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Real-time marketing

Have you ever wondered what a beacon looks like? I have and I have seen a few.

They are small enough they can sit in the palm of your hand, be stuck to a wall inside a store or inside an outdoor panel at a bus shelter without anyone noticing.

By Jonathan Nalder from Kilcoy, Australia (beacons by jnxyz.education) [CC-BY-2.0]

They first came to the world’s attention 12 months ago with the launch of Apple’s iBeacons in the US. This launch was closely followed by another defining milestone: the Regent Street project in the UK, a first of its kind now in full swing.

Soon after, as I was talking to two outdoor media owners, they were telling me about their plans to bring the technology to the Australian market – both understandably racing to be the first in market given its huge potential for highly-targeted mobile marketing.

Plenty has been written since on how the technology works and its marketing possibilities. For my part, I am genuinely excited about its many benefits. Yet there are some drawbacks to be mindful of also.

In this post, I specifically seek to answer the following questions:

What do you need for the technology to work?

What are the marketing applications?

Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

As a marketer, why should consider investing into beacon marketing?

And what key considerations do you need to be mindful of?

Happy reading! And as always, I welcome your thoughts, in particular any insights gained from first-hand experience or best-in-class case studies you may have come across.

What do you need for the technology to work?

As a brand – you need a native smartphone app programmed to react to one or more beacons.

As a consumer – a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, with a beacon-enabled brand app installed on it. Push notifications and location detection must also be activated on the app.

Assuming these conditions are met, as soon as one of your app users/customers is within range of your beacon(s), they will get tracked and a personalized message triggered and displayed on their mobile screen in the form of a notification, CTA or an event.

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What are the marketing applications?

The possibilities are endless. Their quality and effectiveness however are largely dependent on the sophistication of your data-driven marketing capabilities and their level of integration with your mobile ecosystem.

Two of the most advanced examples I’ve come across are the Regent Street and Slyde Beacon-enabled shopping apps. Key functionality typically includes the ability to identify a customer nearby and offer them customized promotions as they walk past a store, automatically check them into said store upon entry, mobile redemption of e-coupons and in the case of Slyde a touchless payment experience.

In terms of user experience, here are a couple of scenarios:

On a hot summer day, as you walk past an outdoor poster you may get prompted to redeem a discount on a can of Coke in a nearby Woolies, conveniently located within meters of the panel.

Another example, as you return in-store, and get near an aisle that carries your favourite brand of cereals, the store may invite you through its app to redeem a promo on that very product to incentivize repeat purchase. It may not be on your shopping list that day, but when prompted (or even better, reminded that you might be soon out of stock) you may decide to be tempted.

These are just some of many possible retail applications, and the more customer data is leveraged at the individual level (e.g. product preferences, frequency of product purchase, average basket spend etc.), the more relevant and effective the message.

Beacons may also be used in other physical environments (e.g. airport lounges, museums, cinemas, at home etc.) and to offer any number of value-add services on-site, not just retail offers.

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Is beacon marketing for every consumer and every brand?

77% of Australians over 13 are now smartphone users (source: The Digital Australia: State of the Nation 2014 report). And with Bluetooth adoption on the rise, it’s safe to say we are looking at a large audience across age groups.

Within that pool however, phone usage varies greatly. From your teenage daughter to your mum and your grandad, digital literacy and mobile user behaviours (e.g. what they use their phone for, where and when, frequency etc.) aren’t quite the same and so bound to impact on receptivity levels to your mobile marketing.

Critically also, mobile phones are our most personal digital devices. Hence how and when you choose to intrude on this very private space (once you are granted access) will make or break your relationship pretty much.

So to answer our question, all mobile consumers can benefit from it as long as you make time to know them – and know them well – and engage accordingly.

In terms of which categories are likely to benefit the most from beacons, retailers are by far at the top of the list – from your local grocer’s to your favourite fashion retailer or department store to name a few. But not just. I would also argue that any brand with a loyal following, a solid mobile presence and data integration strategy stands to benefit from it.

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As a marketer, why should you consider investing into beacon marketing?

Assuming you already have a suitable app in market (e.g. a shopping, loyalty or customer service app) with a sizeable user base, are in the process of building one or considering investing into one:

#1 – Beacons make it possible to deliver personalised mobile communications at the right time and at the right place to the right person – based on the customer’s location at its most basic, on their purchase history and shopping preferences also (when the latter are known) at its best.

#2 – They are a source of valuable customer data and insights: user data is collected at every interaction (such as store visits, dwell time, conversions); that data may in turn be used to build a meaningful and mutually rewarding relationship.

#3 – For bricks-and-mortar shops, beacons are simply a great way to drive footfall whilst allowing them also to compete with online retailers on delivering a personalised user experience offline. 

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What do you need to be mindful of?

#1 – Your opt-in acquisition strategy and ability to deliver on your customer value proposition are both critical.

For this type of marketing to be successful, you need to maximise opt-ins within your mobile user base. This requires you to think long and hard about the benefits and rewards you are going to offer in return for opting in to receive your beacon-enabled communications.

