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Unilever using iBeacons to glean offline shopper data for mobile ad targeting

Unilever is using iBeacons to determine how amenable shoppers are to its brands in-store so that it can later retarget them with relevant mobile ads.

Aside from driving purchases at the point of sale, the FMCG business believes the technology can be used to reduce the cost of customer acquisition through personalised content.

To test the theory, Unilever, in partnership with Mindshare and data specialists Glimr, is using iBeacons to monitor users’ offline data to target mobile ads. It is a departure from the performance-driven beacons pilots from other companies to one geared around brand building.

Shoppers who visit a Knorr branded food truck sampling its latest soup are retargeted with a mobile ad the next time they fire up the app for Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. It sees regular display ads within the app replaced with coupons to remind users of the campaign and present Knorr as a modern brand.

There are no plans to extend the tie-up to the UK. However, The Drum understands that Unilever is plotting iBeacons tests with a major supermarket in the coming months.

Having a media owner on board means Unilever can access the customer data in a more cost-effective way without having to create more silos of customer data internally. It is an issue that has slowed many early attempts to adopt beacons, with companies erecting another data strand that is inadvertently ring fenced from other sources.

The initiative is the latest to spring from Unilever’s start-up incubator The Foundry. Launched last year, the hub serves as the epicentre of all the company’s tech-facing projects, which it hopes will keep it in touch with emerging business models and services.

A spokesman for the Foundry told The Drum that beacons provide the “missing link” to understanding the impact of its branding campaigns to driving foot traffic into stores. Billed by Unilever as the world’s first physical retargeting campaign, it marks one of the company’s first steps to understanding how to better connect off with online.

“Our approach to piloting this technology is more about understanding our target audience from a branding perspective,” added the spokesman.

“We have decided to take a fundamentally different approach to using beacon technology. Most other pilots so far have pushed out offers to users as they walk into a store, which is not an ideal user experience. We have instead decided to take a pull approach, where we use the technology to gain insights about our consumers' offline behaviour to customise the way we communicate to them.”

A more personal experience for customers will elevate return on investment. This is the belief partly responsible for the company’s growing appetite for digital media. It plans to further drive down advertising costs this year through digital after seeing a number of cheaper but targeted efforts in 2014 lift profits amid slow sales. Beacons have been part of this mix with the company piloting several projects throughout the year, including a smartphone app for its Magnum brand.

The spokesman added: “Beacons can provide us with an offline conversion metric to more accurately measure these campaigns, and these insights can be used to enable a more personal experience for our customers.”

It is a view other companies such as Mondelez are coming round to as the number of successful case studies in the market increases. Marketers have for years tried to connect on and offline behaviour to market products but are starting to make headway now due to the advent of mobile and location-based services.