iBeacon – The start of hyper-local personalised marketing?

Targeting visitors based on their online browsing habits is second nature to internet marketers today, with almost all sites using ‘cookies’ to personalise ads based on your interests, behaviour and the websites you visit. This is the reason why dynamic adverts for holidays appear when you are looking at sunglasses, for example, but not when you are looking at a cardigan.

However in the ‘offline’ world, this tailored approach doesn’t exist. When it comes to physical advertisements, content and audience is a numbers game. Some steps have been taken in recent years to improve the performance of an offline ad, but the missing element is still a lack of direct feedback on an individual level.

In my opinion, all this is about to change with the iBeacons and the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology.

Why are iBeacons such a big deal?

iBeacons are a very interesting feature of iOS 7. The technology is a giant leap forward for location-based marketing and payments, and may finally move us beyond the need for QR codes and NFC.

‘iBeacon’ is an Apple marketing term for a specific type of Bluetooth Low Energy (also known as BLE, Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Smart) peripheral. iBeacons can take the form of dedicated hardware, made by third parties, or iOS 7 devices acting as iBeacons themselves via a mobile app. But the scope of this technology isn’t limited to Apple’s Ecosystem. It’s available on the latest Android devices as well.

Ultimately, there are three key reasons why this technology has the potential to be a major game changer:

  1. Apple’s investment – Apple has a long history of leading the charge when it comes to technology innovation, and the subsequent developer support often results in mainstream adoption.
  2. Multiple applications – iBeacon has use cases for mobile payments (Paypal is expected to release its ‘Paypal Beacon’ next year), controlling ‘internet of things’ devices around the home, and for working with healthcare services like blood pressure and temperature monitoring tools.
  3. Low power consumption – This is the big one. iBeacon / BLE at standby uses only one hundredth of the power required by classic Bluetooth technology. NFC and Bluetooth both had strong potential at launch, but the drain on battery consumers experienced when these features were left of ultimately limited adoption.

The unique combination of these factors means that iBeacon and Bluetooth LE is not just a fad like NFC or QR codes – it has genuine potential for users.

What’s in store for iBeacons in advertising and marketing?

It’s early days for companies adopting this technology. So far, iBeacons have mostly been used by airlines and retail brands as a marketing gimmick for the purpose of cross promotion and to build loyalty. However, there have been a few genuine use cases. Japan Airlines, for example, has used iBeacons to improve business processes rather than pushing out special offers and coupons.

But even though this technology still has a long way to go, the potential is there. iBeacons could one day mean that offline advertising can reach a level of personalisation that comes as standard on the web. And with wearable technology becoming more mainstream, this sector is destined to really take off and result in a giant leap forward for hyper-local marketing and personalisation.

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