How Google Is Upending Proximity Marketing

By Ryan Gould Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services, Elevation Marketing    

One of the most exciting advents in digital marketing has been the rise of proximity marketing. Also popularly known as “beacons,” this technology allows business owners to market directly to their audience.

Example: a potential customer walks past a storefront, and a beacon signal pings his or her phone. Next thing the phone’s owner is looking at an on-screen prompt to download that brand’s mobile app and enjoy significant savings.

Beacons are a seismic shift in the landscape, and by 2016 Apple seemed to have the market cornered. But it was that same year Google announced Chrome support on Android for their  Eddystone Beacons format and threw the entire ecosystem in flux. Now Google’s Nearby Notifications feature also threatens to disrupt the market. Here are five ways in which it is achieving that goal, and what it means for your business.

Google frees up apps

Beacons have a great ability to offer contextually relevant ad messages for individuals. The main hurdle is that in order to deliver these messages you have to go through an app. And many folks still don’t have these apps installed on their mobile devices. That means beacon deployment still only reaches a limited audience.

Google is attempting to nullify this problem with their Nearby Notifications feature. What it does is allow developers to link any website or mobile app to a beacon. This offers countless opportunities for business owners to promote their sites and apps.

For example, let’s say you’re an airline or retailer with a location in an airport terminal. By placing a beacon in a public space like an airport, every time a mobile user walks by, their phone will ping with a Nearby Notification featuring a contextualized message advertising a loyalty program, duty-free promotion, or other brand messaging.

The result is no more searching the Google App Store for specific beacon-compatible apps. In all, this feature allows brands to offer three different messaging experiences to the prospect. These are:

  • advertise a website URL
  • trigger an app intent
  • trigger an app install

So, with this feature a brand can not only send the message mentioned above directing the prospect to their website, but they can also trigger apps. To look for these beacons before, the triggered app had to get Bluetooth Admin Permissions. Google changed the rules with Nearby Notifications, so now all installed apps circumvent this and seek out any beacon in the area, so long as Location Permissions are enabled. Plus, they’ve made this feature backward compatible with previous Android versions.

Nearby Notifications awaken dormant apps

There are other hurdles Google has addressed in their quest to free up apps to receive beacons. Up until now, it has been the norm that for a specific app on a mobile device to receive a beacon, it had to be open and running in the background or foreground. That was the only way an app could search for a beacon transmission broadcast.

But really, how many mobile users are happy to keep apps open all the time, draining valuable battery life in the process?

Google remedied this by allowing any app with the Nearby Notifications feature to enable the user’s mobile device to scan for beacons—even if that app has been killed. It does this via Android’s pending intent feature. The result is efficient background scanning that doesn’t drain a mobile’s battery life.

One-click app installation

Every business owner with an eye toward brand marketing wants to drive up their app downloads. But there’s a big difference between having a “download our app!” call to action on a website, and delivering said app straight to the target. After all, no one wants to go hunting around the app store for something they may or may not even like.

So not only can Nearby Notifications trigger an app to open, but it can also send a push notification triggering an app install with a single click. And if the notification was promoting a specific, contextually relevant feature, it will also launch that feature directly on the app.

Making “useful” mandatory

With the ease in which nearby notifications can now trigger apps, you’d think many brands would be abusing the feature. But Google has put restrictions in place that prevent brands from tapping into mobile users’ apps to offer anything and everything under the sun. Each beacon deployment must direct the user to the use-case feature in the beacon notification.

In other words, it has to be location-specific content. That means no promoting your jet-ski dealership to customers eating in a Chinese restaurant.

An example of how Nearby Notifications makes this easy and efficient for the user is in the retail space. Say you’re waiting in line to buy gym clothes. The beacon deployed at that location could only trigger apps or link to an app download if it were relevant to that space at that time. Maybe the app the store is promoting allows the customer to scan product barcodes to find prices. In this manner, they’ve received a useful beacon that doesn’t frustrate them.

And that’s mandatory now.

Google scales up

Finally, Google is going all in on beacons by making their deployment networks more accessible. Not only will it be easier for your business to “lease” a beacon deployment location, but you can monetize it by connecting it to even more apps. The math is simple: with more brands leasing more locations and connecting more apps, it will be easier for mobile users to receive these beacons.

Google imagines a (very) near future in which consumers are receiving location-specific, relevant push notifications that facilitate the customer experience while easing pain points on the purchase cycle. Apple certainly didn’t think this big with their strategy. But even without the tech giant from Cupertino investing in beacons, the market is wide open. After all, over 81% of new smartphones run Android, and this operating system still leads the global market where it concerns overall users.


Ryan Gould

Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services

Elevation Marketing    

An expert search, social and content marketer, Ryan leads Elevation Marketing’s digital strategy department, helping brands achieve their business goals, such as improving sales and market share, by developing integrated marketing strategies distinguished by research, storytelling, engagement and conversion. With a proven track record of energizing brands, engaging audiences and managing multidisciplinary marketing teams, Ryan is a respected expert in achieving consistent results through creative design, thought-provoking narratives and innovative problem solving.


Twitter: @ryanscottgould

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