Since Apple launched their iBeacons, a Bluetooth-based proximity channel, some marketers have seen them as the saviour of in-store engagement. Retailers from Macy’s to Tesco’s are trialling the technology. In France, the supermarket chain Carrefour is putting them in 1000 stores. However, beacons present a common digital marketing challenge; technology itself is never a brand marketing solution. In the late 90s nearly $200 million was put into a scanning device called Cue Cat. It was sent to over 1.5m million people in the hope that they would scan bar codes printed in magazines instead of typing in URLs. In spite of the backing from major brands and publishers, the project was a failure. From a user perspective it didn’t solve any problems. When Beacons first launched I wrote a blog, Bluetooth the Revenge, pointing out the limitations of beacons as a marketing technology. The two practical hurdles are that people need an app installed and their Bluetooth turned on. Whenever I have researched it, that number is around 30% of people (there’s some research here). So 70% don’t have their Bluetooth on. For brands, as always, the key is to get the engagement right. They need to give their customers some pretty good reasons to use iBeacons. I’m not sure if giving offers is enough. To get users to engage, brands will need to use it to solve real problems, not just encourage more purchases. There have been a couple of recent studies, that suggest, unsurprisingly, that users don’t want to be stalked by brands in store. Opinion Lab, for example found that 77% of people don’t want to be tracked in shops. Our phones are personal and it seems like we have enough marketing already. My worry with beacons is that they will simply be consigned to the dustbin of technology history. In a few years time will we look back and say ‘do you remember iBeacons’, along with the Apple Newton and the Cue Cat?
I recently spoke at an event about the role of mobile and big data. The two most useful examples related to health. The first was how the movement of mobile phones in Kenya helps to identify the movement of mosquitos and thus the spread of Malaria. The second was how Swedish and US researchers used mobile movements track people in the Haiti disaster area, and the number who had left subsequently. From this they could identify the number of missing people.
Could the same approach be made to manage the spread of Ebola? If health organisations could use location from the mobile operators it would be possible to see where people from infected areas have moved to (including overseas). From this they could spot where the virus might appear next. That could deliver a much faster response and to isolate the outbreaks more quickly. Just a thought. Or maybe it’s already being done?
And by that title, I mean, what is this blog all about?
I read somewhere that 70% of people don’t believe business blogs. In other words, most blogging for business is simply a form of low-grade spam to push the company’s products and site PR.
That’s not what I’m aiming to do with this. Of course, like anyone trying to earn a living, I would like this blog to help generate traffic for our sites and products, but what I want to do is provide real incite, opinions and debate. If that can add to the value of what we do as a company then great. If it doesn’t then that’s also fine.
The incite, opinions and debate that I am blogging here is about mobile phones, our relationship with these highly personal devices and what the network operators and other companies are trying to do with them.
The mobile phone is very interesting (but I would say that) because it is the most successful technology ever. Actually I’ll rephrase that. The wheel is the most successful techonolgy ever. The mobile phone is the most successful INFORMATION technology ever. There are 3 billion of them world wide. That’s more than PC’s or televisions. In developed countries pretty much everyone has one. Those that don’t have a phone have specifically chosen not to have one. Or they dropped it down the toilet and haven’t got round to getting a replacement yet.
The point is that with the mobile being such a ubiquitous yet personal technology, the impact that it can have is massive. And on the one hand, we are told by corporates and networks that we must have the latest smartphone, internet, face book app etc, most of us use our phones in spite of the networks, not because of them. SMS was never intended to be so important, yet in some countries such as the UK we send more texts than make voice calls. We are told that we will all have email on our phones, yet only 20% of people in the UK have that. And even with email, we still send SMS. Why?
These are the kinds of issues that this blog will look at. Please feel free to comment and participate as this is intended to be a place of genuine debate.