iBeacons: How They Work and How They Can Increase Leads for Franchise Brands
iBeacon technology is quickly evolving and authenticating the way franchise brands are interacting with their customers.
By Michael Boyer, CFE
The iBeacon standard is revolutionizing the customer-service world overnight by letting franchise brands immediately “message” their current and future customers as soon as they enter their franchise locations. Beacons are a timely bridge between the mobile digital world and the customer’s physical, real world — they connect brands with customers who see a mobile advertisement and then have visited their stores. The link with these customers increases the return on investment in mobile advertising and helps owners understand how many actual new customers the campaign created — equaling immediate, real attribution.
What is an iBeacon?
iBeacons (Apple certified beacons) or beacons are small computer devices that are placed inconspicuously within the franchise business location. These beacons then communicate with customer smartphones via Bluetooth Smart, also known as Bluetooth Low Energy. While communicating with smartphones, the beacon enables apps to understand customer location information and drive customer engagement. Customer privacy is a priority and customers can set their own privacy controls.
Many companies manufacture their beacons to meet the Apple iBeacon standard which supports data sharing and communicating with an iBeacon app. All iOS 7 and newer devices such as Android 4.3 are automatically compatible with iBeacon standard. iBeacon manufacturers include Gimbal,Proximity5, Swirl and Estimote.
Beacons tend to be very inexpensive and cost-effective so franchises can expect to pay between $10 and $40 for each unit. They are typically operated with batteries that last from six months to three years depending on usage and the environment in which they are placed.
How Does a Beacon Work?
First, when the beacon is installed, it is configured for a specific location. When the beacon is activated, it will send out its beacon identification to all smartphones within 70 meters. Some systems may install a few beacons in a location to track customer location within their store. If the smartphone has beacon-compatible apps installed it receives the beacon ID. These apps have been developed with beacon technology; customers do not need to install anything new on their smartphone.
Once the app receives the beacon’s ID, the beacon now knows the precise location of the smartphone in relation to the beacon, based on the location information that was entered when the beacon was configured.
Beacons can be placed in almost any location within the business. Ideally, it should not be placed in an area that is blocked by walls or other types of interference that could weaken and degrade the range of the Bluetooth signal.
With this precise location information, the compatible app now can do a number of things to communicate with the smartphone user. Having these options gives franchise brands the power to create powerful mobile advertising campaigns. For example, the beacon can send a predetermined message to that smartphone based on its location relative to the beacon. This message can welcome the customer as they enter a store: “Welcome to the Perry Ford Service Department! What can we do for you today?” It can also provide promotional offers and information for products in that location: “Take advantage of our $19.95 Oil Change special today!”
How Can Beacons Help Increase Business and Drive Leads?
Using beacons in concert with customer acquisition and service strategies allows franchise brands to provide marketing links between the digital world and the real world. This will drive advertising attribution, increase customer loyalty and improve customer satisfaction.
Beacons are changing the world of mobile display advertising by providing the ability to know if a mobile advertising campaign was actually successful in driving people to a franchise location. With beacons, a smartphone that enters a store can be cross-referenced with the smartphones that received an ad from a mobile campaign. This gives the franchise brand a good metric on the number of customers who visited the location after seeing the ad on their smartphone.
When using beacons with a branded app, a franchise brand can drive loyalty offers to their customers based on the quality of the customer’s experience and micro-location. For instance, when a loyal customer visits the franchise location, the beacon and franchise app monitor length of visit; if the customer waits longer than average for service, the app can automatically send the customer an attractive offer for its next visit, ensuring continued customer loyalty and future visits.
With beacons, the brand message can be delivered when the customer is ready and open to receiving the message. For example, when a customer walks into a particular store, he might be greeted with a welcome message from that brand with instructions on how and where to proceed: “Welcome, thank you for visiting Acme HairStyles — we’re glad to see you! Please check in with the receptionist and your stylist will be with you soon!” This is a very timely brand message that is contextually relevant to the customer’s real-time experience. This creates a higher quality of customer interaction and builds greater customer satisfaction.
iBeacon technology is quickly evolving and authenticating the way franchise brands can and are interacting with their customers. The technology provides location-based and real-time relevant information, targeted promotional offers and immediate return on mobile investment. Over the coming months and years, beacon-based location marketing will allow franchise brands to provide information to customers when and where they really want it, leading to increased revenues, more satisfied customers and ultimately, and most importantly, brand loyalty. n
Michael Boyer, CFE, is CEO of AdSmart Inc., a company that provides mobile display advertising for franchise companies and their franchisees. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.