Push it real good.

This is a post all about Beacons: those intriguing little bundles of circuitry that have advertisers writhing with excitement about the future of ambient marketing/commerce. Beacons are small chips about the size of a matchbox that can be adhered to surfaces and communicate with your mobile device – and do cool stuff.

But this isn’t a benign overview of what they can do, or how they work. Rather it’s a petition to brands to reconsider the most commonly misunderstood use-case, and perhaps think of the best way to use them in the future.

When a push notification comes back to bite you

When a push notification comes back to bite you

Of course, I’m talking about the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing of the mobile world: the dreaded push notification. Marketers at this point are wondering what I’m on about, and what possible problem I could have with a tool that seems to have been invented especially for the advertiser.

But the emerging fact appears to be that Beacons could be killed before they even get properly going unless brands resist the temptation to practice their most obvious capability – sending push notifications.

Let’s take a quick look at the user-journey in question.

  1. Humphrey is carrying a device with a brand app installed.
  2. There is a Beacon inside a shoe store on a popular shopping street.
  3. Humphrey is peacefully minding his own business on his way to get a sandwich and happens to walk past the shoe store.
  4. His device chirrups its familiar tone indicating that the girl he met last night at the Justin Bieber concert actually kept his number.
  5. He fumbles to get the device from his pocket in anticipation only to discover that apparently there is 1% off lady’s shoes in a store he didn’t even notice behind him.
  6. Humphrey is now suitably pissed and proceeds immediately to the settings to disable the Bluetooth. Possibly forever.

So have we lost Humphrey? Yes, but more worryingly, we have lost Beacons. Push notifications seem to make sense because they are the means to interrupt a user while in the real world and drive them into store. That is the theory being pitched from tech startups to advertisers – and sadly it is a pitch that is more often successful than not.

Ok, so enough with the don’ts, what about the dos?

This is not by any means an attempt to demonize Beacons. I personally love them. I think they have a role to play in the emerging science of ambient commerce and proximity marketing, but I want advertisers to skip the experiments and start using technology in a well-considered, results-driven way that does it justice while not turning users off in the process.

I will talk about some of the recommended use-cases in a future post, but for now the key point is that Beacons have a lot more value when used non-aggressively (and yes, I’ve chosen to avoid the word “passively” because there is still potency in what you can accomplish without spamming a user with pushes). Maybe you show a consumer a contextual ad on a digital news-stand as they walk by without realizing their device purchase history invoked the message. Maybe you use Beacons just to gather analytics and insight about the types of customers that come into your store and where they go so that you can make decisions about product positioning.

These and many more use-cases are when advertisers will start seeing the benefits of Beacons – but not if they soil their own beds by getting greedy with a consumer’s attention.

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