Sonic Notify and Apple's iBeacons are the Future of Mobile Marketing

By The Myers Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Sonic Notify and Apple's iBeacons are the Future of Mobile Marketing

Location-sensitive transmitters -- called "beacons" -- can send targeted advertising messages to smartphones and mobile devices based on their precise indoor location (for example, in the cereal aisle of a super market or the jeans department of a clothing store). Beacons are a reality and represent the future of shopper marketing, but they may also cause a big headache (see more about this below). Beacons are just one more technological advance in mobile and out-of-home communications that marketers, retailers, agencies and media sellers need to understand and build into their business models.

Read MyersBizNet's Full New Media Tech Coverage here.
Part 1: Internet of Things Overview and Description
Part 2: Glyph Goes Beyond Google Glass
Part 3: Wanelo – A Retail Social Hub
Part 4: Wearable Tech to Watch - Neptune Pine
Also read MyersBizNet's coverage on Mobile Advertising and Mobile Media Congress

New Media Tech Part 5: P&G, Apple, Sonic Notify and Google's Project Tango Battle It Out for Control of Retail Shelves

The New York Times calls beacons "a months-old technology that could change how brands of all sorts market to their customers."

Beacons are the connective technology between you and the Internet of Things (IoT) , which we described in an earlier report. Cisco estimates that the IoT will bloom to involve "50 billion connected things in the world, with trillions of connections among them." By various measures, the IoT is currently generating more than $1 trillion in revenues and this hyper-connected future could represent a $14 trillion annual business within ten years. The leading beacon is Apple's iBeacon, an indoor geo-location application that allows stores to track user preferences and provide users with customized directions and shopping guidance. While Apple has downplayed the importance of the iBeacon, it's currently available in an estimated 200 million iOS devices globally.

Beacons are implemented using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which triggers precise micro-location events in iOS7 apps. A BLE enabled iPhone will be able to receive exact location signals from an iBeacon, enabling a retailer to connect to you not only at its front doors, but down the aisles, and straight to the shelf with the exact targeted item. Combine iBeacon with BLE and new data gathering software,beaconand suddenly your personal retail experience is a marketer's promotional and data-collection dream.

Marketers, especially those who focus on retail and shopper marketing, have realized that mobile is a critically important medium for their trade and consumer marketing. Today's mobile advertising is generally triggered by the user's browsing history or the context of a web page. But the business has focused too heavily on traditional advertising message exposure and too little on promotional and experiential communications. Marketers have not been able to take advantage of the truly unique shopper marketing opportunities that mobile advertising offers. The cost per click (CPC) mobile advertising business represents just a fraction of the investment that marketers will make in personally targeted beacon advertising at the point-of-sale. With iBeacon and sBeacon technologies, marketers will refocus their mobile programs to promotional and experiential communications, opening the medium for exponential growth.

Sonic Notify is Creating New Possibilities in Mobile Advertising

Like iBeacon, Sonic Notify's sBeacon technology is offering marketers new mobile communicationsopportunities. sBeacons combine both high-frequency audio waves and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to send signals from beacons to nearby mobile devices. High-frequency audio waves, which are inaudible to the human ear, have been around for several years and are old news in the technology world. By pairing them up with BLE, though, Sonic Notify is keeping their beacons on the cutting edge. BLE, which is branded as Bluetooth SMART, is the next generation in Bluetooth. Through sBeacon, marketers can send messages, coupons, product data, competitive intelligence and pricing to brick-and-mortar shoppers. At check out, consumers with connected apps installed in their smartphones can be sent coupons to be embedded in the mobile devices for future use, recipes using the products they've purchased, promotions for that night's TV shows with links for second screen apps, and incentives to visit other nearby stores and restaurants.

Beacon Implementation

· A retail location store can be outfitted with Beacons for about $150, whereas installing a comparable in-store WiFi system costs up to $10,000.

· While ShopKick also enables marketers to send in-store messages to consumers, Sonic Notify provides a comprehensive marketing solution that includes both in-store and out-of-store experiences.

· Unlike Shazam, which has some similar capabilities to Sonic Notify and iBeacon, the "always on" beacons do not require users to open up an app once the app is installed.

Can Sonic Notify Take on Apple?

The obvious difference between Sonic Notify and Apple is that Sonic Notify is not Apple, and Sonic Notify is not bound exclusively to iOS devices; their beacons can reach people who use Android and other mobile devices. There is no reason that the iBeacon BLE signals could not be received by Android phones, except for the intentional restrictions imposed by Apple. Both companies employ BLE technology in their beacons, but Sonic Notify's use of high-frequency sound waves gives Sonic Notify an edge over Apple in the rush to place beacons. Business Wire reported in December that " Rouse Properties, Inc. , a national owner and operator of premium regional enclosed malls, has entered into a partnership agreement with Sonic Notify to install beacons in all 34 of its mall locations across the country. “This partnership with Sonic Notify reflects our continuous efforts to modernize and enhance the shopping experience across our entire portfolio by leveraging the latest cutting-edge technology”

Rouse's installation of Sonic's beacon technology in its malls will allow retailers and advertising partners to instantly send personalized greetings, product recommendations and in-store discounts and coupon offers to consumers in precise locations in the mall."

