Everything You Wanted To Know About Beacons, But Were Too Afraid To Ask

Everything You Wanted To Know About Beacons, But Were Too Afraid To Ask

The concept of ‘beacon technology’ has been tossed about lately and many agencies and brands are probably wondering what the big deal is. So what is the big deal?

Nikki Majewski
Posted by Nikki Majewski

“Beacons come in all sorts of shapes and sizes,” Ed Welsh, channels and distribution manager at technology company Inlight told the crowd at a Miami Ad School seminar Breaking Down the World of Beacons.

Essentially, a beacon is a device that uses a more sophisticated version of bluetooth, called bluetooth low energy (BLE). Welsh said: “The beacon constantly emits a bluetooth signal and we program how far that signal will be sent. A five-metre radius for example.”

Historically, many marketing approaches have been considered rather broad but with beacon technology we can send the right message, to the right person at the right time. “It’s that one-to-one marketing we’ve never been able to do before,” said Welsh.

For beacons to do their thing, users generally need a brand’s application installed on their mobile device which allows for push notifications. “When the phone comes within range of that signal emitted by a beacon, the app can trigger a push notification, an event, or a call to action,” said Welsh.

Although Samsung has just released ‘Proximity’ – a mobile marketing platform which will allow for push notifications from a brand without needing the brand app installed on your phone. At the moment, as long as the device has bluetooth switched on and the app has push notifications and background location enabled, you can still receive notifications, even if the app is closed.

For a beacon to operate, there are three requirements:

  • A beacon needs to a physical location in which to be stuck.
  • Need a native smart phone app, so an app that is coded specifically for a phone’s operating system. (Most likely iOS or Android)
  • Bluetooth capabilities on the mobile device need to be switch on.

Welsh explained that there isn’t a lot of literature in Australia to suggest Australians constantly have bluetooth switched on. “However, with more and more people using bluetooth in their cars – what we’ll most likely start to see is bluetooth, rather than being on at a privacy level, it will be at an app level” which means you can scroll through individual app settings and turn bluetooth on or off for each brand app.

“It’s been proven that sending push notifications through an app, means the user is then re-engaging with that app. We’re told we have 20 apps on our phone, and we only use six of them. Through BLE we can re-engage with them rather then having them sit there dormant on your phone.”

Beacons work across three ranges: immediate, near and far.

Far is when a person walks past a store and gets a push notification that might offer them a discount to get them into the store. Upon entering the store, they enter the near field, where they might get a push notification telling them a retail assistant will be with them shortly – offering a very personalised experience. The immediate field is comparable to an NFC experience – so that tap – it might be some sort of redemption –  by tapping a phone to the beacon a user can redeem a coupon or discount,” Welsh explained.

Beacons also have the ability to recognise when someone is entering or exiting or entering a store. “For example, as you leave the store, you might get a push notification that offers a discount next time you shop in store.”

The cost of a beacon ranges from $25-$35 and Welsh warns brands and agencies to consider the battery life of individual beacons. He recommends brands use a beacon with a battery life of three years. Some beacons have been known to run out of juice after just three months.

The biggest players on board with beacon technology is of course Apple and Google with its iOS and Android operating systems. “This is filling us with confidence that this isn’t a technology that will just come and go, Apple is heavily invested in it,” said Welsh. Beacons and iBeacons are the same technology, but iBeacons contain Apple specifications.

Inlight have been exploring a pilot using beacons for a local pay TV provider. “I have the TV guide app on my phone, I’m walking to catch my bus in the morning, I get near the bus shelter and I get a push notification for example; Hey Ed, Walking Dead is coming out tonight at7pm, if you’re not going to be home, would you like to record it? It’s a great example of how it doesn’t need to be deals, rewards or coupons – it’s that value-add of the service that beacons can provide.” They are able to capture data like how many people walked past the advertisement, how many people opened the push notification and how many people recorded the show.

Although the issue of privacy is one that needs addressing. “It’s a conversation we constantly have with brands who ask; How do we get users to opt-in? ” Welsh said it’s about educating the user about the value-ad that comes from allowing push notifications to be turned on. He recommends brands don’t immediately send users push notifications when they first engage with a brand app, instead he suggests letting the user familiarise themselves with the app first.

“In a supermarket setting, it’s expected beacons will become sought after real estate where companies can rent out the beacon to specific brands.”

Australia has not yet got the data to support this claim, but a US supermarket chain found some interesting stats from packaged meat manufacturer, Hillshire brands and its loyalty app:

  • 19 x increase in product interaction
  • 2 x increase in purchase intent
  • 16.5 x higher app engagement
  • 6.4 x more likely to keep app on their phone.

Uses of beacon technology for brands:

  • Various airlines are using beacon technology to offer flight information to customers as they enter the airport – For airlines, beacon technology is hoping to reduce flight delays which “cost airlines millions of dollars each year” while also trying to increase the one-to-one service offering.
  • Events and tourism; if someone approaches a gate at a festival – it might automatically bring up the ticket sitting inside the festival app. “So companies like Ticketmaster and Ticketek as well as festival sponsors might consider using some of their marketing spend on beacons.
  • Augmented spaces, like art galleries; “Down at the MONA in Tasmania, when people enter a room, artworks will have accompanying push notifications allowing you to further explore the piece of art or the artists background rather than just the same plaque that everyone reads.”
  • Market Research: A passenger might have just flown with Virgin Australia when they receive a push notification asking the passenger what they thought about the experience. “Never before have we been able to collect that data at the right time.” Additionally, beer companies might offer a free beer in return for feedback about a specific beverage.