Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Bluetooth is going through a rebirth. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is the new old tech that has marketers frothing at the mouths. It has the potential to shake up the OOH market in a big way. But what is it? And why should we be so excited?What is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)?

One of the biggest criticisms of Bluetooth was its huge power drain on a smart device. Many users were encouraged to shut it off to preserve their battery. BLE is different in that it hardly uses any power at all (around 10% the power of the standard Bluetooth), so the hope is that consumers will be connected to Bluetooth 24/7.

How does it work?

Small beacon devices (like a miniature aerial) will communicate with those users with BLE switched on. If the user has the advertisers app installed, the beacon will talk to the app, pinpoint the consumer to within a few feet of the beacon itself and can display relevant and unique messaging from the app (it can be rich graphic rather than just a simple SMS). Beacons are cheap and quick to install, so expect thousands of them to be popping up over the coming months on posters sites, retail environments, airports etc. 

Is this what an iBeacon is?

Yes. Apple have simply branded BLE as iBeacons, however, it is the same tech. We expect the iBeacon label will become the preferred phrasing for the general consumer. However, both iOS and Android will have access to this tech.

Is BLE installed on my phone?

The most recent phones are already BLE enabled, with some requiring a simple update (many operators have already rolled these out).

So what is the opportunity for marketers?

Imagine the latest betting odds delivered to your phone as you walk past a Sky Bet poster near a football stadium. The Sky Bet app launches as the consumer walks past the beacon. It then shows the latest match odds that are relevant to the stadium you are near to and offers an incentive to place a bet there and then. This is where things become particularly exciting as we can then track and attribute a direct ROI.

All sounds great, but what are the challenges?

Firstly is infrastructure. The beacons will need to be rolled out in a big way but we are sure this will happen in the next 12-18 months.  

Secondly is that the user needs to have the app installed to receive messages and content. Therefore, we expect this to be used for the more common apps initially. However, as consumers become more comfortable with the tech, they are more likely to download and try apps to receive content.

The biggest barrier of all is education. Habits are hard to break down, so there needs to be a big push in regards to encouraging users to keep their Bluetooth on. There will no doubt be security fears involved with this too so there is a lot of work to be done here. Phone makers and operators will be key in this education.

Rapport Opinion

10 years ago, the market was debating the future of Digital Out-of-Home. Could it revolutionise the way we plan and buy? Would it allow for further engagement? Was it even in the remit of an OOH buy (some arguing it could have been bought by the TV folk). Yet here we are in 2014, with Digital Out-of-Home representing 23% of all Outdoor media spend.

Who is to say beacon technology cannot have the same fate?

The fact this can provide a deliverable ROI, where OOH is the start of the interaction (and indeed the platform for the actual beacon to be installed) is of huge importance. What is key is that OOH quickly understands Mobile. We must as an industry embrace it, collaborate with key players and ensure this is a 50-50 process where we can help each other. The moment we become protective is the moment we lose momentum. 

Of course there are big hurdles, It needs a strong infrastructure and for consumers to be educated. And yes, the user needs the app for it to work. However, the ingredients are there for this to become huge for both OOH and Mobile. It may work in a different guise in 10 years’ time, but in essence beacon technology could be where the journey begins for real time, personal activations between OOH and Mobile. 

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