Customer engagement has come a long way in a pretty short amount of time. How did businesses 10 years ago engage with their customer base? Probably with an email newsletter, or maybe an actual newsletter or flyer sent through the post. They might have placed an advert or a coupon in the local newspaper. Possibly the more advanced business owners were texting offers and announcements to their database of customer phone numbers.
Suffice it to say, this landscape has changed drastically in the last decade, and new channels for communication between business owners and their customers are popping up left and right. Email newsletters are still very much in use today, only now it’s with beautifully designed templates and dynamic content paired with incredibly sophisticated automation and audience targeting options. We’ve seen the meteoric rise of social media as a B2C portal, with Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare leading the way. And now we’re living in the age of apps; although primarily entertainment-focused at first, we’re starting to see apps of all sorts across all sectors, especially businesses looking to engage with customers and grab their attention in a new way.
According to the Huffington Post, over 60% of businesses have already created or are creating a business app for their customers. And it’s no surprise why – apps are powerful. They can do more than a website (for example, an app can “collect” stamps on a loyalty scheme) and they occupy a valuable, branded piece of real estate right on customers’ homescreens. Apps can also utilize powerful push notifications. Mobile marketing solutions firm Urban Airship reports that push notifications can increase daily app opens by a massive 540% and offer a response time that is 3x times faster than standard email. What’s more, push notifications combined with advanced GPS technology mean business owners can now target their customers at the perfect time and place – this is called geo-targeted messaging, or geofencing, and it’s one major way that business owners are marketing to their customer base in the age of apps.
So what is a geofence exactly? It’s a virtual perimeter around a certain point, such as around a shop or restaurant. GPS-enabled apps and smartphones (the majority) can assess when an app user enters a geofenced area and then trigger a custom message be displayed. (The technology is so advanced on iPhones that the user doesn’t have to have the app open or even running in the background for these triggers to work, though this is not yet the case with Android.)
The parameters for geofencing are flexible, from a 500 metre radius around a certain point down to only 50 metres. The opportunities, however, are endless, and will only continue to grow and advance over time. Here are just a few examples of how geo-targeted push notifications could be used as both a marketing tool and a solution to common problems faced by businesses:
- A restaurant owner is looking to generate more business during the week. He creates a geofence of 100 metres around the local train station, urging hungry commuters on their way home to pop in to the restaurant – half price wine on weekdays!
- A coffee shop owner is down on sales after a few competitors set up shop down the road. So, she creates a geofence around her competitors’ shops to trigger a message about her app’s awesome loyalty scheme, luring customers away from the competition.
- A pool cleaner (who doesn’t have a fixed location) is cleaning a pool in the next town over tomorrow. He wants to secure more business in the same area on the same day, so he creates a geofence nearby the pool he is scheduled to clean, triggering a message that lets app users in the right area know he’s available!
Experimentation is still vital in the early stages of geofence technology, and a number of recent examples prove how clever and useful in can be in reality. Popular US floral retailer 1-800-Flowers created a geofence around jewellery shops that were close in proximity to one of their own stores. The idea behind this tactic was that those in desperate need of jewellery may also be in desperate need of flowers, and a well-timed discount voucher just might seal the deal. Meanwhile US drug store chain Walgreens employs geofencing in its app to remind users in close proximity to a store location to pick up or refill their prescription. Very smart and handy indeed.
Tons of power players in the mobile sphere already employ geo-targeted messaging in their apps, as it offers a smart, flexible way of reaching out to customers. Big businesses are also currently experimenting with beacons, which are small, low-powered, wireless devices that constantly emit radio signals to recognize nearby devices and trigger location-based actions. These tiny devices can be placed at various points around a shop, essentially creating a series of tiny geofences within the shop itself. They’re rapidly growing in popularity; Apple launched their own version, iBeacons, in December of last year and installed them in all 254 of their retail stores.
Beacons are here to help bridge the gap between a customer’s offline and online experience. They are even more powerful than just GPS technology alone and with a recommended range of 10 metres can provide a ‘microtargeted’ experience for the end user. Retailers with large stores can use finely tuned beacons to provide customers a richer, more targeted shopping by pushing smarter offers to customers based on previous behaviour and specific interests. Simultaneously the retailer can gather a wealth of data on the in-store experience by tracking customers’ movements around a store and gaining better insights on how they shop. According to Business Insider, 50 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. will be testing beacons this year, and they are expected to be installed at one-third of their store locations by the end of 2015. Approximately 570 million Android and Apple devices worldwide support beacons, according to the same report.
But it’s not only for big retailers – small businesses can get in on the location game, too, and without nearly the cost and effort one might expect. Self-service mobile app builders like Appsme offer an easy, cost-effective way for business owners to create a mobile app for their customers with geo-targeting capabilities. Business owners can engage with powerful, location-based push notifications, all the while showing off their digital ingenuity and offering a helpful resource to customers.
With this ever-growing technology now available to the masses, there’s no telling what the future holds. Reports say that retail giant Amazon even has plans to use geofencing to guide the flight of drones that they hope will soon deliver Amazon goods around the world. If that doesn’t prove that location-based technology is limitless, nothing will.