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Proximity marketing takes these opportunities even further and gives small businesses a powerful new tool for reining in holiday shoppers.

Marco_Piunti/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The best time to reach consumers is in the moment. The average consumer sees thousands of advertising messages a day, and in a fast-paced world, the only messages to get through are those that inspire immediate action. Mobile devices are creating exciting new opportunities to reach the right customers with the right offer at the right time, and the results are astonishing.

A 2013 study that examined mobile shopping activity across 20 retailers during Thanksgiving and Black Friday found that total mobile visits increased by 93 per cent, overall mobile transactions increased 219 per cent, and total revenue from mobile transactions increased by 368 per cent. Proximity marketing takes these opportunities even further and gives small businesses a powerful new tool for reining in holiday shoppers.

Proximity marketing is the localized wireless distribution of advertising content based on a particular place and time. It enables brands to deliver messages to consumers when they are nearby, and thus more likely to take advantage of an offer. However, many of the existing technologies, such as iBeacons with their mandatory apps, QR codes or app development, are expensive and difficult to implement.

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Here are 10 ways proximity marketing can help small businesses compete with the big guys, without breaking the budget.

1. Meeting holiday shoppers where they are: on mobile. These days, people are glued to their smartphones. Mobile devices are becoming an increasingly integrated part of the shopping experience, whether you are browsing for jewellery during your commute or comparing prices while standing in a store. Studies show that 80 per cent of consumers use mobile to enhance their in-store experience, and all signs indicate that this trend will continue. Proximity marketing is an opportunity to meet customers where they are and deliver content in a format that is likely to engage them. This type of marketing is also actionable, which means consumers can take advantage of the promotion or message in the moment.

2. Casting a wider net. Brick-and-mortar business rely on foot traffic to survive. Sure they can send promotional offers to existing customers (assuming they have their e-mail address) or place ads where potential customers might see them, but proximity marketing enables SMBs to cast a wider net by attracting the attention of all nearby mobile phone users. My company offers a Smart Antenna which can can reach up to 300 feet, while Apple's iBeacon extends up to 100 feet, but iBeacons send only "ID chirps" – they require an app to provide the advertising component. Generally, the wider the range the better.

The goal is not only to send offers to people already in the store, but to draw people in from the outside. Proximity technology gives small retailers a chance to reach customers who may not be familiar with their business, and it gives customers the chance to discover something new. This is especially important during the holiday season when people are searching for gifts.

3. Simple implementation. Getting people to download an app, particularly one which involves location-aware technology and thus raises privacy concerns, is not an easy thing to do. A better approach is to deliver messages over Bluetooth and WiFi, in a way that doesn't require anything to develop or install.

4. Saving money. Many of the proximity marketing solutions require developing a dedicated app. This is extremely expensive, and often out of the price range for small businesses. Development of an app for retail operation can cost between $30,000 and $100,000, and these prices often increase during the holiday season when demand is high.

Then businesses have to spend more marketing dollars to encourage people to download the app in the first place, and on software systems and databases to manage the data. This is why Bluetooth-compatible technologies like the Smart Antenna are such a cost-effective solution for small businesses. All retailers have to do to get in the game is buy the hardware and pay a small monthly fee since no app is needed. It saves money for consumers too, who don't have to use their own cellular data plan to access the content.

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5. Protecting privacy. Privacy and security are major concerns for today's consumer. Breaches at Big Box retailers like Target and Home Depot and the Heartbleed bug, not to mention all the dialogue about privacy in the wake of the NSA revelations, have made people wary of sharing their personal information with large corporations. Sharing information increases the risk that it will be stolen or sold. Many consumers are also uncomfortable with the idea of a company being able to track their movements.

Businesses should choose proximity marketing technology that does not require people to sign up or provide credit card information. This is more secure, less intrusive and more convenient, because it doesn't require the hassle of entering personal details. Proximity marketing technology like the Smart Antenna doesn't require the shopper to connect to the store's network to make the iBeacon app work; it is self-contained and more secure for the retailer. This type of solution allows small businesses to build a relationship of trust with their customers.

6. Leveraging data. Data has completely transformed the Internet marketing landscape, but these advancements have been slow to trickle down physical stores. In-store customers or shoppers walking around a mall don't leave the same data trail as someone browsing for shoes online. Considering that more than 80 per cent of shopping still happens offline, brick-and-mortar retailers need ways to collect data and interact with customers as they shop. This is where proximity technology steps in.

By installing a device that collects customer data, and that can interact with shoppers on their phones, small businesses are able to leverage data on the same level as large corporations and e-commerce platforms. They can analyze their customers' preferences and behaviours, such as in-store shopping frequency, dollar value per item, redeemed offers, rejected offers and length of stay. Data can also be used to make operations more efficient and send offers based on customer preference.

7. Predicting the future. Data analytics aren't only valuable in the present, they are also a key, cost-effective way for small businesses to stay on top of trends and prepare for the future. Data on consumer behaviour can reveal to retailers which products or campaigns are doing well and which aren't.

By identifying these types of patterns, smaller companies can figure out what direction shoppers will go in next year and adapt accordingly. If consumers are responding well to a 2-for-1 campaign, or sales of a certain brand of tee-shirt are increasing, these are signals businesses can use to stay ahead of the curve.

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8. Creating context. Data is essential for creating context, and context is essential in today's marketing. Consumers don't want to be assaulted by anonymous, irrelevant messages. They either completely ignore them, or worse, think less of the brand because they find their ads frustrating. Proximity technology enables physical retailers to collect unprecedented amounts of data. This data can be used to deliver more timely, relevant messages.

For example, a frequent customer could receive a loyalty coupon the second they come within 300 feet of a store. Or if they are frequently accepting offers promoting home goods, they will receive similar type-push notifications with available deals. The more relevant the offer, the more likely that consumer is to convert.

9. Making it personal. Proximity marketing also enables retailers to tailor content to each user. These technologies not only factor in the time and place, but also a consumers' purchasing behaviour or preferences. For example, this technology could enable to clothing boutique to notify a nearby shopper that her favourite brand is in stock, or that an item she purchased in the past is on sale. Or when the shopper visits a grocery store, the store can send coupons for items the shopper regularly buys instead of random coupons for things they don't want. These kind of personalized, seamless experiences can help small businesses attract and keep loyal customers.

10. Bigger isn't always better. Small businesses may not have the same marketing and advertising budgets as corporate retailers, but this doesn't have to be a bad thing. One advantage small businesses have over Big Box retailers is their unique brand and ability to offer a personal touch – something shoppers crave during the holiday season.

Proximity marketing technology can help small businesses reach out to individuals in a way that feels more personal and intimate. The consumers receives the message because they are nearby, not because that merchant has the biggest, loudest sign. In a world where shoppers crave more meaningful experiences from the brands they patronize, SMBs can use proximity marketing technology to stand out from the crowd.

Alex Romanov is the CEO of iSIGN Media, a data-focused, software-as-a-service (SaaS) company based in Toronto.

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