Shining a Light on iBeacon & Google Eddystone: Location-Aware Marketing Made Possible with BLE Technology

BLE technology, including Apple’s iBeacon and Google’s Eddystone — while most digital marketers have heard of it, have they harnessed it? Media Wyse CEO Casey Markee is speaking about the technology powering location-aware marketing next month at Pubcon Las Vegas.

600_358079922Markee joined me for an interview on all things BLE this morning, starting off with the most important question: just what is this technology? From there, we looked at how BLE technology that makes location-aware alerts and offers possible, fits into the big picture of digital marketing, plus took a look at specific examples and case studies, and where the line between helpful and intrusive may be when it comes to beacons.

Check out the entire interview and/or read along below.

Kristi Kellogg: What are some of the key differences between Apple iBeacon and Google Eddystone?

Casey Markee: BLE is Bluetooth low energy technology. Beacons use Bluetooth extremely effectively to do customized, hyperlocal marketing. Beacon technology is location-aware, low-cost transmitter that use Bluetooth and geofencing to serve hyperlocalized offers and experiences. I don’t know if any of you watch “Minority Report,” but you might remember that scene from where Tom Cruise is hypertargeted with all these localized offers.

That stuff is very close to being a reality and that’s where beacons come into play. Bluetooth doesn’t have the limitations that wifi does – it can go through walls and around corners. So using beacons in conjunction with Bluetooth power allows you to serve a level of customized offering that most retailers haven’t experienced before.

KK: How does this fit into the big picture for digital marketers?

CM: We’re always talking about fulfilling a need or focusing on the customer base. And beacons allow you to serve hyperlocally. They’re customized personalization. It’s funny that Apple really started this trend with iBeacon when it’s really Google’s purview with regards to this hypertargeting. [Google] wants to be able to be everything to everybody and Beacons allow retailers to push out a customized experience.

KK: Since you mentioned Google, let’s talk about Eddystone. There’s a difference between Apple’s technology and Google’s when it comes to beacons. Apple created iBeacon in 2013 and Google launched Eddystone in July 2015. What are the differences between the two platforms?

CM: When the iBeacon came on the scene it was predominantly app based. Basically it’s proprietary – Apple’s put very slow, very finite controls on who can use it. It’s not open source unless you make some specific adjustments which are pretty technical. It’s predominantly iOS driven. You can use it to send messages through a universal unique identifier (UUID) and that’s their main API. It can do a lot of great things, but overall, if you’re a developer, you’re very limited.

Google realized how big beacons will be and realized they really needed to get involved. The first thing they did was go out and find everyone using iBeacons and asked them, “Hey, what do you hate about iBeacon? We are going to make a product that is going to address these deficiencies.” And they’ve done that through Eddystone. Eddystone, in contrast to iBeacon, is entirely open source and available through GitHub and it’s also cross-compatible, so it works with iOS and Android.

Eddystone offers multiple ways for retailers and developers to make use of it. They have multiple APIs that allow the beacons to communicate, not just through UUIDs, but through URL telemetry, so as a retailer you can just serve a URL to someone as they’re passing your business and they don’t even have to have an app. That customized URL can facilitate a sale or get them to think twice about the retailer.

KK: What are some innovative examples of how iBeacon or Google Eddystone can be used?

CM: The most common way is targeting your customer base with qualified offers. If someone is walking by your store, you can let them know you’re offering a 10 percent off lunch special. Or if you’re walking through a museum, beacons eliminate the need for docents completely. As you’re coming by a specific exhibit, you might be served a virtual map.

KK: I heard there was a case study on beacons from the Marsh supermarket chain in Indiana — can you tell us more about that?

CM: Marsh has a chain of about 70 supermarkets. They were the first ones to come out with an app for the Apple watch. When shoppers would enter the supermarkets, they would be served their shopping lists on the Apple watch and the beacon would navigate them through the store to find the items on their list and also provided them special offers and sent push notifications for things they might have missed. It’s only been live since April but they’ve already noticed an increase to their bottom line by a couple percent. And, remember, Apple Watch doesn’t even have high market penetration as of yet, though I think it will change in the last quarter of the year when it becomes the must-have Christmas present.

