Date, Don’t Get Married | Footmarks

Date, Don’t Get Married

Last week, Footmarks COO Todd Paris took one for the team, and headed to Deer Valley, Utah, to present “How Geolocation is Changing Retail,” at Digiday’s annual Summit.

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If you’re going to talk about emerging technologies in retail for 72 hours, Deer Valley, is the place to do it. For the first day of the event, social media was alive with enviable views from the conference’s mountain top perch. Fortunately, the Summit’s speakers and guests were able to pull themselves away from bowling and trail runs long enough to put on a great event.

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Digiday summarized the Summit’s key takeaways, and it’s not surprising beacons featured front and center. As they write, “almost every presentation touched on this technology,” and indeed, all eyes were on R/GA Director David Womak, and Footmarks COO Todd, as they gave the audience a live demonstration of the rich analytics afforded by the Footmarks platform.

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As the only beacon company presenting at Digiday’s Summit, we were in a unique position to poll the queries and concerns of retail execs and brand directors. Over the 3 day event, Todd addressed these questions with a detailed view of the technology and demonstration of how beacons can serve in store analytics, mitigate the threats of e-commerce and showrooming, and allay the uncertainties of location-based marketing. We’ve summarized the most common questions, and Todd’s main talking points, below.

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Click here to watch David and Todd’s presentation in full. Todd’s live beacon demonstration starts at 11:25.

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1. The disconnect between awareness and implementation

Simply put, there’s a chasm between the level of beacon awareness, and the number of implementations of the technology by those in the know.

When Todd asked the audience who had heard of beacons, all 150 attendees raised their hands. When Todd asked who in the room was actually piloting beacons, only 3 or 4 hands remained.

Ever since Apple’s stealth unveiling of the iBeacon at 2013’s WWDC, buzz surrounding the technology has been steadily growing. Beacon implementations make a big splash in the press, and the beacon conversation on Twitter is going strong. Actual pilots of the technology, however, are still few and far between.

Last year was the year of awareness, says Todd. As his informal audience poll confirms, beacons have gone from mystery-tech to the next-big-thing.

This year, says Todd, needs to be about implementation.

But how to start? That was the number one question posed to Todd by conference attendees, many of whom expressed enthusiasm about the technology, but didn’t know where to begin.

Which brings us to number 2.

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2. Start simple

Knowledge is power.

Beacon deployments can be either active or passive. The active implementation is the one that gets the most attention – the push messaging, content-delivering engagement technology that retailers use to target and tailor to customers at the right place at the right time. But passive implementation of the technology is also incredibly valuable, and for those experimenting with beacons, the better place to start. Just as e-commerce platforms leverage their customers’ online browsing behavior and purchasing patterns to optimize their websites, personalize product recommendations, and retarget advertising, insights gleaned from in store beacons offer parallel advantages in improved store layout, targeted promotions, compelling loyalty programming, conversions, and much, much more.

During his presentation, Todd encouraged the audience to take some time with passive deployments to familiarize themselves and their employees with the technology, to build individual and aggregate customer profiles from in store and in app behavior, and to devise metrics that best evaluate in store customer flow and other pain points. He also suggested retailers use passive deployments to collect enough data from in store activity to provide a baseline against which to gauge improvements once beacon deployments go live. Successful passive deployment will lead, says Todd, to optimized active solutions, and fuller realization of the technology’s potential.

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Starting with a passive implementation of the technology also allows retailers to test multiple vendors, without worrying about distracting customers or jeopardizing the brand. Therefore, don’t start simple with one solution, advises Todd, start simple with many.

Which brings us to number 3.

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3. The importance of testing

Not all beacons, and not all platforms are created equal.

Just as Todd encouraged the crowd to start simple, he also urged them not to get married to any one company too quickly. Date first, he counseled, play the field.

Play the field is perhaps counterintuitive advice from a COO of a leading beacon technology platform, but his suggestion makes good sense. The market for vendors has exploded in the 12 months since Apple released their iBeacon protocol, and companies worldwide are offering beacon hardware and/or platforms with a wide variety of differentiating features. These differences include varying levels of security, differences in operating system compatibility, disparities in analytical scope, the ability or inability to customize parts of or all of a solution, availability or unavailability of technical support, and large contrasts in affordability. CMOs owe it to their brands to run multiple pilots, and test both the hardware and the software to find the solution that best fits their needs.

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4. An even exchange   

It’s a privilege to be entrusted with customer data and location information, and brands should reward consumers’ willingness to share accordingly.

Chief among retailers’ concerns was the technology’s supposed “creepiness factor.” How, they wanted to know, could they extend their brand’s reach without spooking customers?

Retailers are right to be concerned about consumers’ negative reaction to geolocation tech. Earlier this year, Nordstrom’s use of Wi-Fi tracking unnerved its customers, and the retailer was forced to abandon its campaign. The brand is still trying to regain trust.

Beacons, however, unlike other retail surveillance technologies are unique in that they require the complicity of those being tracked. To facilitate communication between users’ mobile devices and in store beacons, a handful of conditions must first be met. Users must enable location services and bluetooth, as well as have the location or brand’s app downloaded to their device. The user must also accept requests by the app to use his or her location information and be pushed notifications, before the beacons can even detect their presence. While perhaps onerous for the retailer, these conditions ensure the customer is open to the exchange. And an exchange is what needs to take place. For customers to willingly divulge their location and in store and in app behaviors they must have the perception they’re valued by the brand, and be rewarded accordingly. Brands can create this value for the consumer through conveniences and efficiencies facilitated by the app, through personalized offers and coupons, and/or via loyalty points or rewards.

Studies show that when customers are asked by apps to share their location information and accept push notifications, they respond favorably. Digiday audience members were encouraged by Todd’s stats, which confirmed that 77% of consumers are willing to share location information as long as “they receive enough value in return.”

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5. Build community through beacons

Apps (or lack thereof) can’t become obstacles to implementation.

This final point is perhaps the most crucial. For many retailers, uncertainty as to how to begin with beacons is exacerbated when the brand currently lacks an app, or its app suffers from poor adoption.

So far in the real world of beacon pilots there’s been little to calm their nerves. The majority of deployments have been isolated, single-purpose events. Individual stores, events, and stadiums that have been outfitted with the technology have used their own (often well-used) apps, tailored purposely for that one brand or location. Only a few pilots so far have broken the mold – namely Brixton’s community-wide beacon deployment and crypto-currency complement, and Regent Street’s mile-long, one-app-multi-store beacon experiment, which we reviewed last month. Both Brixton and Regent Street promote one app cross-store partnerships as an alternative model of beacon deployment. In both cases, location is used as the factor in common, and through the app, a digital community reinforces a community already physically in place.

Todd also challenged retailers in the audience to think beyond partnerships in one single location or within one single industry, to leveraging one well-adopted app through brand affinity or lifestyle channel. Such a model might involve, for example, leveraging a travel app with a car rental brand, a hotel brand, and a boutique gym brand. Community in this sense would be fomented across these brands, greatly extending their collective reach, and creating a much better traveling experience in the process.

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Interested in exploring such a creative partnership or hearing more of Todd’s retail deployment advice? Call us at 1 (800)-558-2556, write to us at, and follow Todd and Footmarks on Twitter.

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Much thanks to Digiday staging an inspiring event, in a most picturesque spot. We look forward to continuing the great conversations begun at #digidayDRS, and speaking again at a Digiday Summit soon.

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