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iBeacons: a step forward in location based marketing?

21 Mar, 14 | by BMJ

Brands including WHSmith, Macy’s and Eat are using a new technology to deliver targeted messages to their customers’ mobile phones. ‘iBeacons‘ allow retailers to send discounts and offers straight to users who are in a specific location, without the need to open an app, scan a code or browse a website.


iBeacons use a Bluetooth connection to send data to mobile devices from stationary beacons. They use Bluetooth 4.0; a new format of Bluetooth that is built into many modern smartphones. The easiest way to understand how they work is to imagine them in terms of a traditional beacon: an object that sends a signal to communicate its location to those around it. As such, iBeacons only transmit small amounts of information from distances of between two inches to 50 metres.

When a smartphone is in range, the owner will receive a notification on their home screen, even if the phone is locked. GPS is quite a blunt instrument and certainly could not be used to pinpoint an exact location inside a shop. However, iBeacons now offer the opportunity to communicate directly with users not only at shop level but at a specific aisle or fixture. 

Of course, the application of iBeacons is not limited to retail…

– Most conference attendees receive a map, schedule of sessions and often a mobile app with event-specific tools. Adding iBeacon support could make those apps much easier to use. During presentations, the iBeacon could broadcast further information rather than relying on attendees to note down information from PowerPoint slides.

– iBeacons could also offer an effective option for maps and navigation. How about stationing them within hospital wards and providing a map of that unit so that users can see how to navigate it? Each unit could also broadcast information and guidance to patients or visitors. Going even further, iBeacons could be built into individual rooms with information and important notices.

– Museums, zoos, and exhibitions provide basic amounts of information about items that a visitor is viewing. iBeacons stationed at each item could offer an alternative to audio tours, allowing users to make their own way through the space or linger at a specific work or display. The iBeacon content could be peppered with curated links to websites, apps, discussion forums, and so on.

Increasing the sophistication of user targeting is one means of achieving the potential of mobile as a marketing platform. The more tightly an advertising message can be targeted towards a particular context, user behaviour or user profile, the more likely it is to offer real value , and therefore better engagement and results. However, iBeacons offer much more than the next step in location based marketing and I look forward to seeing how creative minds from all industries will make use of this new technology.

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