One of the cardinal rules of marketing is to ask customers how they heard of a company and its products and services. Gleaning that information and mining it for clues on how to broaden and deepen a firm's customer base is a task often made less easy by customers' reluctance to answer queries. Now, as the Wall Street Journal reports, marketers can get that information without every asking them. A Toronto based firm that makes sensors "each about the size of a deck of cards, follow signals emitted from Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones that allows them to create portraits of roughly 2 million people's habits as they have gone about their daily lives, traveling from yoga studios to restaurants, to coffee shops, sports stadiums, hotels, and nightclubs."
The somewhat cleverly named Canadian firm Turnstyle (presumably a play on turnstile) is at the "forefront of a movement to track consumers who are continuously broadcasting their location from phones" in real time. Happy Child a Toronto based restaurant that has signed up Turnstyle with a view to finding out what his customers were upto before they came into dine. Noticing that a significant ratio went to gyms he "emblazoned workout tank-tops with his restaurant's logo". Apart from catering to a "need" of his customers beyond the food on tap he likely created another revenue source.
Turnstyle is a purpose built device but Apple latest phones does pretty much the same thing and can track its smartphone holders using iBeacon a Bluetooth Low Energy device. By electronically linking a "beacon" and a smartphone ads by purveyors who are in the vicinity of the customer can pop-up on a customer's smartphone. For example a customer in a hotel can be induced to visit neighboring stores and attractions. Macy's New York store is a prominent user of iBeacon.
Privacy concerns are not entirely addressed although Turnstyle notes that no names and addresses are passed on to clients in their weekly reports as only aggregate numbers are passed on. Apple also ensures privacy but it requires an affirmative opt-out feature whereby customers can control which apps and system services access location services data which includes iBeacon. Marketers who surmount these concerns are likely to maximize their ad dollars like never before and better serve their customer base by avoiding the excesses that go with mass marketing.