Beacon marketers have new ways around app download requirement

Google's Eddystone can send notifications to the mobile browser, while beacon-app networks are being created.

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Late last week, Google introduced some valuable security enhancements for its Eddystone beacon format. These new features give developers more control over who can access the beacon signal and are also intended to defeat potential hacks.

Though not the only indoor location or close-proximity marketing technology, beacons are the most widely deployed and well-known. And Google’s increasing involvement with the Bluetooth Low Energy technology will help further accelerate the market.

Indeed, there is an expanding range of documented use cases for beacons. Beyond malls and retail environments, beacons are being deployed at London bus stops to notify commuters of schedules and arrivals. They’re also being widely installed in movie theaters to offer indoor mobile marketing to theatergoers.

In one of the more interesting beacon use cases, Yext’s Xone program also enables offline-to-online retargeting on social media and other digital channels. People who’ve come into a store or car dealership can be retargeted with Facebook Custom Audiences, for example. At SMX West, there was a dedicated beacons panel that explored some of these uses and deployments. (SMX Advanced won’t have a beacons session, but the Local Search Advantage workshop will do a follow-up deep dive on beacons.)

Google has big plans for beacons and “the Physical Web” (of which the bus stop deployment is an example). However, thus far, beacons have not lived up to their early hype since Apple first put beacons on the map with iBeacon. The principal reason for this has been the app requirement — consumers must have an app installed on their phones that can receive the beacon signal.

Retailers in particular have had a tough time getting consumers to download their apps, and that has limited the reach of beacons in malls and other retail environments. This is starting to change, however.

It’s not widely known that Eddystone beacons can send Chrome-browser-based notifications, so apps aren’t essential anymore. This is true for both Android and iOS devices with Chrome. Other browser makers have said they will support Eddystone soon. Most beacon hardware makers support both iBeacon and Eddystone now.

In the case of iOS, marketers can use Apple Wallet as a kind of universal app to receive beacon signals. However, users must have an Apple Wallet pass installed first — not quite the hurdle of an app download, but not entirely without friction. The other way to go, which applies to both Eddystone and iBeacon, is to utilize existing apps on the phone.

This is the approach that Yext, Gimbal, InMarket and others are taking, building “beacon-app networks” using widely installed apps (e.g., Shazam, MapQuest) and thus overcoming the app download requirement. Often, there’s a revenue share or some payment to the app in exchange for being part of the network.

Given these relatively new alternatives to downloading dedicated apps — app networks, browser-based notifications and leveraging Apple Wallet — the beacon market is finally poised to fulfill some of the original promise of the technology when it was released several years ago.

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About the author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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