DigitasLBi Brings Beacons In-House

As clients’ interest in micro-location marketing grows, the Publicis Groupe is experimenting with the Bluetooth devices at its Boston office.

DigitasLBi's Norman de Greve
DigitasLBi’s Norman de Greve

DigitasLBi has installed 120 beacons throughout its 700-staffer Boston flagship office as it seeks to foster greater collaboration among creative as well as learn more about how well these Bluetooth Low Energy devices work in real world situations.

The beacon rollout corresponds with the agency’s newly released inter-office app called Unicorn. The app is exclusively designed for agency employees, who receive a “ping” when they’re in one of the DigitasLBi Boston conference rooms or in ad hoc workspaces, says Norman de Greve, president, DigitasLBi Boston-Detroit.

“We’ll see if we need more collaborative spaces on certain floors, or bigger/smaller ones,” de Greve says. “We’ll see if certain departments are rarely meeting together in conference rooms, and prefer other spaces instead. We may find that certain departments are meeting together more often than expected – and that maybe they should be seated closer together.”

In addition to the Unicorn app, DigitasLBi is also soliciting other app ideas throughout the office for use of the beacons. It’s an open call – any employee can submit an idea, de Greve notes, adding, “We’re committed to exploring this technology, and others, to its fullest potential.”

Beacons: What Are They Good For?

Beacons have received a great deal of attention from retailers and agencies as a way of exploring the connection between online, mobile consumers and physical businesses. For the most part, the geo-marketing device’s entry into the offline shopping experience has tended to be focused on offering discounts on merchandise, or to help direct shoppers to the items they’re seeking.

Generally, beacons are plastic electronic sensors about the size of a half-dollar coin that relay a Bluetooth signal between a specific app on a person’s phone and a receiver that plugs into a location’s wall outlet. Though their use is growing, by and large, beacons have remained experimental. The numbers of retail locations using the devices are estimated to be roughly several thousand (out of roughly a million stores), sources have told GeoMarketing. By the end of next year, the number could reach 100,000 in the US. According to an Aug. 2014 estimate by Business Insider, there could be 4.5 million individual, active beacons by the end of 2018, with 3.5 million of these in use by retailers.

And just in time for this year’s crucial holiday season, the beacon concept received a huge endorsement when Macy’s expanded its relationship with shopping app platform Shopkick to install the location-based marketing devices in all its 4,000 US locations.

Unicorns And Guinea Pigs

Nevertheless, questions about beacons and whether consumers will embrace them as readily as retailers hang over practically every conversation tech companies, agencies, and marketers are having these days. For DigitasLBi, in order to truly appreciate the potential beacons represent, it needs to figure out how people respond to the devices on an everyday basis. Furthermore, by testing it in-house, DigitasLBi can better demonstrate the technology to clients — and address any weaknesses in the devices beforehand.

For now, though, the agency’s introduction of beacons to its main office is similar to something agencies did nearly 20 years ago when they first adopted email: True understanding of new advances comes from early adoption.

As de Greve says, beacons will power DigitasLBi’s interoffice app, Unicorn. In that sense, DigitasLBi staffers will be the guinea pigs that help the agency study actual reactions and usage of beacons and apps together.

“The Unicorn app was launched in tandem with the beacons, but it’s also intended to be a useful interoffice tool on its own,” he says. “It provides a list of meeting areas and maps for each floor, and our people can opt-in for notifications about office events.”

In the coming months, DigitasLBi be adding a range of other capabilities to the app, “including the ability to see which conference rooms are open at the moment,” de Greve says.

Hacking Beacons, Wearables

The combination of beacons and Unicorn is just one example of how hands-on DigitasLBi wants to be perceived when it comes to anticipating the technology its clients might be interested in.

“For instance, we also have a Mobile Lab in the Boston office, and an Innovation Lab for other emerging technology,” de Greve says. In just a few weeks, the agency plans to host a “hackathon for wearables” – an area the agency has been deeply considering the past year — where DigitasLBi creative and tech teams will attempt to generate “new prototypes and ideas,” de Greve adds.

Meanwhile, DigitasLBi will also expand its partnership with tech company Gelo, which provided the beacons to the agency.

“We’d done some prototype work with [Gelo’s] beacons in the past, so we were already comfortable with the technology,” de Greve says. “We had a certain list of features that we needed for this project, so we evaluated providers against that.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.