MediaPost: Beacons Open Up Prospects For "Physical Retargeting"

By Steve Smith

As speakers at last week’s Mediapost IoT: Beacons event in Chicago demonstrated, those much-hyped little Bluetooth devices are fit for much more than pushing coupons and user reviews to people in-store. These devices offer new layer of consumer intelligence, a highly precise map of real-world physical activity that can be tied back to digital actions and exposures. There are all manner of schemes blossoming around this connection, and beacons are not the only way to close that loop. The location awareness of multiple mobile technologies allows advertisers to tie together online ad and marketing exposures to offline behaviors, for instance.

The reverse is true as well. Location technologies let marketers retarget offline behaviors with online advertising. Beacons make that process remarkably accurate because real-world behaviors can be located to extremely precise locations and interactions.

To wit, in Sweden, Unilever has been working with Mindshare and tech firm Glimr to use Beacons as a way to retarget shoppers for specific products with ads in a third-party mass-media app.

According to a report in UK trade magazine The Drum and an explanatory YouTube video from Swedish newspaper Afftonblast, the test used a Knorr soup food truck to attract passersby for hot or takeaway samples. The beacons on the truck could detect and tag people with mobile phones who had the Afftonblast newspaper app on their phones. We presume that the users had already given Afftonblast permission to track location. Rather than use beacons in the most familiar way, to push coupons or immediate offers to shoppers in venue, this system followed up the sample by replacing Afftonblast ads with coupons the next time the user opened the newspaper app.

As The Drum points out, one of the benefits of the approach is that is piggybacks on a popular newspaper’s installed base of readers rather than having to build a customer data set of its own, or rely on people opting into its own rarely used branded app. One of the problems with early work with beacons has been scale -- just getting people to use the relevant app.

A spokesman for Unilever’s tech test lab The Foundry tells The Drum, “We have decided to take a fundamentally different approach to using beacon technology. Most other pilots so far have pushed out offers to users as they walk into a store, which is not an ideal user experience. We have instead decided to take a pull approach, where we use the technology to gain insights about our consumers' offline behavior to customize the way we communicate to them.”

The idea of retargeting users in digital media based on offline signals is not new, of course. A number of location-aware data and ad networks have been promising such capabilities. Beacons introduce a much more precise location awareness, however, down to store and even product level. The Unilever/Knorr test is especially interesting in the way it leverages a newspaper that already has user trust and reach. This opens the door for some interesting partnerships among brands, location-aware networks, and larger-scale mobile media entities.

As the staggering value of location-based user data becomes apparent to everyone in marketing, we are going to see a pitched air war for control of the beacon/proximity marketing space. Retailers, malls, beacon-based ad networks: all will be vying to control the data and customer in the field via mobile.

For consumers this also opens up a whole new world of bother. It is bad enough that we have our digital shopping carts following us around online. Now we will have the day's shopping visits echoed in our apps. Will my apps be smart enough to know that I was only in Victoria's Secret and Lucky Brand stores this weekend waiting for my wife? Or will I be getting ads showing bright-red bras for the next six months?   

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Posted on February 17, 2015 .