Exploring how beacons can increase parent brands’ cross-channel success

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I enjoy advising how businesses can meet their strategic goals with innovative technology: whether it be a website, app, campaign, or combined approach. Lately, I’ve been exploring how beacons can offer context-based content, boosting engagement. Here, I’ll explore the opportunity for parent brands, so they can take a step closer to true cross-channel integration. 

Article by , Posted 15 months ago

As the latest buzzword, beacons are becoming a popular experiment for brands across diverse industries, from retail and food to sport. Essentially, they are low-cost, small devices that emit Bluetooth signals, communicating with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Nearby smartphones and tablets can pick up the beacon’s signal and display the information transmitted, usually via a dedicated app. The beacon’s owner has full control over what that information is. The beauty of this technology is their small size, so they can be placed just about anywhere, offering a vast array of localised uses.

With beacons still very much in their infancy, marketers are trying to discover and latch onto a big idea that is relevant to their business, while fitting the technology’s context. Most use them to target customer engagement, connecting their in-store and digital presence: alerting customers to new (or relevant) products, and offering discounts. 

Here’s a quick, simple example of how we use a beacon at Cyber-Duck. We received this from The Physical Web, an exciting project backed by Google.

But, companies can (and must) go further. Knorr recently achieved success through a marketing campaign with their soup, over in Sweden. They took a less traditional approach to beacons; instead of simply sending offers while a customer was at their makeshift food truck, they sent out offers after the customer had visited. The beacons were simply there to detect the user; the rest was handled by their data management platform and the app using the beacon.

Beacons offer context-based content, boosting engagement with brands. Marketers are searching for the ‘big idea’ to integrate this technology with their business.

Where beacons go dim

Despite this advance in personalised customer engagement, beacons do have some severe limitations. Their requirement for a user to have an app dedicated to the brand installed is a key issue. For example, if Topshop (from the Arcadia group, which I’ll expand on later) wanted to make use of beacons, the customer would need to have their specific app installed on their device.

Ultimately, this means beacons are completely invisible, undetected and unused by the end user – unless they have an app capable of receiving and displaying the information. While people are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, allowing this level of localised access to their device is still a concern for many.

Note this isn’t always the case. With The Physical Web (TPW), people only need this one app installed, and can make use of TPW-enabled beacons, no matter what business owns them. But, the awareness of TPW is still limited, and many consumers would be more likely to download branded apps related to their interests.

Therefore, the audience a beacon reaches will likely be a very small portion of the overall market. At the very least, it must also be an opt-in service: the user has to download the app first, and give their permission to be tracked.

There’s a second, significant disadvantage for the user. Relying on plenty of singular apps for their favourite companies can become a bit of a mess to manage, on individual devices. Again, projects like TPW and Regent Street’s app aim to alleviate this, by providing a single base for users to reference when in range of a beacon.

From a business perspective, this is often a missed opportunity. After all, it’s expensive for large companies (which own a group of brands) to set up multiple beacons (and apps) that all achieve the same result, but are not able to band together as a whole. Management (and implementation) at the brand level, instead of the parent group, can be tricky to organise and maintain for both the business and the end user.

Organising the clutter

As mentioned, TPW and Regent Street do a great job of helping users and brands avoid app clutter, and maximise their beacons’ exposure. However, is there an alternative way that brings true big data power into the hands of those brands?

The best way to illustrate this is with the Topshop / Arcadia Group example, mentioned previously. Arcadia has more than 10 popular lifestyle and fashion brands, which can be found in shopping centres and high streets across the UK. Most of these brands have their own mobile apps – which creates a lot of clutter for the user’s home screen. But, there’s a bigger issue. These apps do not ‘talk to each other’, so cannot provide a ‘one stop shop’ for customers potentially interested in multiple brands from the Arcadia group.

Not just reducing the clutter, a single app would provide greater scope for cross-platform and cross-brand promotion, via a centralised information system. In other words, this would be an cross-channel sales strategy, at its very core.

Of course, cross-channel is already being used here – inspiring the singular apps – but it’s siloed. What if these big brands could unify their singular presence, to offer a streamlined shopping experience, driven by beacons?

The impact on customers and business 

First, we should note that not everyone would be aware of the parent group, which manages the individual brands. In some cases, the group owner won’t want to impose their brand on the sub-brand; in others, the coin is flipped. Here, the cross-channel, grouped strategy I suggest is based on identifying the need to link the brands together (at the group level), and the use case (and awareness) of the end customer.   

Under a unified approach, customers will receive a much greater selection of personalised product recommendations. Localised offers would be related to products from their purchase history, or similar (and complementary) ones across the group. There’s a lot that can be done in this space – for instance, sending information about mannequins’ outfits, to help customers visualise how to put products together. 

For businesses, the benefits can be wide reaching. These include improving information consistency at the top level, to increasing customer retention with a group ‘bubble’: a single ecosystem dedicated to delivering the customer’s needs, within a niche.

Going back to the opening comments of this article, a unified approach helps group companies utilise beacons across all brands more effectively. It avoids the associated set up and maintenance costs of multiple apps and multiple beacon deployments. They can all talk to each other, and thereby help the company gain knowledge of a customer much faster (and far more accurately) than the current siloed solution.

A few telling stats demonstrate the value of this solution. 72% of shoppers consider personalisation as a cool capability, while shopping. A further 63% of customers would be interested in receiving a personalised map of shopping items, based on recommendations tailored to them. Almost half will appreciate personalised, location-based in-store deals. All this (and more!) can be delivered through a mixture of beacons and apps. But, a group owner-led implementation amplifies the powerful benefits, across sub-brands. 


In a bid to boost brand loyalty and customer spend, retail chains (like large supermarkets and high-end retailers) are increasingly adopting higher levels of technology into their stores.

The same should go for brand owners – but it must apply across all their brands. This will increase loyalty and spend across the group, while leaving it to the individual brands themselves to manage products and sales. It even clearly demonstrates how they can use beacons across every brand, streamlining and sharing business information.

Ultimately, it would simplify the customer experience – giving them a company, products and services worth engaging with. If you need assistance with formulating a digital strategy like this, please get in touch.

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