Google beacons: what businesses need to know in 2019

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

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Google’s beacon project had a false start back in 2015. Despite the initial hype and several successful case studies, the company didn’t fully come through with its pitch. Early adopters reported an extent of technical difficulties with at-scale beacon implementation. In some cases, the devices lacked serial numbers and did not integrate properly with one another. Power and range limitations were another common issue.

But perhaps the biggest problem with beacons was poor notification strategy. Google named “a significant increase in locally irrelevant … notifications” as the main reason for shutting down the Nearby Notifications on Android – heavily used for proximity marketing with beacons. Indeed, customer frustration was reaching a tipping point. A study conducted in 2017 suggests that shopping app usage dropped by 313% when a customer received more than one beacon notification in a single location.

So are Google beacons still relevant today? Yes, as the technology has just received a major facelift.

Google beacons in 2019: the updated tech

The company recently deployed several major updates to the Google Beacon Platform, addressing the common app development and integration issues.

First of all, they have abandoned the earlier single-beacon-for-a-single-use formula and issued an update, allowing multiple actions to be assigned to a single beacon. This means a single beacon can now support different interactions. What’s even better is that those interactions can be programmed through the Google Beacons dashboard without hard coding.

Now you will need fewer beacons in your system to deliver comprehensive experiences to users. The implementation and testing process was also simplified. Finally, as beacons have become part of Google's cloud-based development infrastructure, app developers can now share resources. This means that businesses can team up to create cross-application experiences for users. For instance, a retailer can join the beacon system of a shopping centre, integrate additional functions into their app and coordinate marketing campaigns. The improved integration can also translate to better user experience – customers will receive a more immersive, coherent and less annoying proximity marketing experience.

What kind of benefits you can expect from beacons?

Online shopping is convenient, but it’s yet to win over the majority of consumers. According to Google, 61% of shoppers prefer to buy from brands who have bricks and mortar locations over online-only companies. And they are increasingly turning to their phones whenever they need assistance in the store:

Half of the shoppers look for "near me now" places, and use their phones to check store hours, wait times, and product availability. Once they get to the store, the majority (43%) keeps browsing their phone to look for discounts, deals or other savings opportunities. During the last holiday season, 52% of consumers said that they found getting deals on their smartphones to be a cool and handy trend. Additionally, 50% said they regularly interact with online videos while shopping in stores.

Google beacons can help you deliver exactly those kinds of experience – on the spot deals, cross-sells, product guides and other marketing messages that can steer shoppers in the right direction.

Benefits of Google Beacons

Improved offline attribution and analytics. Linking beacons to a Google Ads account allows you to unlock additional insights about the shoppers' offline activities (including in-store visits). If you tweak your attribution models correctly, you can even measure how individual PPC campaigns (such as local inventory ads) have impacted the volume of foot traffic.

Mapping: Create in-door navigation routes for customers looking for specific goods or services. Or silently monitor the common customer journeys on premises and estimate how effective your in-store promotions are, and what can be improved in terms of merchandising. You can also measure how often people visit the same sections, how much time they spend there and how these contribute to sales.

In-store marketing: Facebook and Twitter ads yield a CTR under 1% for most industries. Beacon campaigns boast a hefty 3-4% click-through rate, with some retailers reporting a whopping 12%-15% CTA.

For instance, Tata Motors did a test beacons marketing campaign during EXCON 2017. Visitors in the vicinity of a beacon received a promotional nearby notification (Eddystone) on their phone, inviting them to visit the stall and review promo brochures. The beacon also engaged users with branded infotainment such as videos, branded selfies and other socially shareable bites. This campaign generated 23,000 impressions with an average 20% CTR.

Create a mobile-first loyalty programme: Shoppers have a love-hate affair with loyalty programs. Some find them useless, others are obsessively collecting loyalty points whenever they can. But one thing is certain: mobile is the new way to go. 73% of shoppers are likely to join a new loyalty programme if rewards are automatically credited and immediately available on their mobile wallet loyalty cards. They also want a modern enrolment process – one that does not include using a pen and scribing something on paper. With the help of beacons technology, you can pitch seamless automatic loyalty enrolment and quick digital onboarding to new users, as well as distribute deals and rewards to in-store shoppers.

Google beacons technology may have had a rough start, but it’s now back on track to success. Proximity marketing may be a missing link for reconciling your digital experience with your in-store one and building new touch points with customers as they navigate your premises.

Michaell Hill is marketing manager at Vertical Leap

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