Formulating Content for the Physical Web

The Physical Web is a Google initiative making possible the linking of places, things and people with web content. It involves two pieces of hardware, a small device called a beacon and a variety of smart devices able to receive Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio emissions. Set a beacon to broadcast a URL (a web address) and enable the smart device to receive and understand the message being broadcast. My personal collection of Eddystone BLE beacons has reached around two dozen units from four manufacturers. I have set each to broadcast a unique URL and some I change occasionally with a specific demo prospect in mind. I have lately been thinking about BIAs as prospects for several reasons, including: • a membership heavy on sidewalk merchants and service providers, and • the potential to “rent” a beacon network to brands, events and retailers, to name a few likely advertisers. I thought to link a prospect BIA’s website to a beacon and include it in the demo. It displayed properly on my smartphone but something about that created an itch that needed scratching. As often happens to me, the answer presented itself in the middle of the night. In some number of cases the content developed to appear in a successful search is quite different from the content an owner would want to present through a discovery on the Physical Web. Proximity and Context bia_discovery600Take the BIA for example. A web search in Google or otherwise would likely come from a member, a prospective member or a local resident. The content presented would be useful to each, whether a membership directory, information on fees and services or upcoming events within the boundaries of the Improvement Area. But if I’m standing on the sidewalk, pull down my notification shade and see a link to the BIA site, what do I hope to see? Probably a menu that presents categories like “Food and Drink”, “Groceries”, “Shopping”, “Special Events”, “Theatres” and so on. I’d want to be able to select one and drill down to select Italian or Pub or Thai and I’d want a map or directions to each. I might want the link to open with a “You Are Here” spot, easy to do when the beacon I’ve discovered is in a fixed location. BIA management would, or should, see an opportunity here to sell membership based on inclusion in the discovery, and perhaps even banner ads or feature coverage, whether sold or offered on some rotation to interested members. I have used the word “discovery” more than once and perhaps an explanation is called for. Google’s approach to revealing Physical Web content intends it to be a passive experience, one the device user requests as opposed to having a phone vibrate or emit a tone. So you discover Physical Web content by swiping a screen to look for it. It is obvious in the image above that links discovered on the Physical Web appear very much like those in a search results page. When we use existing content the discovery includes the same text (metadata) a search presents. It’s not helpful to someone standing on the sidewalk. A further advantage to custom content for the Physical Web is the ability to write the metadata you would want the visitor to see. I know of a couple of third parties whose online dashboards provide a canvas for creating “cards” where words and increasingly images may be married to a link. This solution provides the opportunity to increase the likelihood of a visitor engaging with your content over some other beacon’s message. The “Now” Factor The only people who will see content on the Physical Web are those close enough to a beacon to receive its broadcast. So, by definition, most of the content presented should be relevant to here and now. That is of course why so much early content came in the form of a coupon or other offer to be used or taken up now. A useful feature of the Bluetooth beacon is the ability to set “working hours”. If a beacon is advertising a free cookie with a large coffee it shouldn’t be doing so when the coffee shop is closed. If an offer is good until four pm it should disappear at 4:01. The Physical Web has a unique advantage over every other form of marketing messaging I can think of in that the content available from any given beacon may be changed in seconds without touching the device. And with the right supplier, you don’t need a developer in the loop. Conclusion There is nothing inherently wrong with starting a beacon campaign with existing web content. Any positive message discoverable by nearby prospects beats silence. But the most effective messaging will result from giving thought to delivering the best possible experience. That isn’t always a deal. A new beacon user could do worse than to consider extending the reach of popular social media content to the beacon platform. Once a candidate for beacon messaging understands the opportunity, appropriate messages suggest themselves and the more time you spend in the space the more you see and can evaluate the merit of other user’s choices. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.
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