Geofencing & iBeacons – The Death-Knell of the Roadside Billboard?

The roadside travelling billboard has historically been one of few ways a hotel, restaurant or gas station that sits on the highway can draw in trade. They’ve always courted controversy splitting national opinion. But will our ‘gaudy hoardings’ or ‘works of advertising art’ eventually succumb to the digital age, with technology like geofencing and iBeacons driving forward more sophisticated localized campaigns?

Billboards have historically become drivers’ primary method of finding lodging, food and fuel on unfamiliar highways. There are approximately 560,000-780,000 billboards on US federal aid roads as of December 2013, according to ScenicAmerica, a campaign organization that calls them ‘visual pollution’. They reckon there are around 2 million billboards in the US including those on local and state roads. Current market research won’t please that organization though; an IBISWorld report suggests there will be no let up in the growth of the Billboard and Outdoor Advertising industry. Their research expects something of a resurgence on the back of the economic rebound from recession. In fact it states revenue for the industry is expected to increase by 4.6% to $10.5 billion in 2014.

But does that take into account the emergence of some seriously powerful mobile technology in recent months? Jim Snow, US President of Moball franchise partnerships, thinks not. He predicts billboarding will take a huge blow from the geofencing and iBeacon capabilities of the more sophisticated mobile phone apps such as Moball and predicts a sea change in consumer behavior.  IBISWorld’s research doesn’t exactly contradict this either, the figures aren’t as buoyant as they first seem. It states that: “capital expenditure on traditional billboards has indeed decreased during the past five years as digital technology changes the outdoor advertising industry”.

“We are amid a revolution in the way motorists choose accommodation out on the highway. There will come a time where the kids in the back or the passenger make the decision based on a rich push message direct to their palm either to a smartphone or tablet.”

“Let’s just take the $150 Billion US hotel industry. Hoteliers can now plugin Moball geofencing and iBeacon technology to their own apps. Improving relevancy with geofencing is hugely powerful. It means a hotel can use the incredibly simple Moball CMS (Content Management System) dropping pins on a map in a few clicks to create a ‘hot zone’. From there they can push out rich messages to app users who enter that physical region. The messages of course will be designed to entice app users to their establishment.”

“The geofenced area could be five miles away on the highway, perhaps in the previous town, the messages encouraging them to carry on to the next town where their favourite hotel chain exists. They may be part of that hotel chain’s loyalty campaign for instance and the app could also log their stay and feed into that data. Or the hotel could set up a geofence directly around their competitors’ hotel, sending a message offering a huge discount or a spa treatment say to entice them away and drive the extra mile.”

Snow explains that messaging has also moved on too. Rich messages don’t have to be text any longer; hotels can push out video promotions showcasing how beautiful their facilities are, celebrity endorsement videos, vouchers, loyalty bonuses, menus and offers on food and more.

Indeed, research backs up the importance and success of such localized marketing. Fetch, a mobile marketing agency recently conducted a study to uncover the impact of mobile devices on retail. Questioning more than 300 US adults between 18-60 it found that although mobile advertising is still in its infancy, one in four Americans has visited a store as a result of a mobile ad. It also discovered that mobile ads utilizing GPS targeting (such as geofencing) allow for increased relevancy, with 45% more likely to click on a mobile ad that is applicable to their location.

iBeacons are the newest location-based technology on the block and the industry is very excited to explore their uses. iBeacons allow apps to be truly micro-location aware. That means you can deliver information, personalised offers, loyalty, advertising and payment options via notifications to smartphones and other iOS 7 devices in extremely close proximity to the beacon.

iBeacons will soon be commonly used in city tours, museums, football/baseball games, informing who’s playing as users roam music festivals or simply advising of flash sales of overstock in specific aisles of the supermarket; the opportunities are endless.

Virgin Atlantic has announced this month, an iBeacon pilot to enhance its service. A passenger in first class will have their boarding pass pushed to the front of their phone as they pass an iBeacon located on entry to the departure lounge.

“This too could be helpful for pre-booked hotel guests. No hunting around in hand-baggage for bits of paper with the booking details,” said Snow. “Furthermore, guests could receive room service & restaurant menus, city tour details and vouchers, spa prices and discounts, movie options and useful numbers as they pass an iBeacon in the lobby.”

Marketing firms should be careful not to make mistakes as they enter the mobile field though, according to Snow, who said: “There are apps that really do nothing of great substance other than help a firm feel they are moving with the times. They are not. A one-dimensional app will quickly qualify itself as a useless gimmick. Businesses should be looking for apps, like Moball, that are interactive with the user, bringing both parties mutual benefits, creating loyalty. The app should contain interactive pages with a simple system of moderation. Geofencing and iBeacon management are a must. Moball has all of those capabilities and furthermore we offer it as a plug-in to futureproof apps that missed the boat.”

It remains to be seen what happens to the future of billboard and outdoor advertising, but to be sure the industry of ‘creatives’ will not go down without an innovative shout. Digital billboards are an emerging technology that has increased as a proportion of major operators’ capital expenditures. For example, Lamar Advertising spent about 47.4% of its expenditure on digital signage in 2013; in 2005, the company spent only 2.2%. These new billboards offer operators the ability to alternate advertising throughout the day and change displays instantaneously from a remote location. In fact, with digital billboards, industry participants can display an ad for coffee in the morning and an ad for alcohol on a Friday night; this increases the potential revenue earned from one display. Despite the efforts of some municipalities to limit digital displays, IBISWorld expects that the number of digital displays and their relative revenue to increase, albeit at a slower rate, during the next five years.

Jim Snow predicts they’ll have to be an amalgamation of technologies for the billboard industry to stay alive, with perhaps iBeacons placed nearby billboard sites to back up their slogans with real personalized mobile messaging. That appears to be not too far in the Brave New World with a CocaCola campaign in Israel already doing just that.

Warbler Digital’s Moball platform includes a complete ‘Out of the Box’ Beacon Management System (BMS) for the smallest to the largest organisations. Its complete mobile Content Management System (CMS) includes geofencing, loyalty, rich push messaging, analytics, app build, User Generated Content (UGC) and user management.  Warbler Digital can also lease iBeacons to your requirements and handle all the delivery and configuration. For example, if a client needed to get 1000 beacons to 1000 locations, Warbler can send them direct to each location and have them linked up to the client’s Moball account, ready to go.

We work in strict confidence with all our partners and would be happy to contribute to even early stage ideas. Please give us a call. You can also access a free demo to see the platform for yourself.

If you are a member of the Press we would be glad to provide quotes or background information on the subject of iBeacons, iBeacon management, geo-fencing, rich-push messaging and video content.