I was reading an excellent article about the slow uptake of iBeacons when I became almost lucid, and started to see digital as the CFO sees it.

The power of digital technology can blind marketers to the simple question of 'will the customer use it?'

Too often, marketing technology is interruptive, based on providing value for the business but wish-washy engagement for the customer.

So, let's look at how interruption can be the death knell of customer experience. 

iBeacons can easily annoy

Smartphone users must turn their bluetooth on to interact with iBeacons (and most other beacons).

Do you have your bluetooth on currently? Maybe, if you have smart speakers at home that you use regularly, or are always connecting in the car. But I'd wager you turn bluetooth on when you want to connect, by swiping up on the iPhone and hitting the appropriate icon.

And the reason you turn it off (if you're anything like me) is not for fear of using battery or data, but because of some undefined fear of interruption or interference from an outside party.

Interruption is precisely what has scuppered many beacon trials, with a study by inMarket (beacon provider) showing app usage drops by more than 300% when push notifications exceed one per visit.

Here's an example of a beacon trial from Virgin Atlantic:

  • Beacons used to alert customers to go to gate X or to have their electronic boarding passes ready for security checks.
  • To send tailored offers like commission-free currency exchange deals.
  • To promote in-flight entertainment specials before customers board the plane.

Do customers want this level of interruption at an airport? Will marketers be able to resist bombarding customers with multiple vouchers, content marketing and more? Well, it seems if they don't learn, consumers will simply opt out.

There's also a broader point. Even if beacons are used responsibly, and loyalty sees a big uptake, what will it mean for customers with multiple retailer apps walking down Oxford Street on a weekend? It's either all on or all off, and that seems like a bit of a flaw in the interruptive bluetooth model.

in-store notifications via beacons

Display advertising went wrong years ago

When not done right, which the IAB admits is most of the time, display is the ultimate in interruptive marketing.

Display can often take up more real estate than publisher content itself (especially if syndicated content is included in the definition).

Formats such as home-page takeover overlays that launch without even clicking or rolling over an MPU show just how much publishers have prioritised ad revenue over user experience.

The result is of course the rise of ad blockers and publishers' realisation that the future of display is in reduced-scale, powerful ads that determine real-time user intent using shared advertiser data.

Email marketing can be overcooked

We could probably all name a brand that sends us way too much email (for me, it's John Lewis).

Just because I haven't unsubscribed (or clicked) after months of emails doesn't mean that my opinion of the brand is unaffected. I may intend to engage again, or never in the rest of my days (and it may be these emails that mean I steer clear of their stores).

There are conflicting views here. Parry Malm has written on this blog about the inbox as a branding tool, it's just a form of advertising and more emails generally equal more money.

However, other research suggests frequency is the main reason for unsubscribing and that greater frequency can reduce campaign click rate.

The message is simply that businesses need to test. They cannot assume that email will always produce a sustainable uptick in traffic and sales.

reasons for unsubscribing

And have we lost the art of outdoor media creative?

We are all stupid enough to miss the golden days of billboard advertising. But has creativity suffered as billboards seek to convey ever greater amounts of information?

Certainly, I would argue that 'follow us on Twitter', QR codes (briefly), AR capability (even more briefly), NFC (briefest), all these have invaded out-of-home advertising and diluted creative.

Billboards exist precisely because they are quick to digest, not so that everybody in the vicinity can traipse over to them and hover their phone in the air.

If every poster and product is digitally enabled with a weak content-led reward, there's a 'boy who cried wolf' effect. We just stop caring. We don't need the interruption.

What's my point?

I mentioned the view of the CFO in my intro. Digital marketers have a responsibility to balance hype with tangible business results.

Even martech TV adverts now play on the idea of their own industry obfuscated by hype.

Rather than jumping on every new technology and seeing engagement as the holy grail of buzz words, marketers need to look for intent, not simply chase after their audience.

Customer experience should be viewed in the round, with testing and user feedback helping to find the optimum level of interruption in the customer lifecycle.

Ben Davis

Published 3 December, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (6)

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Chris Monkman, Web Developer at E-Dzine

Ahh youngsters today, they didn't grow up when bluetooth first appeared and everybodies phone was visible if you scanned around.

Plenty of disruption was had by childish pranks of sending rude photos in large train stations and watching to see who looked at their phone and recoiled in horror.

The point is, people don't like their devices being intruded upon and if there's not real benefit to them then they won't bother. They'll soon learn ways of avoiding them.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


These comments count as admissible evidence, you know :)

over 2 years ago


Chris Monkman, Web Developer at E-Dzine

You can't prove it, I ain't dun nuffink'...

Also we are talking in the days of WAP phones when Nokia was the hight of mobile phone technology.

over 2 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Interesting stats re frequency being the main reason to unsubscribe. However, here's the thing - if the emails are crap, then yeah, more frequency will annoy customers. The key is to send out more good stuff. If you've got something good to say in an email, then say it. If not, then yeah, you're just spamming to get those last few sales in (which is myopic at best...)

over 2 years ago

Oli Lewington

Oli Lewington, Engagement Director at Cystic Fibrosis Trust

This is a really interesting and important point. It's all about permission over interruption. From my point of view, I would turn on my Bluetooth in an airport (or anywhere) if I thought I would get value from it, which I would if it would tell me when my flight was boarding so I didn't have to worry about finding and checking the tiny writing on the screens every ten minutes in the midst of mild paranoia that my flight might leave without me or (shock, horror!) my name might be broadcast on the tanoy telling me I've got two minutes to run to gate 107. I'm not sure I'd see the value exchange that I'd get from having my Bluetooth on walking down Oxford Street...

over 2 years ago


Gareth Lane, General Manager UK&I at MobileBridge

Great article, thank you for writing and posting it. Being in Mobile Marketing Automation myself, I judge 'interruption' on my own experience and preference. What I have come to understand is that users often need educating, or are too lazy to read the manual, with regard managing notifications. This almost always leads to app abandonment rather than the notification type or content. I am surprised when I chat to people in friend, family, business circles that do not know how to manage notifications. Personally I only accept 'badge' notifications, nothing else. Choosing to review apps as I park my car, or get off the train or in a coffee shop or airport lounge. Admittedly I miss some information and offers, but I also spot the ones I am really interested in. Other people will have it all switched on and be happy to be bombarded and consume every pop-up, ping, alert, vibrating message and notification - the smartphone version of the 'extreme coupon collector'. For a luxury fashion brand interruption is probably the same level for most of its current or target customers, for a supermarket and therefore a much broader and deeper customer base interruption is a tricky one, especially as shopping for groceries is a daily/weekly event, as opposed to that occasional fashion label treat.

over 2 years ago

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