GeoMarketing 101: The Physical Web

People should be able to walk up to any smart device and interact — without having to download an app, Google says of the Physical Web.

Location data, geotargeting, geofilters. Location-based technology is opening up a world of possibilities for marketers — but it’s also complicated, as new capabilities and use cases seem to emerge every day.

With the goal of breaking down some of the most important “geo” concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far the power of location may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: understanding the Physical Web.

What Is The Physical Web?

The Physical Web is an open-source method of interacting with beacons introduced by Google last summer. The aim of the Physical Web is to make it simpler for objects in the real world to communicate with consumers’ smartphones in the age of the Internet of Things.

Here’s what Google itself has to say about it: “The Physical Web is an… approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device — a vending machine, a poster, a boy, a bus stop, a rental car — and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.”

Essentially, the idea is that, as the proliferation of “smart devices” continues, it just isn’t practical to expect consumers to download a separate app each time they want to let a product or device communicate with their smartphone.

Google’s Physical Web is a bid to enable seamless connections when downloading yet another app just isn’t practical. An example of a use case? A bus could tell a rider its next stop or stops — no app required. Or, a driver could pay for a “connected” parking meter using their phone and the cloud.

In simple terms, it’s all about removing barriers to let people more easily use their most personal device — the smartphone — to interact with the entire world around them.

How Does The Physical Web Work?

The Physical Web is designed to be powered through beacons that support Eddystone-URL.

Here’s how that works: In order for consumers to get messages while in a store, in an airport, and more, they generally need to have an app that supports that store’s beacons. But Google, which has always prioritized the mobile web over apps as part of a seeming proxy war with Apple, has attempted to solve this quandary by taking a different approach altogether: Who needs apps, the tech giant asked. Use the browser instead.

As MarketingLand’s Barry Levine put it in a recent piece dissecting the Physical Web, this beacon-to-browser solution does more than just take care of beacons’ too-many-apps issue: It also allows any location or any physical object with a compatible beacon to broadcast a web address.

“A URL from a nearby restaurant, for instance, could lead to a web page with the menu,” Levine wrote. “You could even leave your name for a table and get pinged when it’s ready. A movie poster becomes a portal to video clips from that movie.”

The Physical Web Future

Put plainly, the Physical Web is the “natural evolution toward increasing simplicity,” BKON CEO Richard Graves told MarketingLand in the same piece.

As such, the future of the technology is still wide open as that evolution occurs; it will be a while before brands truly begin to understand the impact of the Physical Web — and experiment with using it to reach consumers with marketing messages.

One impact appears clear: With content able to be seamlessly delivered from objects in the physical world, the act of walking around and interacting with surroundings will become a “search” in and of itself. In that sense, the human is the search engine — and that will have a major impact on how places and products are discovered and subsequently used or purchased.

Ultimately, location- and device-based targeting may be passé. If the Physical Web comes to fruition, marketers will have to send messages — and build content into — these connected things and places, in the hopes that they will interact with the people who pass by.

Read more:

Google Android Chrome Gets Physical — But Still Digital — With Eddystone Beacon Support

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.