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How marketers can overcome common hurdles when it comes to using beacons

Even though beacon technology has been a hot topic in advertising circles for the past few years, marketers are still trying to figure out how to leverage proximity-based marketing in a way that is both useful to consumers and doesn’t feel invasive.

Speaking at a panel at SXSW, marketers from Heineken, Condé Nast, and inMarket discussed what challenges the field is currently facing and what can be done to overcome them.

Leverage apps that consumers already have 

One of the challenges that marketers have faced when it comes to using beacon technology is that often, in order for a brand’s message to actually reach a consumer, that person has to already have the brand’s app on their phone. Aside from retailers, many consumers don’t have CPG or alcohol brand apps on their mobiles since they’re not the kinds of companies that you typically purchase from online.

So instead of wasting time trying to convince consumers to download a brand app that they might not find useful, Heineken USA’s marketing manager of Dutch brands Amberly Hilinski said that the beer maker is instead focusing on partnering with apps that people are already likely to have on their phone.

“We know the less you ask from a consumer, the more engagement we’re going to get and higher rate of sales. So the easier we can make it for people to opt in, the fewer steps that they have to take, the higher the engagement,” she said, adding that Heineken is trying to work with popular apps like Shazam so it can tap into existing consumer behavior instead of trying to force consumers to “create new behavior.”

Do cool stuff now and monetize later

Instead of focusing on how to immediately see ROI from beacon investments, Arlie Sisson, vice president of emerging products at Condé Nast, said that it’s important to keep consumers top of mind when thinking of how to use proximity-based technology.

“A lot of times what you’ll see companies doing is building ads for advertisers. That doesn’t work,” she said, noting that brands need to ensure that they are creating experiences for consumers first and foremost if they actually want to see positive feedback, even if that means not being able to monetize initially.

“It’s the same kind of unicorn story that you hear with Snapchat or Instagram,” she said, explaining that platforms like that initially focus on building a great user base and offering a great product before worrying about how to monetize.

Sisson, who served as Starwood’s associate director of mobile product strategy before joining Conde Nast last year, used the example of the hotel chain’s use of beacon technology to let guests bypass front desk check-in and instead use their Starwood app as a room key.

“Your key comes directly to your phone and you’re able to go directly to your door,” she said. “That is the specialness of smart places. Those are not things that you’re trying to monetize from an advertiser’s perspective, it’s just surprise and delight on the part of the consumer.”

Move past what’s already being done

Some common examples come to mind when thinking of uses for beacon technology, like a soft drink brand offering up a coupon if a consumer is in a place where they might be looking to buy a beverage.

While these things can be useful, the panelists agreed that there is room to grow and that proximity-based marketing must get to a point where “the world starts adapting to you because you’re in it,” according to Kevin Hunter, president of mobile shopper marketing platform inMarket.

Hilinksi gave the example of Heineken leveraging its position as a sponsor of Major League Soccer (MLS) to engage with fans.

“We’re trying to get away from the mindset of just serving up that coupon or a monetary-based value and think about how we can really tap into these people as fans,” she said. “We have access as a sponsor to the MLS, to players, to interviews, to really salient content for these fans that goes beyond simply saying buy a 12-pack and get a dollar off. We can help them understand when the next match is and really serve up a lot of value as a brand to them that goes beyond sort of that lazy, offer-based proposition.”

Featured by The Drum