Those benefits and rewards (including their level of personalisation) must be of real value to the user for them to accept to trade off their privacy. And then, you actually must deliver on your promise. Failing that they won’t let you in in the first instance, or you will risk losing them and generating negative WOM.

#2 – The more integrated your CRM and data capabilities, the more effective your beacon marketing.

At its simplest, beacon marketing doesn’t require a fully integrated multi-channel CRM and data strategy. Tactical use cases can be as simple as driving in-store purchases on a seasonal product (e.g. sunscreen or ice cream on a hot day) amongst app users browsing nearby.

To realize its full potential however, it requires the ability to identify app users as individuals, with their online and offline interactions, purchase history and shopping preferences reconciled and accessed in real time for an optimal personalisation of the experience.

The reality is that most marketers are yet to achieve that single customer view and it may take a few years before they do. With this in mind, a staged approach towards achieving an integrated customer profile is most likely the best avenue, with a CRM and technology roadmap clearly setting out your capability improvement goals over a period of time.

#3 – Beware of the lack of legislation about what you can and cannot do.

The lack of legislation governing the use of beacon technology in Australia was flagged to me recently as a potential risk by an industry peer, and I have to agree.

On one hand, the absence of a legal framework is liberating for marketers – Amazon knows this too well as it picked an unregulated market, India, for the launch of its drone deliveries.

On the other hand, the lack of regulations may lead to an unbridled use of the beacon technology, which could antagonize consumers with marketers intruding excessively with their user experience.

So until such a time when we have guidelines in place, common sense must prevail. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Think: what would you think or do if you were to receive that message at that time and place? Focus groups, customer surveys and other forms of consumer research should help validate your approach also.

All in all –

When their application is carefully researched and planned, with the personalisation (hence the relevancy) of the message maximised, beacons can take your relationship marketing to another level. Fact.

They can be an effective way of driving sales but also building loyalty and WOM amongst your existing customer base through the messaging of timely contextual value adds.

If misused however, they could lose you loyal customers faster than you think. That is a fact also.

Have you started using beacons for your clients or own marketing purposes? Don’t be shy, let us know of your wins and learnings also.

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Let us take a look at Target and General Electric… What could they possibly have in common?

I have been a fan of Target’s innovative marketing techniques for some time; whilst GE has just made it to my Top 10 all-time favourite marketers.

Neither brand is what one would say sexy or aspirational i.e. not in the same vein as a Nike or a Red Bull. Yet their content marketing efforts are in my view amongst the best, if not the most hyped.

Simply, both companies’ content plays are great examples of how to build relationships with consumers through meaningful content – relationships that eventually drive sales. The last point is not to be underestimated as mentioned in an earlier post.

What is it Target and GE are doing well then in the content space? What can we learn from them?

First, they aren’t afraid of experimenting with new technologies and getting out of their comfort zone.

The first time Target piqued my interest was in October 2012, when I came across their ‘Falling For You’ shoppable web series.

They had then hired an Emmy award-winning TV director and Hollywood talent to film 3 episodes of an online rom-com, which was to be a promotional vehicle for their Fall collection. Products (from women fashion wear to homewares) were cleverly placed in each episode and could be shopped effortlessly throughout the online viewing experience. The technology that allowed you to buy as you watched without pausing the film was claimed to be a first and certainly caught my attention at the time. You can find out more about Falling For You in their (promotional) behind-the-scenes video:

Meanwhile, GE have been experimenting with real-time marketing and campaign hashtags on Twitter amongst other social platforms; with its #IWantToInvent and #PiDay campaigns in particular attracting a lot of attention.

It is also (surprisingly) one of the early adopters of Vine and so far it is doing well with it: its #6SecondScience Fair campaign launched only a few days ago has already generated 20K+ social interactions on the young network as it invites users to submit Vines of their DYI-style science experiments alongside its own, like this one on how to create your own lava lamp. Entertaining and captivating at the same time.

The brand’s bold marketing approach was recently acknowledged on Creativity-online.com.

Both brands have invested in content hubs to tell their stories.

Target’s online magazine A Bullseye View launched over a year ago and deliberately stays clear of hard-sell messages; instead it focuses on the company’s behind-the-scenes stories (e.g. designer partnerships). The site is heavily branded and as such, unequivocally positions the brand as the publisher.

GE has opted for the more discreet position of ‘Sponsor’ with its online magazine Txchnologist, one of 2 blogs the company operates and that focuses on non-corporate news. The site is a Tumblr blog about technology, science and innovation across the various industries the giant corporation is involved with (e.g. energy, transportation, heath care etc.).

Both have complemented their content strategy with an influencer program to boost their credibility and relevance.

Target has more than a dozen Fashion bloggers on its books, who write ‘Target-inspired’ posts on their blogs and also contribute to A Bullseye View. Likewise, GE’s Txchnologist features guest contributors and writers.

Lastly, they are outsourcing the bulk of the content creation to agency partners.

Whilst Target’s A Bullseye View is run by Target’s PR team, GE’s content marketing and social media team is responsible for operating Txchnologist. Both teams are understood to be on the small side, primarily focused on the site development strategy and operations, with the creative execution (content creation) sitting with agency partners. Brands and agencies meet weekly to discuss and plan the editorial content.

