What does the Physical Web mean for beacons and brands?

24th June 2016

Back in 2013, the launch of Apple’s iBeacon standard shook the world of proximity marketing, helping it take significant strides towards becoming a viable mainstream part of the consumer experience.

It did this by providing brands and advertisers with a platform for seamlessly sharing contextually-relevant content with consumers based on their physical location.

Prior to these developments in the use of bluetooth beacon technology, QR codes had been the main focus for brands and advertisers spearheading the ‘contextual revolution’ in mobile marketing. But the inconvenience of having to download, launch, and use a specific scanner app in order to access content largely held QR codes back from widespread use by consumers.

Near Field Communication (NFC) was the next evolution, removing the need for a scanning app. But the lack of compatible phones (particularly from Apple) and a failure to arrive at a standard for ‘tap here’ signs didn’t help adoption rates for this technology either.

Thankfully, beacon technologies have largely removed this barrier to engagement: a user with a bluetooth-enabled device just needs to be in a location where a beacon is active and a pre-programmed action will be automatically triggered, waking the relevant app at the right moment and sending relevant content straight to their screen.

The need for native and Google’s shift towards web apps

However, iBeacons haven’t entirely removed the barriers to seamless mobile proximity marketing, relying as they do on the consumer having downloaded the relevant native app to their device in each instance in order to receive notifications and content and enable an engagement ‘moment’.

While there will always be a place for brand, retailer, or venue-specific native apps, there is a limit to the number of new apps any user will download and regularly use, especially if the brand is one they only interact with infrequently.

It is clear that another solution is needed to expand the reach of proximity marketing campaigns to include consumers who don’t already have the right app downloaded or don’t want to download it at the time.

An alternative would also benefit brands who want to launch quick-to-market campaigns without necessarily having the time or resources to invest in native app development.

Last year, Google released a new beacon standard, Eddystone. Unlike iBeacon, Eddystone doesn’t broadcast only an identifier, but also a pre-programmed website URL.

This removes the need for consumers to have downloaded a companion native app, as the URL can simply present content via their device’s web browser.

Imagine a consumer on their local high street. Rather than having to have a specific app on their phone to take advantage of useful information and offers, they would just check their web browser for any services of relevance to their physical context and view content on a webpage.

Currently this capability is only available with the latest version of the Chrome mobile browser, but other web browsers are expected to be supported soon.

The Physical Web

Google created the Eddystone format as a key constituent of the ‘Physical Web’ (effectively the Internet of Things), where consumers can easily access information relevant to their physical location.

Often when using mobile search, consumers are seeking information about their immediate environment – when the next bus is leaving, for instance, or screen times at a nearby cinema.

The Physical Web will make that search easier and more relevant by helping consumers find what they want quickly and in the context of their actual location.

Previously, most searches had been done on desktop or laptop PCs at the office or at home, but the ubiquity of ‘smart’ mobile devices has changed this.

Consumers are using search on the go, often to find out about their surroundings, and search has become less useful because the information isn’t contextually relevant. The Physical Web is the natural next step for search as it evolves in line with changing consumer behaviour.

Better engagement for brands

Google’s move to put the browser front and centre will increase the reach of mobile proximity marketing campaigns delivering contextually-relevant adverts and content for brands and advertisers: all consumers need to get involved is a compatible web browser, and with nearly 47% of all handsets shipping with Chrome, a sizeable part of the market is already on board.

This increase in reach combined with the ability to target based on location and situation – such as during ‘dwell time’ (perhaps on a bus), when the consumer is likely to be the most responsive to relevant and timely content – will significantly boost ROI for campaigns.

This is exactly why we have worked closely with Google and Exterion Media to launch the world’s first Physical Web experience using Eddystone.

The MyStop service delivers real-time transport updates, as well as contextually-relevant advertising, to iPhone and Android users with the latest Chrome browser, across London buses initially.

Passengers can use the service to see real-time arrival times, receive updates on their route, and set reminder notifications, such as when they are approaching their stop.

And the next stop for brands and marketers when it comes to proximity marketing – and dare I say all marketing – is the Physical Web.

Jon Worley
CEO of Proximity Marketing Division