the coming explosion of proximity-based services and connections that Apple has planned for the future.
For the iBeacon to be able to interact with a mobile device, it is necessary for the consumer to download an app or a Passbook card to recognize the beacon and translate the message it receives.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what the iBeacon is, let’s get to a few examples of how marketers can utilize it in their business.
QSR/Fast Casual Restaurant
A consumer walks into their favorite fast casual restaurant and, as soon as they enter the store, the beacon recognizes them and sends an offer on the daily special. They place their order from their mobile device and payment is taken directly from their Passbook account. The customer saves time on their order and the establishment’s counter staff time is greatly reduced.
A road warrior walks into his/her hotel for the night after a long, hard day of meetings and travel. The beacon automatically sends their room number and a code key to their mobile device. No need to wait in line at the front desk; once again staff time is minimized.
A shopper is in their favorite grocery store in the breakfast cereal aisle, evaluating several different choices. Recognizing this, the beacon sends a nutritional comparison and a coupon to purchase to their mobile device.
Over the next few months we’ll begin to see the beacon technology turning up in a wide variety of establishments. I’m sure that the technology will become commonplace and increasingly sophisticated in a short time. Smart marketers should be developing new and innovative applications to improve customer experience, sales and all-around performance.