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John Coombs is co-founder and CEO of Rover, a location-based mobile marketing platform that helps retailers and brands deliver smarter, location-powered mobile content that drives engagement and creates enriching customer experiences.

 
Just over two years ago, beacons entered the world with great flash and fanfare. The true omni-channel revolution was here! So called ‘bricks to clicks’ was now achievable for marketers looking to connect their physical and digital worlds.

Every marketing publication covered this emerging ‘location-aware age’ as though it was an imminent reality. As marketers started to dig into the technology, it became apparent that it was going to take more than some beacons and a few sessions with a mobile agency to realize the beacon vision many had read about.

Only recently, after a few years since launch, are these promises becoming a reality. Many are wondering, what took so long and what does it take to get beacon and location-based marketing right?

I’ll take a stab at explaining why it has taken some time for the technology’s initial promise to be realized and highlight some factors that are crucial to getting location-based marketing right for your brand.

Finding the Right Technology Partner

One of the biggest challenges with realizing the beacon promise at launch was a lack of software solutions to help marketers execute — agencies scrambled to put together beacon-aware apps and established, mobile messaging and push providers quickly claimed they were ‘beacon-ready’. But, it soon became apparent that a scalable and engaging beacon experience required more than a custom one-off or the addition of another feature to an existing platform.

The reality is that that there is far more to it than that. Surrounding beacons has emerged as an entire tech-stack, or ecosystem that was only in its infancy when the technology launched. Everything from getting the hardware right (e.g. security, fleet management, etc.) to location-centric analytics and content management was just being born. Indeed, one could buy beacons a few years ago but how long would their batteries last? What content platforms existed and what metrics and proximity analytics solutions were there to prove out ROI?

This ecosystem did not exist. Since then, a whole host of companies and business models have emerged around the location-aware marketing opportunity. Only now are we starting to see the appropriate sophisticated solutions that can solve for the scalable, enterprise-grade beacon deployment we were expecting.

Therein lies one of the first pillars of success in location-based marketing: the consideration of the component parts of a beacon ecosystem. What is the driving factor behind your push to leverage location? Content and engagement? Analytics? Re-targeting or location-based ads?

Finding the right partner and identifying the priorities for your mobile strategy is a critical starting point that is often overlooked.

A Test and Learn Approach

The second pillar to getting it right with beacons and location-based marketing is taking a ‘test and learn’ approach to your content strategy.

What works for one brand or customer experience might not complement the type of customer journey you seek for your particular use case. There is no silver bullet content strategy and setting yourself up to be able to quickly test and iterate, leveraging data to inform this process is crucial.

This approach often requires identifying the right vendor mix to help you go through these iterative cycles as efficiently as possible.

The Right Location Technology Mix

The final key aspect of location-based success is to look holistically at what mix of technologies can complement your strategy. Many customers come to us looking to implement a beacon experience having not yet dabbled in any other form of location-based technology to enhance their mobile experience. Some haven’t even built their mobile database and know what percentage of their base want to engage over the mobile channel.

While technologies such as NFC or RFID are powerful tools to solve for very tight or micro-location events, we like to start at the macro helping the client build their mobile database and understand better the content and experiences which can be augmented with mobile engagement. Then, using technology such as geofencing we start engaging customers. Geofencing is a powerful way to deliver increased relevance using location without the need for beacon hardware or configuration.

While there are a number of things to consider when exploring beacons and location-based technology for your app, the largest determinants of success are centered around clearly identifying what it is you are trying to get out of leveraging location and choosing the right partner to achieve this.

Understanding that working with beacons and location is new and inherently iterative and starting more simply with easy to deploy and test technologies like geofencing is a great start.

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