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Comment: One degree of separation


In recent years, the focus on creating 360° campaigns has increased massively, with brands realising the importance of bringing consumers through the loyalty loop and not simply spending all their money on brand -building. This has been seen with brands increasing budget spend in social media, mobile, shopper and elsewhere.

The last point of influence in a consumer’s decision- making is the hardest one for a brand to play a role in. As the consumer is walking to the aisle, looking at a shelf and picking up the product, brand communications are restricted by the environment. In the digital age, it is more difficult than ever to create and retain brand loyalty – and all of the brand-building you do before the consumer steps into the store can be for nothing should they then prefer the proposition of the brand positioned next to yours.

This presents a challenge for brands: How can we deliver more effective communications in-store and close the loop on our 360° comms campaigns?

In the past, this has been limited to on-shelf displays, gondola ends, POS and other forms of passive printed communication. In recent years we’ve seen this evolving to incorporate digital displays and interactivity, and while these can be effective, none of them are really able to actively disrupt the shopper from their journey – and they are broadcasted without any targeting or true understanding of their audience.

The rise of mobile presents opportunities to take things one step further. According to Kantar (December 2013), 69% of the UK population now owns a smartphone, and this is growing at a huge rate – with 85% of new devices sold now being smartphones. Since the vast majority of the population now carries these devices, this allows brands to communicate directly to their consumers and tailor push messaging to suit their audience.

There are now a range of technology platforms that enable in-store mobile messaging and present a greater ability to close the one degree of separation between brand and consumers that remains present in-store. Different solutions – including iBeacons, LED signalling, Wi-Fi triangulation, ultrasound and more – offer a range of options for brands to use hyper-localised messaging to deliver targeted messages in-store.

Each option comes with pros and cons. A few don’t even require an app, some have a more precise location function than others, some can do push messaging, and some can build intelligent data profiles around the consumer. They also have varying implementation requirements, with some necessitating large infrastructure changes from the retailer (such as Wi-Fi installation or ultrasound transmitters), while others use common infrastructure available in any retailer premises.

However, as it stands, there is no Holy Grail. No tech solution has yet managed to crack that last degree of separation and create a one-size-fits-all platform that is appropriate for every brand and every retailer.

Bluetooth beacons

iBeacons are the talk of the town right now. Recently incorporated into Apple’s iOS7, they are incredibly easy for a retailer to implement, and provide incredibly accurate positioning (precise to 4 inches). However, they only run on handsets that support Bluetooth LE (iPhone 4S and beyond, and newer and very modern Android phones) and they require an app to be pre-downloaded by the consumer before they can be used. So, their viability for mass use is still limited.

LED Lights

Companies such as ByteLight are looking at alternative wavelengths, using light to locate and message shoppers. Utilising existing light fittings, LED lights can be installed with a chip in them that modulates light pulses and sends data by flickering very fast – faster than the human eye can detect. The camera on a smartphone picks this up and establishes the location of the user. It’s less precise than Bluetooth (up to 3 feet) and still requires an app, but it will work on more handsets and it already supports Windows phones.


Some companies are also turning to sound and using existing in-store speaker systems to broadcast a sound that can be detected by shoppers’ phones, but which will avoid offending anyone’s natural hearing. Chirp is pioneering this in the UK, with Sonic Notify and Shopkick pushing in the US. Less precise again (up to 10 feet) – and still requiring an app – it scores by requiring no infrastructure change at all and can therefore be very easy to implement in a retail environment.

Wi-Fi Triangulation

Unlike all of the other approaches listed above, Wi-Fi triangulation comes with a unique proposal – it doesn’t need an app. By triangulating the user’s position between three or more wireless access points (which don’t necessarily have to have an external connection), you can position the user precise to 3 feet and send them tailored messages in their browser. Of course, the lack of app download also prevents push communication, so while it is one of the most compelling options currently available, it is still not quite the Holy Grail.

However, just because the Holy Grail has not yet been found does not mean brands cannot benefit from in-store messaging. While the method of delivery will surely evolve in the coming years, the practice of hyper-localised messaging in-store is here to stay – and forward- thinking brands will be looking to develop their behavioural understandings ahead of competitors. Existing technologies allow brands to begin understanding their consumers’ behaviours better than ever before and develop their experience in nudging consumers at the last point of influence.

The advice for brands is to A/B test various technologies in-store and get a better understanding of how best to close the loop on our campaigns. Discounts, promotions, time-sensitive deals, product information and content can all be delivered at the last point of influence. Bear in mind their relative effectiveness is currently a complete unknown across the entire industry, let alone for specific audiences. Through testing and learning on a small scale, however, brands will develop a far better understanding of how best to disrupt the shopping environment and bridge that one degree of separation currently eluding 360° communication campaigns.

Published on Thursday 06 March by Editorial Assistant

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