As a frequent conference session moderator I hate when people use the phrase (er, cliché) “early days.” Most of the time they might as well be saying, we’re complacent or we’re afraid of experimentation or we’re all just gonna ride this puppy into the sunset.
Many “incumbent” local media organizations (directory publishers, newspapers) watched from the sidelines as the internet and digital marketing world developed momentum over a decade. In fairness, some took risks and experimented. However, because revenues were speculative or small by comparison, most did not and accordingly are now fighting for their lives.
Gannet is just the latest media company to jettison its print assets. Later this month Gannett will become two publicly traded companies, one with the majority of its broadcast and digital assets and the other will include the company’s publishing properties and their affiliated digital sites. I guess broadcast TV is still considered a valuable asset (but for how much longer?).
The challenges of innovating as a public or established private company with a legacy revenue stream are well documented. I don’t mean to minimize them. Changing the culture of organizations is next to impossible.
But when you see something happening in front of your eyes you need to act or be ready to say goodbye. This is what struck me about Facebook’s Place Tips and beacons rollout, announced yesterday. David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal have called this a “Trojan Horse.” I won’t say that exactly but it’s representative of a threat to traditional and even digital media businesses that don’t attempt to embrace new technologies and, in this case, connect online to offline.
It’s possible that the Facebook effort won’t go anywhere and local business owners won’t request their free beacons. But Facebook’s plan is a bold one and could result in millions of beacons in local businesses around the US and later around the globe.
Most people opining about beacons are thinking of them entirely in the context of enterprises and large retailers. Facebook is the only company to my knowledge targeting the SMB market in a systematic way. Let’s assume the effort goes well. Facebook will be able to provide data to business owners on how many people visited, for how long and when. (There are other offline/indoor analytics companies; this isn’t the only methodology.)
The point is that Facebook will have data that will be incredibly valuable for ad targeting and analysis and valuable to local business owners. Most local businesses still have considerable trouble determining digital ROI. Google is hoping to get there with Store Visits.
Imagine the conversation in which a local sales rep tries to pitch a business and says we track, clicks, impressions, visits to your site and calls. Facebook will be able to say, hypothetically, something like: “we can tell you how many people came in and when.” The power of that information is self-evident.
Publishers and sales channels of all stripes need to be experimenting now with new methodologies and technologies, such as beacons, to provide more value to business owners. Even if Facebook can’t directly connect online or mobile ad exposures and in-store sales the offline visitation data still has enormous perceived value.
Competitors that wait and then undertake “me-too” initiatives much later are almost always too late. So while some technologies can be immature or not ready for adoption often that rationale is an excuse for inaction, with disastrous consequences later on.