What Just Happened To Proximity Marketing?
Google just effectively killed off proximity marketing as it exists today. (This serves as another example of why a holistic marketing approach is the Sherpa way).
The are sunsetting their “nearby notifications” on December 6th.
For all the “proximity Marketing” companies this is really bad news. Those are the little “beacons” that broadcast “notifications” to cell phones as they get near.
Multi-level marketing and spammers have led Google to stop support after they stated the problem of “leading to poor user experience”.
Apple effectively put a stop to proximity marketing about a year ago by killing a web element on their phone that let messages through. Now it’s Google putting the final nail in the coffin of proximity marketing for now.
What Went Wrong with Proximity Marketing?
Proximity marketing used to be really expensive and kept most players out so when Google launched their “Nearby” service, it worked nicely, alerting museum visitors to neat information, and telling people there was free wi-fi here, or that the next train is arriving soon. The bigger players couldn’t afford to have their brands hurt by spammy activity, so they worked to assure a positive experience.
Then proximity marketing got cheaper to implement, which meant EVERYONE could get in.
Many smaller companies launched to get small businesses proximity marketing and treated a positive user experience for a local market as their primary objective.
Then multi-level marketing groups latched onto proximity marketing like a rabid dog, selling it as the next magic bullet for recruiting and then selling the selling to themselves to sell more! There was an explosion of “now you can be rich” marketing. Their cheap beacons didn’t often work and their marketing was a nuclear bomb approach.
Some marketing companies started selling proximity marketing as the “Magic Bullet”, where you should see a parade of phone-waving people beating down your door after your message reached their phone nearby your shop or trade show booth. The implemented heavy does of “geofencing”, where beacons would broadcast in competitive locations or in high-traffic areas
The Negative Reactions To Proximity Marketing
Google stated seeing what was happening to their altruistic platform turned into a direct marketing channel and turned off the “ding” for nearby notifications. This meant that your phone stopped giving you the alert like you just got a text message to look at your phone. This also meant that you then had a silent popup that unless you were looking at your phone as you passed the store or walked through a geofence, you would not see the message.
Apple also saw the marketing and because they didn’t control or profit from the messages, they shut them down like a swing from Negan’s Bat from the Walking Dead. They simply turned off the entire web connection that allowed the messages. No more messages. Period.
Sure, you could get an app, or download special software to see these messages, but less than a single percentage of iPhone owners took advantage of that to continue to receive these messages (and they were likely the people selling the services.)
Then, Google, after trying to figure out how to regulate the features finally gave up and simply is killing the primary nearby services. Companies can still create permission-based campaigns using programming and API connections. So, that museum could send you a notification or you could download an app that allowed you to still access a “walking tour”.
However, Apple and Google shutting their primary proximity services down meant that the multi-level people are essentially done sending work-at-home messages in networking meetings.
But tragically, this also means that the diner on Main St. USA can’t send your daily specials or coupons for lunch as you walk by or line up to get a table.
What’s Next For Proximity Marketing?
Many of the most successful companies developed apps that power a lot of proximity messages to people who actually want them for coupons or local shopping. BeLocalPro is just one type of proximity company that saw the MLM onslaught and developed an “Local” app for businesses in small towns that wanted to connect and give each other business. This type of company will have to completely revise their internal systems now to connect differently but might just survive as they built an “Eco-system”. However, now proximity marketing will be dependent on have to pay to market app downloads and gain permission to message people.
Most other proximity marketing companies will likely go away because it’s all built on volume and “spam” of as many people as possible. The numbers likely won’t add up to develop apps and do the work involved in getting people to use them.
I’m actually glad to see the multi-level companies turn off because they were promising small businesses that proximity marketing was the holy grail and that people would walk by your business, see your brilliant message and run into your business. It seldom worked that way on a technical level or simply marketing 101 conversions. This left a bad taste with small business owners and further eroded trust of “marketing”.
Proximity Marketing Future
Proximity marketing was it’s own worst enemy, but will likely return in a form that allows consumers to control it. Proximity marketing turned into simply another “push” channel that screamed as loudly as possible to passing prospects like a carnival barker. This is in direct conflict with what the media landscape has turned into in modern day – one where consumers control their information flow. Major television networks learned this the hard way and are playing catch up.
Just like crazy flashing banner ads in the early 2000’s, once they reached a point of spam, the consumers regulated them out of existence by simply stopping clicking on them and publishers tired of their sites turned into flashing circuses of crap stopped accepting them.
Today, when proximity marketing comes back, it will have to be based on something consumers actually want, not simply what proximity marketers are sure they want.
This is also a cautionary tale of platforms you don’t own, like your website. There are lot’s of magic bullet marketers telling you that you don’t even need a website with their golden solution. However, if that platform changes the rules (LinkedIn groups, google proximity, Facebook post monetization, Instagram throttling, etc…), then your business can literally stop.
I’m personally sad to see what amounts to the death of Proximity Marketing for now, because it’s not what Google or most marketers wanted it to become. However, I look forward to seeing what us as a marketing industry can transform nearby solutions into to actually help consumers.
~ Erik Cocks, MBA, is the CEO and Founder of The Authority House, a local authority marketing and video storytelling marketing firm serving St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay area in Florida. If you would like more information on local marketing, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org