How Facebook's Place Tips and Beacons Will Help Marketers

'Intention Data' and Improved Measurement Are Benefits for Brands

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Despite all the hype, most marketers and retailers have never actually used beacon technology. But with the launch of Place Tips and Facebook Bluetooth beacons, Facebook hopes to change that.

How will it work? Facebook is building Place Tips into its mobile app to help consumers learn about the places they visit, such as their favorite hardware store or that new pizza shop down the block. The feature leverages location-based technology, including Bluetooth and beacons, to determine where people are, and then prompts them to visit a Facebook page. Businesses can set up custom welcome notes and photos for in-store shoppers.

To drive adoption, Facebook is giving the beacons free to participating businesses. Why is Facebook offering to give away all that free hardware? And should your company take them up on the offer?

It's all about intention data

Facebook knows more about its audience than any other media company in history. Until now, Facebook has mostly collected insights on its users' tastes and preferences, and what they think about the products and services they've already used.

We think this "database of affinity" could one day be the Holy Grail for brand advertising -- but the simple fact is, affinity data isn't great at driving direct sales. When marketers want to sell more product, their best bet is to tap into the "database of intentions" collected by search engines. That's one reason marketers spend so much more on Google than on Facebook.

Putting beacons into stores will give Facebook data it's never before had on what people are shopping for. And you can bet they'll take this newly-minted intention data and offer it to their advertisers -- giving Facebook the ability to drive more sales for direct marketers.

Marketers will benefit from improved measurement

Sure, advertisers will get to target audiences using Facebook's new intention data, but they'll have to pay handsomely for the privilege. The more important benefit of Place Tips for marketers will be improved measurement.

Forrester predicts U.S. marketers will dedicate $9.7 billion to social media in 2015 -- and that this spend will nearly double by 2019. But for all the money advertisers dedicate to social media, they're still not sure it's working; our surveys tell us more marketers struggle with measurement than with any other social challenge.

To help marketers measure more effectively, Facebook works with Datalogix to track the offline sales generated by Facebook ads. But while this partnership yields fantastic data, it will never be able to satisfy advertiser demand for better measurement. Facebook says more than 2 million marketers buy ads on its site, but it's been able to run only a few hundred Datalogix studies in the past four years.

Beacons give Facebook an opportunity to offer better measurement to more marketers. Specifically, Facebook will now know whether people who saw an ad on its site actually turned up in the advertiser's store -- exactly the kind of data marketers are looking for. While Facebook isn't promising marketers this type of measurement yet, the company says it's committed to better marketing measurement and we believe it'll offer beacon-based measurement before long.

Facebook will have to work hard to make this initiative successful. It'll have to talk tens of thousands of businesses into installing Facebook Bluetooth beacons, and it'll have to convince tens of millions of users that Facebook Place Tips are worth their time. But if the social network is successful, both Facebook and its advertisers will have access to a goldmine of data.