Essentially, iBeacons is a brand name coined by Apple for the micro-location technology in mobile apps that is transmitted using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE allows linked devices to transmit signals to each other while keeping the device’s energy consumption low.
These BLE signals can be transmitted via compatible devices but also via third-party hardware, commonly known as beacons. It’s important to remember here that it’s not just new iOS devices that implement this technology.
The majority of new devices entering the market, including the Nokia Lumias, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, among others, are all BLE compatible.
iBeacons and BLE are providing both B2B and B2C marketers with a new marketing channel to really pinpoint their customers and send out targeted and relevant content to their devices.
In some ways, this type of technology is similar to NFC. Both NFC and iBeacons allow brands to connect with their customers instantly but the difference is in what the consumer actually has to do to be sent this content.
NFC users have to tap their device onto an NFC chip in order to be pushed content but with iBeacons and BLE, the content is pushed straight to mobile devices, providing they have the brand’s app installed. This is one less move for the consumer.
Both types of technology are still very new and there are no clear results from marketing strategies involving either technology. However, NFC has been around a lot longer than iBeacons and BLE, and we still don’t have any clear results.
As Apple tends to lead the way in terms of innovation, and has an audience with considerable spending power, it’s possible that iBeacons will become more popular as a marketing tool than NFC.
How is it being used?
Apple has partnered with Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US to make baseball games a completely interactive experience for fans. MLB wanted to target their fans inside their stadium and decided to use iBeacons technology as GPS isn’t yet able to target precise indoor locations.
The aim is to create micro-locations both inside and outside the stadiums where fans can get different experiences depending on which stadium they are at. By installing the app on their smartphone, users will be pushed relevant content.
The app will know when fans are about to enter the stadium for example, and it will be able to display the fan’s ticket on their device, as well as a map of where they are sitting. The app would also be able to send out information on the teams playing and the stadium, as well as push out offers when the fans enter the team merchandise store.
This is a great example of how iBeacons can be used to increase engagement and also drive sales. The content being pushed out is targeted and being sent out at exactly the right time and in the right place – a marketer’s dream!
PayPal is another company hoping to take advantage of BLE technologies with the launch of PayPal Beacon.
This is a simple USB that connects to any PayPal-compatible Point-of-Sale system, which uses BLE to enable customers to pay at shops completely hands-free.
Customers with the PayPal app installed onto their device will be able to decide which shops or restaurants they want to set up automatic payments for and also which will require approval for payments. When a customer walks into a shop, the Beacon will pick up signals from the customer’s device and know they are inside the shop.
The customer can pay for for an item hands-free and the receipt will be emailed to them. This is just one of the ways Beacon could be used, there are many other opportunities for retailers to shape the in-store experience using BLE.
The retail sector is certainly an area where there is a lot opportunity for iBeacons and BLE. By installing third-party beacons or devices that act as beacons, in shops or restaurants for example, customers can be pushed targeted content based on their behaviour.
This could be anything from a discount on an item of clothing or a free morning coffee.
Beacons and BLE allows marketers to push specific content to their users and so it’s vital that they only interrupt their mobile customers to add value to their day, not to disrupt it.
This is why it’s so essential to track and monitor the performance of mobile apps. Being able to collect insights and track customer behaviour means that marketers can really send out targeted content to their customers through iBeacons and BLE technology.
We’re really interested to see how this technology progresses. Because of the popularity of iOS devices, we think that iBeacons and BLE will be more successful than NFC, especially in retail, but perhaps in other industries as well.
We’re still at the very beginning when it comes to using Bluetooth Low Energy as a marketing tool and we are really eager to see how brands will be using it to engage their customers, as well as seeing some transparent results from the campaigns.