The Sonic Notify API is at the application level and not within the Operating System – that means it is not really a notification, but instead is a short range invisible messaging application to a Software Developer Kit (SDK) that a developer elects to embed in their app.

Apple has just released Made for iPhone (MFI) specs for iBeacon developers. This may start a tidal wave of in-retail programs and momentum for the iBeacon standards. Today, retailers and marketers who already have a plan to get their apps loaded into consumers phones, and want both Android and iPhone, Sonic Notify is a working and useful technology. But if the iBeacon specs contain a restriction on app developers limiting the inclusion of competitive short range IE audio or generic BLE, it will force app developers to make a choice between Apple and Sonic Notify. The lack of a single standard that enables apps for both Apple and Android will slow investments. I expect Google itself will be heard in this competitive battle if Apple does, in fact, impose closed standards on iBeacon app developers. The access to beacon data is too important to the company. Through the combination of sound and BLE, Sonic Notify is able to not only offer a comprehensive mobile marketing package, but they also provide unparalleled analytics, tracking consumers from their initial ad exposure through to the conversion.

Sonic Notify's History and Connection with P&G and Google

Sonic Notify co-founder (with Alex Bell) Jonathan Glanz, founded FlyBy Media earlier this year and is involved with Google's Project Tango. On Glanz' LinkedIn page he explains, "At FlyBy Media I am leading a group that's focused on creating a ZERO hardware indoor localization technology with cm level accuracy based on CV technology created over the past several years. Now that it's public, our technology is at the core of project tango for Google: http://www.google.com/atap/projecttango/ . At the Project Tango site, the company's mission is described. "What if you could capture the dimensions of your home simply by walking around with your phone before you went furniture shopping? What if directions to a new location didn't stop at the street address? What if you never again found yourself lost in a new building? What if the visually-impaired could navigate unassisted in unfamiliar indoor places? What if you could search for a product and see where the exact shelf is located in a super-store? Imagine playing hide-and-seek in your house with your favorite game character, or transforming the hallways into a tree-lined path. Imagine competing against a friend for control over territories in your home with your own miniature army, or hiding secret virtual treasures in physical places around the world?"

Glanz was also a founder of the SitOrSquat app, which was acquired by Procter & Gamble. Sonic Notify CEO is Aaron Mittman, the former VP global sales for Medialets. Glanz is not mentioned at the Sonic Notify site but he explains the arch of Sonic Notify's development as follows: " In mid-2011 during a meeting with Procter & Gamble at my prior venture, my colleagues at P&G made a request – "How can we differentiate in the aisle"? Back in my lab (I ran a digital agency in NYC) we had been developing an imperceptible audio signal for tracking buses (with a colleague and friend that I share the patents with, Alex Bell) and at that moment I had a small epiphany that the same signal could be broadcast via battery powered emitters on store shelves. Alex and I immediately prototyped what later became sBeacons and via our relationship with Apple we later combined the tech with iBeacons to create uBeacons. Bottom line is that sonic uBeacons work with iOS and Android devices and can wake a device from a dead sleep completely in the background creating amazing marketing opportunities in the retail space. The company's arch was quite straightforward; I invested 400+k as a seed in mid-2011, we developed a prototype and had quite a bit of initial success. At SXSW in 2012 we raised an additional 4.25mm from Raptor Ventures, A-Grade, Eniac, DEV and several others, which propelled us into a growth phase. The team quickly grew to 20ish employees and the product was brought to the market in January of 2013. Sonic now leads the way in the Beacon market, far ahead of Qualcomm's Gimbal, Estimote and Roximity."

The Headache

Tech experts who have been working with sBeacon, however, report headaches and other physical effects from constant exposure to Sonic Notify's audio signals, which if proven could slow wide scale adoption or require Sonic Notify to eliminate the audio technology from its service, making the Sonic vs. Apple competition even more an issue. The key advantage of high-frequency sound waves is that Sonic Notify is not limited to BLE's limitations. BLE is not compatible with standard Bluetooth, so older smartphones will miss any signals sent by BLE from beacons. More importantly, Sonic Notify can now send messages through any medium that uses sound. For instance, they can send a message to a person's smartphone through a television commercial. The targeted audience could be sent more information, a special deal or just the fact that he or she saw the commercial could be logged.

Music and Fashion Industries

In July 2012, Tech Crunch reported on Sonic Notify's expansion among musicians looking for new ways to make their shows more interactive and to connect with fans. The company struck a partnership with Interscope Records, which will make its technology more widely available to musicians to use the technology in their apps during concerts.

Sonic Notify was the technology behind Twitter's interactive #Feed house at SXSW and was used at New York's Fashion Week to sync up photos of different outfits on the event's mobile app as models walked down the runway. It's also partnered with Spotify and Turntable.fm to let DJs share setlists and mixes with users who attend their shows.

In any context, beacons are a reality and represent the future of shopper marketing. This is just one more technological advance that marketers, retailers, agencies and media sellers need to understand and build into their business models.

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