Interestingly, the 2 brands are ticking a few of the pre-requisites outlined in my earlier post on best practice content marketing.

I will continue keeping an eye out on their progress in that space and will keep you posted on their next (bold) moves.

A lot of ink has been spilled lately on the “immediacy of the internet”, the “real-time web”, the benefits of “newsjacking” and the fact that social media “war rooms”, “mission controls” and “creative newsrooms” are becoming a regular fixture at brands’ HQ.

These are just some of the causes and manifestations of what has become known as real-time marketing. Or 24/7 marketing as some of us like to call it.

I like to think of real-time marketing as a form of opportunism with a marketing or PR twist. In my opinion, it is best defined as:

The art and practice of taking advantage, in real time, of trending topical content to create maximum impact for your brand or product.

Where the impact is measured in terms of offline and online WOM, earned media coverage, sales etc.

A recent successful example of this is the “Dunk in the dark” Twitter ad from Oreo at this year’s Super Bowl, which was created and broadcast within minutes of the power outage causing some of the lights to go out. This tiny (and inexpensive) ad generated over ten thousand retweets and Facebook likes before going viral on Tumblr. Although the sales impact is yet unknown, the brand awareness and equity have most certainly gone up as a result.

Another lesser known but no less successful example is the appropriation of the Super Bowl by an American advertising agency for the last 3-4 years. Not only does its Brand Bowl do a great job of “highjacking’’ the game extensive publicity, it also leverages a well-known behaviour (the fact that everyone LOVES to talk about the Super Bowl ads) whilst showcasing the agency’s smarts in social media to existing and potential customers:

Why is real-time marketing grabbing so many headlines these days?

Although it’s been around for some time, it is becoming increasingly popular amongst advertisers as a result of a fundamental change in the way we consume content. This new behaviour has created more opportunities to engage with their audience apropos.

The fact is that more and more of us are connected to the web for a larger portion of our day as we hop from one device to the next. One way to look at our ever-growing need to stay connected through a device is nicely summed up here (courtesy of Rob Gordon):

sleep internet

According to Google, on average 4.4hours of our leisure time is spent in front of screens every day (be it a TV, mobile, tablet or desktop screen), with a good chunk of that time spent online. (And some of us are more addicted than others: with up to 9 hours spent on screens and more time online than any other nation, the British are officially the most obsessed with the www.)

To put this into context, the above Super Bowl case studies both tapped into the 36% of Super Bowl viewers who confided they would be using a second screen, with 52% admitting to using social media during the game.

What are the key ingredients to successfully targeting this new breed of highly connected consumers?

Simply put, speed, impact and relevance. Or the timely delivery of relevant content with high virality potential.

Easily said, not so easily done as the challenge for marketers then becomes to have the right skills on hand and solid logistics behind it.

Brands have to be prepared to commit dedicated in-house resource to it or alternatively outsource the service entirely – a substantial and continuous investment either way. Additionally, it is advisable that they continue leveraging their creative and media partner agencies’ smarts to ensure the content ideas, the timing and delivery channel(s) resonate best with the target audience, especially around key campaign dates.

Coca Cola and Oreo’s real-time management of their Super Bowl social media campaigns exemplify this cross-functional brand/agency operational model perfectly, and how involved it can get:

Coca Cola set up “war rooms” across the country as it monitored and responded live to user engagements throughout its Mirage TV and social game campaign at this year’s Super Bowl. The size of the multidisciplinary team pulled together on that one day was impressive:
“Nearly 40 execs from Coca-Cola, Wieden, Starcom MediaVest Group and PR shop Allidura gathered at the 360i offices in downtown Manhattan to manage the brand’s second screen experience. Another 20 people worked remotely in collaboration with the team, while Katie Bayne, president-North America brands, and Allison Lewis, senior VP-marketing Coca-Cola North America, were in New Orleans at the game.” (Source: Ad Age)

Likewise, Oreo’s Black Out Twitter ad would not have been possible without a solid operation in place: brand and agency teams (including copywriters, artists and senior brand stakeholders) were on call that day, strategising together in the same room, and ready to react within minutes to any opportune situation unravelling on and off the pitch throughout the game.

As a brand, you may prefer to keep your involvement to a minimum by outsourcing the operations and bulk of the work to an agency specialising in real-time content creation and newsjacking. That’s Pepsi’s choice with its partnership with Deep Focus’ social media service Moment Studio.

Whichever operational model you choose, it can’t be a half-hearted effort and requires a serious investment in time and $$ to deliver positive results for your brand.

Finally, another question comes to mind: can brands afford not to be committed to real-time marketing 24/7?

With so many of us connected around the clock, it appears not. The Burger King Twitter PR disaster, the latest high-profile hack in the series, shows how imperative it is for a brand to have a strategy in place for the efficient and timely monitoring of their social channels 24/7.

Whichever way you go about it, for real-time marketing to work in the connected world we live in, it requires a fundamental shift in mindset on the advertiser’s part i.e. their agreement to a lean, nimble approval process to allow for the speedy delivery of near-instant communications. And in my view that is probably the trickiest part and biggest obstacle to effective real-time marketing.

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