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Met, Guggenheim museums test beacon technology to enhance exhibitions

As beacons continue to gain traction in a variety of retail sectors, museums are the latest marketers to explore the technology?s potential, with efforts focused on assisting in analyzing traffic flow and supporting virtual tour guides for art fans.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York are some of the top museums testing beacon technology to provide seamless ways of improving visitors? experiences at exhibitions as well as enable them to better understand consumer flow and layout to guide the organization of future content. While beacons have typically been used in retail-related sectors so far, especially for the purpose of sending customized promotions to shoppers, the technology is a natural fit for museums and can also help act as a virtual tour guide for mobile device users.

?Beacon marketing is appropriate wherever digital content or services can enrich a physical world experience,? said Rob Murphy, vice president of marketing at Swirl, Boston, MA. ?Over the past year, venues as varied as museums, retail stores, airports, hotels, stadiums, and malls have been experimenting with the technology, and we will likely see many large-scale rollouts in these environments in 2015.?

Guiding exhibits
Museums are an ideal location for the employment of beacons, as the technology can fill several important roles, such as analyzing data of customer habits and traffic, offering additional digital content or acting as a tour guide for specific exhibitions for consumers on mobile.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is tapping the technology to deliver more information about its art pieces to customers? mobile devices, provided they have the museum?s ArtLens mobile app. The app communicates with the museum?s 230 access points for beacons to serve additional media such as video, still images and texts to place nearby works in context for visitors.

If consumers would like more information about a specific piece, they can also scan its ArtLens icon with the app to receive extra content.

The museum hopes that beacons can identify the most popular exhibits or areas, and eventually help guide exhibit layout.

?Most physical locations can benefit from a beacon driven messaging program, however museums are particularly well suited because they have a natural flow and rhythm to how their guests will navigate the physical experience,? said Bill Schneider, director of product marketing at Urban Airship, Portland, OR. ?Museums can use beacons to create a second screen experience that caters to the real enthusiast that craves more depth and detail.

?A common use case we see from events is the welcome and goodbye message,? Mr. Schneider said. ?Since people are typically on a schedule and want to have control over their experience, a welcome message can present them with all of activities that are available to help them prioritize their visit.

?In addition a goodbye message can do more than just say goodbye. We?ve had events use the goodbye message to provide incentives to come back,? he said.

?Maybe a museum could offer a discount on their next visit if they bring a friend. Or give them a lineup of future events so they can mark their calendars.?

Social options
As Facebook rolls out its Place Tips feature, an option that enables Bluetooth beacons to send users location-specific information, more museums may take a leaf out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art?s book and install the technology to access the wide reach of consumers using the Facebook app.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a Facebook Place Tips launch partner, alongside other areas of interest in New York, such as Dominique Ansel Bakery and the Strand Book Store.

If consumers wander into a launch partner?s area not specifically installed with beacons, GPS and cellular data will track user locations and also suggest potential activities or places of interest at the top of their news feeds.

The Guggenheim Museum announced in 2014 that it is testing beacons, albeit still in early stages.

?A good practice for any new technology is to start small and test,? Mr. Schneider said. ?Beacons are very conducive to testing.

?A good first step is place beacons in specific locations to get a sense for overall traffic patterns. Once you know traffic flow and where people are naturally pausing.

You can begin to test messaging campaigns and mobile experiences to see what kind of response rates you get,? he said. ?You can also survey customers about their experience to get real-time feedback and iterate quickly over time. Once you?ve found a formula that works you can scale up.?

Beacons are also the go-to technology for many other sectors, such as retail and food and beverage.

?For retail, we?re seeing retailer?s add value to their loyalty programs by welcoming loyalty members as they enter, give them access to their loyalty balance and ask if they would like any help finding something today,? Mr. Schneider said. ?Customers in many retail sectors are coming in pre-educated, so they want to get in and get out as easily as possible.

?Fast-serve restaurants are building on this theme with express ordering, where the guest can order remotely from the app. When they get close the restaurant, a geo-fence detects their presence signaling the cook to prepare their order,? he said.

?The guest is then given the order number when they enter through a beacon and they don?t have to wait in line?. They just pick up their order when it?s ready.?

While museums? beacon plans are still in testing or early phase stages, their data-tracking abilities and capability to serve additional pertinent information to art fans will surely result in a successful partnership. However, marketers must also ensure that their mobile apps have enough draw to drive downloads among consumers in the first place.

 ?In many cases, it feels like magic to the guest because all of these digital experiences are being curated for them as they engage with the brand,? Mr. Schneider said. ?But there is a lot of very sophisticated technology that is taking place in the background to make it happen.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York