It’s still an invisible network that connects them, but New York City is now more wired than ever. It’s wired with free, lightning quick Internet and Location Based Services now stand at the top of every marketer’s priority list. It has to, at least in the New York of today and its 400 active municipal hotspots. It’s a jungle of connectivity out there and businesses have to be on permanent safari if they want to stay viable.
Location based services have been in vogue a while now, but almost universal free access is a game changer. Businesses have to get up close and personal, right into the pocket where customers carry their smart phones. And it has to be in real time, starting when the customer walks into the venue.
Say a seafood restaurant wants to push their Surf and Turf. Fine, but they’ll have to send the notification while the guest is standing at the aquarium and choosing her lobster. If they don’t, somebody else will.
Making Do with What you Have: LBS and Wi-Fi
There are two ways to communicate with an in-store guest: beacon technology or old fashioned Wi-Fi. Each has its list of pros and cons, and the decision hinges on negotiating between them. Wi-Fi is like a GPS inside the store. It picks up the customer’s device by locking in on the signals it is constantly sending out for wireless Internet access. It calculates the location and the business can send information or coupons that are relevant to wherever the customer is browsing.
Wi-Fi is relatively inexpensive and the necessary technology is already in place. Customers don’t need an app or an active Bluetooth to receive notifications. And the accuracy – usually within 10-15 feet – gets close enough to be effective. On the other hand, Wi-Fi requires an Internet connection. And in order to receive messages, the guest must be logged into the Wi-Fi or by some other means grant permission.
Low Power Loyalty: Beacons and Proximity Marketing
Beacons are strategically placed transmitters that use Bluetooth technology to locate nearby customer devices. Once the beacon has located the device, it enables it to receive notifications that are pertinent to the customer’s precise location.
Beacons use up less power from the customer device and their accuracy is very precise. They are excellent for building 1 to 1 loyalty relationships with existing customers. These advantages are sharply offset however, by the weakness of the signal and what beacons require of the customer. To receive messages, the customer has to be using Bluetooth and have already downloaded a specific app.
Beacons are a big part of Proximity Marketing and larger brands have been using them successfully for years. Major League Baseball has been using beacons to drive sales in their teams’ parks for the past couple years. Macy’s has also experienced great success with beacon technology, especially during the holiday season.
More and more small companies are starting to use beacon technology as well. They use it to usher new customers into their stores and establish the loyalty relationships that are crucial to small firms’ success. As the technology improves (there are efforts underway to liberate beacons from apps) and consumer trust continues to increase, we are certain to see a proliferation of beacon use in the near future.
The Braver Newer Future of Location Based Services
The horizon is filled with new and daunting opportunities for businesses and marketers. Most will involve combining Wi-Fi, beacons, and GPS technology into a powerful and unified whole. GPS technology will dovetail with Wi-Fi services to provide detailed analytics and geographically holistic solutions.
The beacons will pick up where the GPS and Wi-Fi technologies leave off. They will carry fine-grained information back and forth from in-store consumers and act as a way station between the macro and the micro. Eventually, they will (with permission) access Smart Phone Wallets directly, depositing coupons and pertinent information for immediate or future use.
This will establish an almost intimate personalized relationship with the consumer, with nothing required on their part but to step inside.