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Mobile real-world engagements still lacking despite beacons

While beacons promise a significant improvement over first attempts at real-world brand engagements via mobile, there is still a long way to go in enabling seamless interactions.

Enabling real-world engagements with brands is one of mobile?s big promises for marketers but first attempts via tactics such as QR codes lacked clear calls to action or contextual relevancy. More recently, Bluetooth-enabled beacons and image recognition hold out the promise of better user experiences but challenges still remain.

?Mobile was born in the real world where people and brands exist together,? said Michael Nicholas, chief experience officer of Assembly, New York. ?That said, since the beginning, ?mobile technology? has often lagged behind the desire to create the seamless consumer interactions that power meaningful brand experiences on the scale that brands want.

?From the challenges of mobile adtech retargeting, to sensor access through the browser from a device standpoint, even today with the latest and greatest smart mobile devices, there are challenges brands and consumers need to overcome,? he said.

Beacons take off
Many of the early examples of leveraging mobile to enable real-world engagements lacked any real value for consumers.

For example, a QR code that directs the phone?s browser to a company?s Web site or a TV spot does not have a true benefit for the consumer.

However, these experiences helped brands better understand how users were actually leveraging the space so they could refine their approaches.

This year has seen beacons begin to take of, which can identify specific users and push out alerts to them that are contextually relevant.

For example, someone standing in the baby care aisle in a grocery store could receive an alert with a coupon for diapers.

?While this may not seem like a huge deal, the ability to use indoor geo-location within 20 yards of an iBeacon transmitter does unlock new contextual opportunities to provide relevant in-store experience,? Mr. Nicholas said. ?If these experiences can be compelling, rather than disruptive, the data it generates will be very valuable to retailers.?

Advertising as a service
There are signs that marketers are beginning to better understand how to craft meaningful real world engagements driven by mobile.

For example, Scrabble set up Wi-Fi spots in Paris that consumers could access only by playing the game on their phone and unlocking a password.

In another example, Oscar Mayer is offering an app as well as a device customers attach to their smartphone that will wake them in the morning to the smell of freshly cooked bacon.

?Savvy brands are pivoting away from the disruptive use of the mobile space and beginning to use advertising as a service, which is very exciting,? said James Sanders, director of digital strategy at Lowe Campbell Ewald, Detroit, MI.

?Brands have started to refine their strategic use of the medium and its technology to better enhance the users experience journey,? he said. ?They do so by offering, and in some cases trying to anticipate, personalized, situation specific content that will delight the user along their path.

?Done right, this could be the Holy Grail. Done wrong, it could go the way of QR codes, with consumers trying once or twice, but not fully adopting.?

While some recent examples of mobile real-world engagements show definite improvement, there is still room for improvement.

?Today?s mobile-to-physical world engagements while slicker than previous attempts still need to focus on getting the simple things right such as campaign execution, removing usage friction and above all delivering value when it matters most,? said Brett Leary, vice president and group director of mobile at DigitasLBi Boston.

?It?s this last point that is really key and to get there we as an industry still need to better understand the needs, actions and surrounding context of consumers as they relate to the customer journey,? he said.

?The good news is we are getting better at uncovering these insights as a number of digital and real world ecosystem players are focusing their efforts at mining them.

Reaching scale
One of the biggest challenges for harnessing mobile to enable real-world engagements is reaching the kind of scale that is meaningful for marketers.

For example, driving awareness of a mobile app so that enough people download it and experience it is still significant, per Assembly?s Mr. Nicholas.

Additionally, technologies such as computer vision and near field communications, which hold out significant promise for enabling real-world engagements, are hampered by a lack of standards and frameworks at the OS level.

?There are few examples of scalable marketing behavior in mobile (more than 20 million) even though seemingly everyone has a mobile device on them everywhere they go,? Mr. Nicholas said.

?Until we have the ?what you see is what you get? power of computer vision natively on the device without an additional app, its potential will not be realized,? he said. ?NFC is suffering the same fate, this technology could easily close the loop in so many ways for brands and people, but it?s seemingly caught in an endless fight about financial transactions.?

The best real-world mobile programs have a strategic reason to support their own platforms, per Matthew Witt, executive vice president and director of digital integration at Tris3ct. For example, Starbucks, creates true utility for consumers by providing an all-in-one payment, loyalty and promotional platform.

However, without standardization and scale, even beacons, which are highly touted at the moment, will face challenges.

?IBeacons show a lot of promise but still require a native application for the user to engage with the experience,? Mr. Witt said. ?Engagements still seem mechanical with necessary hoops for the consumer to jump through; the perceived value of a user taking action must be high.?

?There still exists a lack of native standardizations and gaps within the user experience,? he said. ?Parity of basic smartphone features has taken hold, and some technologies such as Bluetooth LE are beginning to gain traction across multiple platforms, but we still seem far from having native support for experiences such as augmented reality, image recognition or bar code scanning.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York