Where To Begin With Beacons

Proximity ad player Swirl argues that brands’ beacon strategies should be governed by its marketing group, not its tech team.

2014 was a big year for beacons. Not only did many retailers implement test trials in select stores, but some, pleased with the results of beacon experiments, rolled out the technology in all their stores. Among those retailers who took the plunge were Macy’s, which last September, integrated Shopkick’s beacons in all its stores, and Lord & Taylor, which brought Swirl’s beacons to all 50 if its stores ahead of Black Friday. Swirl predicts that 2015 is going to be a lot bigger for the burgeoning technology, which is why the company put out its new white paper, “The Beacon Marketing Playbook: A Guide To Learning Your Beacon Marketing Program.”

“While 2014 was the year of beacon pilots 2015 is the year of full beacon rollouts,” says Rebecca Schuette, Swirl’s marketing director. The six-page report outlines the eight steps Swirl deems key to a retailer interested in integrating beacons. Part of the mission of the paper, aside from providing a simple guide to best beacon practices, is to encourage businesses to see beacons less as innovative pieces of technology, and more as marketing tools.

The Big (Marketing) Picture

Swirl's Rebecca Schuette
Swirl’s Rebecca Schuette

“What we’re recognizing is that the technology is there [with beacons], but it only makes sense if you have a solid foundation and strategy to back it,” Schuette says. “Retailers are struggling with where in the organization beacons live, [asking], ‘Do they belong with the IT team or with the marketing organization?’ We strongly believe this should live in the marketing world.”

Once retailers grasp the concept of beacons as key elements of a wider marketing strategy, then they can get to work effectively rolling them out in-store, possibly by taking tips from Swirl’s paper, which Schuette says was produced from “[Swirl’s] holistic experience working with brands, retailers, and the end-consumer,” adding that the recommended steps are informed by “in-market surveys and results, some of which [GeoMarketing] has reported on in the past.”

A natural first step is for marketers to simply to define their purpose for using beacons. “Anytime you’re going to embark on beacon marketing you need to start with your goal,” Schuette says. “Figure out what you are looking for. Is it to increase conversion or purchase intent?” Setting the goal is paramount because, Schuette says, “whatever it is will impact your creative, where you place the beacons, and the tracking of analytics you want to pull out from the campaign.”

Find The Right Place

Once a goal is set, Swirl advises that retailers beginning to roll out beacons “start small,” and not to let their ambition overwhelm the process.

“Because location is so important and so illustrative of what a consumer’s intent is in the store, retailers have the idea that they want a beacon in every square foot of their store — and that ends up being scary [as an idea] because it will take forever,” says Schuette, adding that once you place a few beacons in key areas you can always expand and add more later.

Knowing those key areas most desirable for beacon location is where Step 3 comes in, which is to “optimize beacon placements.” Beacons do have limitations as to where they can be positioned for maximum efficiency.

“Once you’ve started small, we give some guidelines for where in the store you should be putting these beacons,” Schuette says. “Think of wi-fi reception as you as you will need connectivity.”

Retailers should be mindful of beacons being accessibly placed for store management, who may need to retrieve or replace them, Schuette notes. Like any device, such as store video recorders or any other item not related to merchandise or signage, the positioning of beacons requires careful discretion. After all, the main point of these tools is to enhance a shopper’s experience, “not impede it,” Schuette  says. Which brings us to the essence of step four: “remember the consumer.”

Get To The Point

When considering what sort of messaging and content run along the beacon signal, Swirl suggests that retailers “create glanceable media.” In other words, respect the shopper’s experience and do your best to be as quick, transparent, and relevant with your smartphone messaging as possible.

“Be transparent with the opt-in and opt-out process,” Schuette says. “The message you’re serving must relate to where [shoppers] are in the store and their shopping journey. We recommend that all beacon marketing creates value for your consumers.”

Since beacon messaging is ultimately an interruption, it needs to be one that is not only quick and relevant, but value-packed. If the message doesn’t potentially improve a consumer’s in-store experience, then it is negatively distracting from it.

Tuning In With Omnichannel

Running a beacon program should not be the province of one manager. Having various store sales associates involved in beacon marketing efforts, will help make for a more seamless, comprehensive experience, Swirl suggests. “[Beacons] are a true omnichannel experience,” Schuette says. “Everybody needs to be in the loop.”

Just as beacons can’t be successful if sales associates have no idea what they do or that they’re in place, they can’t succeed if the mobile app to which they’re connected isn’t downloaded and in use. Retailers ultimately “promote the mobile experience” by driving awareness, stimulating consumer usage of your brand’s mobile app, and as Schuette says, “Get out there with your strategy.”

The final step in Swirl’s program is to “test, measure, and test again” — a step that even the retailers currently using beacons must adhere to. Shops should use their first beacon marketing campaign to focus on what Swirl describes as “generating rapid learning,” and “plan for more sophisticated and targeted campaigns based on factors such as shopper profile, shopper behavior, store region, and daypart.”