We have a chance here people of the digital: A chance to join up the multi-channel, omni-channel customer journey beyond what a behavioural attribution model can predict.

Behold the beacon, long-heralded as the way to add value to a purchase journey whilst providing brands with a mountain of super-rich behavioural data with which to aid targeting.

Apple was quick off the mark on the possibilities of this technology with their iBeacon offering. As a result I’ve wandered into the Apple store a couple of times now, prompted by the appearance of a small Apple symbol on my iPhone iOS lock screen as I walked into the shopping mall, but alas nothing.

So far beacons seem to have mostly been used by retailers keen to drive customers in store with a discount code. Working with the mobile affiliates this is something that is straight forward to set up, but they must be struggling to gain traction, given the myriad of notifications promoting discounts if you are misfortunate enough to walk down a high-street with a beacon enabled app.

And herein lays the issue. The consumer quickly becomes savvy to the apps on their beloved smartphone that shout at them. Too many notifications that lack targeted focus and add little value to the consumer and- bang – the app is deleted from the phone, never to be trusted again. It is this so far spammy approach to beacon marketing that threatens their very viability.

Those deploying beacons need to take a step back, put down the starburst discount placards and multi-exclamation mark promotional messages and just take a look at the data possibilities…

Perhaps Apple is well aware of the H shaped walk I took yesterday and has added the data to my presales profile for targeting in the future; beacon proximity detection makes it possible to measure dwell time at a given visual merchandising zone. But what’s to stop a savvy brand simply following up with a link to the item minutes after they have left the store?

Missed tricks

A few days before my Apple Store meander I dropped into John Lewis to look at some Garden Furniture, only to then grapple with a less than perfect onsite search function to find the set that we had been previously looking at. A simple follow up email to encourage a presales post store visit dialogue would have been useful, and I wouldn’t have found it creepy.

Testing these follow up emails with offer messaging to aid conversion would also be a logical route.

The challenge for a brand using such techniques is demonstrating it is using the rich instore physical behavioural data in a positive way and making it easy for the consumer to drop out of the beacon tracking should they wish.

Also mapping stores from a visual merchandising point of view can be tricky at the best of times and keeping the digital map of what product type the consumer has had proximity with will be imperative.

Devices themselves can also be beacons. In theory if an app is logged in to a consumer’s profile it could share their product browsing history with a salesperson on the sales floor. This could enable staff to understand, even before approaching a consumer, what product they are in the market for and tailor their approach as a result. This really would be a bit creepy but you could argue it’s not that different to checking a business person’s LinkedIn profile prior to a meeting.

As with all things emerging in multichannel marketing the trick is to start small and simple and use the data and build a strategy out from what works, but whatever you do avoid spooking prospective customers with showy and unnecessary demonstrations of the data you really have on them.

I think beacons are an exciting extension of the multi-channel retail experience. I just hope that consumers don’t become turned off by simplistic, spammy techniques before the true value can be demonstrated.

It didn’t happen with direct mail so here’s hoping beacons are here to stay.