Beacons Promise More Data for Local Media

This post, authored by NetNewsCheck editor Michael Depp, originally appeared on

By Michael Depp
NetNewsCheckMarch 3, 2015 12:00 PM EST

NEW YORK — Before local media gets too frothed up over beacons as a mobile monetization panacea, Jared Dean would like them to consider some caveats.

Dean, the CTO of app builder StepLeader, says beacons are not a pathway to attribution, the holy grail of marketing. The likelihood of finding users via a palm-sized beacon, showing them a relevant ad and getting them into a store to make a purchase via a coupon or offer served through there smartphone is still remote. There are too many contingencies in the process to draw that straight line, he says.

“But the idea of being able to show efficacy in a campaign is very powerful,” Dean told attendees at Borrell Associates’ Local Online Advertising Conference on Tuesday.

StepLeader’s own early forays into beacon campaigns have shown a lot of promise. Dean cited one campaign for a travel board targeting frequent travelers seeing 477% lift, increasing the click through rate from 0.61% to 3.52%. A second campaign for an auto dealer targeting shoppers got 175% lift, increasingly CTR from 0.57% to 1.57%.

That’s part of the good news picture around beacons, along with their growing deployment across the U.S. The lowest current estimate has 30,000 currently in use in the country, though Dean’s own count is closer to 60,000, with Business Insider predicting 500,000 in use by year’s end and 4.5 million by 2018.

promiseBeacons are also currently being used by an array of brands, including Groupon, Facebook, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, McDonald’s and Safeway.

The downside is that there are several opt-in hoops to jump through before a beacon can actually do its work. The user must have the relevant app and have Bluetooth and location sharing turned on. The numbers of those doing so are increasing, Dean says, and users are more apt to share their location with a local content app.

Given those opt-ins, there are several uses to which beacons can be put including in-store marketing. But Dean cautions this is one area where local media can make a serious misstep by sending off ads via push notifications through their news app just because a user has triggered a beacon.

“That is a terrible idea,” Dean says. “Don’t do that.”

Sending out-of-context advertising like that is a surefire way to irritate users and get them to delete a news app, he says. Rather, local media ought to think of beacons as an opportunity to send location-aware content, such as relevant sports stories to a user attending an NFL game.

Users are likelier to appreciate that kind of content, along with relevant advertising that recognizes contextual circumstances — like sending a coupon for a coffee at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts on a cold day, for instance.

Using beacons in this way can also help local media build up a profile of these users, Dean says, and enable them to be “personified” as certain types of users such as sports fans or frequent event-goers.

That allows for a better understanding of local media’s own mobile audience, Dean says, “and that gives you higher CPMs for your mobile ads.”

And with a technology whose future is still hazy and usage imprecise, that’s also the best case so far for local media to become early beacon adopters.

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