IBeacon minority report

With iBeacon, your smartphone may become too smart

April 4, 2014

In my last blog post, “iBeacon: An increasingly powerful signal”, I introduced iBeacon and described how this technology could infiltrate many aspects of daily life. This new trend is very exciting and highly fascinating, but it’s also potentially disturbing.

Beyond how iBeacon can be used to make our lives easier, we must also ask ourselves a few questions. iBeacon’s ability to individually target consumers and gather contextual information will have a major impact on privacy. This is a huge issue, as one of the major questions currently being debated in the marketing world is data access and control.

iBeacon and a wealth of data

Understanding consumers with “beacon analytics”

In addition to being an excellent channel for marketing communications, iBeacon is also an incredible tool for collecting the type of data that reveals a lot about consumer needs and expectations. For example, the average amount of time spent in a department or percentage of visits leading to sales will soon become key performance indicators.

At the end of the 1990s (and certainly after the launch of the free Google Analytics tool in 2005), companies began to discover how powerful analytics can be for commerce and online marketing. Today, iBeacon is breaking down barriers in the physical world. It’s already a valuable sales angle being used in video presentations for companies like Estimote or Gimbal (Qualcomm’s iBeacon), who offer iBeacon solutions.

Democratized access to web analytics has largely influenced the digital user experience (UX) by identifying the best practices for creating websites that offer a better experience. In the mid term, we can easily imagine that beacon analytics will have a similar impact on in-store user experience strategies and enhanced experiences that will be deployed in the physical world.

From macro to micro, data packs previously unimagined targeting potential

Yes, it’s important to understand the agglomerated actions of all consumers, but it’s equally relevant to look at the data shared by individuals as it helps us better understand each unique consumer and communicate with him or her according to specific criteria. This includes age and gender, of course, but it also comprises buying history, visits and (why not!) health. All these scattered crumbs of information can be used to create more effective communication through more personalized messaging.

Naturally, loyalty programs (and attentives salespeople) help to personalize the experience, but it’s far from what iBeacon will be able to accomplish by applying online marketing methods to the real world. The next time you walk into a bookstore, think about the insightful recommendation algorithms used by Amazon. That should convince you of how effective this approach could be.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad beacon?

“Hello, M. Yakamoto”

Often used by anti-advertising movements, that famous scene from the movie, Minority Report shows us a future in which every advertising screen and every store recognizes us as we approach. Retinal scan advertising may still be fodder for science fiction fans, but with iBeacon, prepare yourself for an avalanche of notifications!

Unfortunately, the line between relevant content and spam is often a thin one. More to the point, the more targeted the advertising, the greater the chance of it being intrusive (even if several studies have shown that consumers prefer targeted advertising). In this case, marketers could very well shoot themselves in the foot if they abuse the system.

Respecting privacy

Finally, pop-up notifications may turn out to be a small inconvenience compared to the damage that could be caused on the privacy front. The main concern is not with the quantity of information being disseminated; rather, it’s the bridge being created between our digital selves and our physical selves.

The ease with which the digital can leverage data that’s shared (whether consciously or not) by users is undeniable. Cookies are at the heart of the online ecosystem and the Internet, as we know it today, could not work without them. iBeacon not only creates a system of cookies in the real world, it also aligns it with the existing online system.

Let’s just hope that consumers (and citizens) will be conscientious enough to reject the kind of simplistic thinking recently aired (with great gravity) by Eric Schmidt: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

But let’s end on a more optimistic note. Like with any innovation, the true impact will only be revealed in the long term. In order to prevent marketing from taking full rein and to stop iBeacon from becoming just another advertising channel, we must – as of right now – start imagining and promoting alternate uses for this innovation. We must also remember that this technology will undoubtedly open new possibilities in the fields of education, architecture, health and art.