Just a few years ago, the world was abuzz with the potential that beacon technology offered to reshape the retail industry. Now, several years on, there are even more technologies that offer similar promise. Beacons represent an important source of data regarding in-store customer movement, but the emergence of other sophisticated data collection technologies has added to the potential for understanding human behavior in the real world. To that end, what companies really need now is a solution that allows them to understand the fragmented data sets and their sources -- whether it’s beacons, sensors, or GPS -- and get a better sense of the bigger picture.
People spend an average of 5 hours a day on their phones. That sounds like a lot, but what happens in those other 19 hours? People have lives outside of their phones. The problem for marketers, then, is how to access that information to better understand how people behave in the real world, and then integrate that with what they already know about their online persona. At the moment, there are bits and pieces of data everywhere -- some proximity data here, some geodata there -- but otherwise, there are so many fragmented data sources that each tell a tiny piece of the story of a consumer’s offline activity. Moreover, the initial promise that beacons held to completely revitalize brick-and-mortar businesses and drastically increase in-store attribution has taken longer to materialize than expected.
Beacons were implemented so that retailers and other businesses could tell where a customer was at any given point, and allow businesses to send out targeted messages to phones that have activated a beacon. Businesses were quick to adopt this new technology, including Macy’s, Lord & Taylor’s, Major League Baseball, and American Airlines. However, there are still blank spots on the canvas. The real world is fluid, made up of many different behaviors and movements -- there is no one magic solution.
The information gleaned from one data source alone is not enough to get a complete view into people’s behavior or motivations. That said, proximity and location data have tremendous potential for filling in the blank spots on the canvas when used strategically. For the proximity industry alone, we’ve seen companies double down on their investments, validating the demand for technologies that provide a clearer understanding of how people behave in the real world.
Having a strong understanding of the various technologies on the market has also helped us determine that the efficacy of this data and technology depends on what goals companies wish to achieve. Deterministic methodologies used by beacon and Wifi technology can pinpoint almost exactly where someone was at any given point -- where they were in a store, for example, or even what floor they were on. Probabilistic technologies, such as GPS and geodata, on the other hand, provide massive scale as well as an overarching idea of people's movements in less densely-populated spaces.
In order for companies to understand a consumer’s offline behavior as accurately as they understand their online activity, they first need to stitch these different data sources together as they apply to their specific goals. That being said, there are over 400 proximity service providers (PSPs) alone, and thousands of GPS sources and geo-enabled apps -- just getting access to the data requires forming partnerships with each of those entities individually.
The Real World Graph™
Unacast built the Real World Graph™ to provide a solution to that problem. Unacast has created a platform of proximity and location providers to paint a clear picture of how people move in the real world. Just as Google has indexed online behavior and Facebook has created the Social Graph, The Real World Graph™ provides a place where multiple data sets and technologies are collected and harmonized, all while ensuring individual privacy is respected. Our meticulous methodologies filter for quality to provide transparency, and highlight strategic data that can be used to marry online profiles with real world behaviors. Different data sources tell different stories, and The Real World Graph™ goes beyond the boundaries of industry to bring those stories together.
The mission at Unacast is to provide the technology and tools that will help data-driven industries understand the physical world the same way we understand the online world. Not only is this vital for the evolution of retail, advertising and other consumer-centric industries, but it can also significantly affect the evolution of e-commerce, financial technology, real estate, and health technology, among other industries.
Data from sensors, beacons, proximity data, GPS, NFC all tell an individual piece of a user’s behavior in the real world. But combined, the different data sources can tell the most in-depth, accurate story about what people are doing in the real world, and that’s what matters most.
Thomas Walle, CEO & Co-founder, Unacast.