KK: That seems like a really helpful example of how this technology can be used. It also seems like this technology has the potential to be a little intrusive. How can digital marketers walk the line between these two extremes?

Imagine you’re in a clothing store and you experience beacon-based smart mirrors — and the smart mirror is equipped with beacons that let you know yay or nay on your outfit. I’m not sure a lot of people are going to be impressed with, but that’s really something that people are actively developing right now … There is a fine line between being helpful and being intrusive. I think a lot of A/B testing goes on to see which offers resonate positively with the consumers and which don’t. A/B testing is mandatory.

KK: I heard that a lot of small business owners get into beacons through Facebook Beacons.

CM: Facebook Beacons were a smart move by Facebook. They’re currently extremely limited and are a good introduction for retailers and SMBs on beacon technology. They allow businesses to serve place tips. They’re triggered by someone who walks by your business or is visiting, and it serves place tips to anyone who has the Facebook app installed. Most of us have the Facebook app running on our phones at all time and that’s going to subject you to these Facebook triggered beacon notifications. It allows you to serve things like welcome notes and some pictures. Facebook Beacons are more of a general awareness type of beacon. They’re not very exhaustive. They’re not something that you can use to target custom offers but they’re free for businesses to obtain, they cover most locations and they’re a great introduction. If you have a walk-up business, whether it’s a CrossFit gym or a bagel shop, you’re going to get a beacon for free and they’re very easy to install. One beacon will cover the entire location and they provide another contact point for your customer, which is never a bad thing.

KK: I’ve also read that beacons are an area of explosive growth but I don’t see beacon technology in my everyday life. How are these observations reconciled?

CM: According to Business Insider Journal, there are estimated to be less than 500,000 beacons installed in the U.S., and that number is expected to explode to 4.5 million by 2018. Then you ask, “Where are all these beacons?” They’re there, you’re just not noticing them.

Cleveland Cavaliers have had iBeacons installed for about a year and a half. They’re one of the first big NBA teams to have these installed and now you can see them at most venues around the United States. The beacons are there, and if you have the app installed, and most do when they’re attending a game or attending a venue regularly, these beacons are serving you notifications of where the closest bathroom is or how you can navigate to the next concession stand. Why did my app know to send me a qualified offer when I was walking past the concession stand or to advertise “buy me tickets” to the next venue. If you’re at the Coors Ampitheater, you’ll get customized offers based on beacon. When I entered the venue, I was offered tickets for their next event at a discounted rate. Other ones will provide you a virtual map that you can navigate the venue with, and that will be the new normal.

With the Eddystone, you won’t need to have an app; it will use the alert or notifications tray to serve you notifications. A good example will be the TriMet Light Rail system in Portland. They’re one of the first big venues, and certainly one of the first transit organizations, to use Eddystone beacons. They have them installed at all 78 of their stations, so when someone walks up to one of these light rail stations, they’re served a notification through their notification tray letting them know, “Hey, we recognize you’re here. By the way, here’s a departure and arrival schedule based on your closest location to that light rail train.” That’s pretty good. Is that intrusive? Probably not if you’re standing there. So that’s an example of a customized offer, the right time, the right offer at the right place, and I think beacons can really improve your bottom line in many aspects if used effectively.

We greatly appreciate Casey Markee sharing his insights into iBeacon and Eddystone. Catch him speaking at Pubcon Las Vegas 2015 on Oct. 6 at 10:15 a.m. in Salon G. And if you’re not headed to Pubcon, not to worry: since we’re liveblogging Casey’s session, you’ll be able to catch a full recap right here on the Bruce Clay, Inc. Blog! See the entire liveblogging schedule here.

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

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