The Buzz Around Beacons

by | Feb 19, 2015 |

Business Insider recently published an article exploring the world of beacon technology. Many companies from airports to retailers are already using beacon technology. Being app developers ourselves, we pay close attention to anything that presents opportunity in mobile.

If you’re new to the concept, a beacon is a small device that broadcasts a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signal. That signal contains the beacon’s unique identifiers, called a UUID, and a few other data points about it.  Beacons don’t record data, store information or send push alerts. All of that happens through an app.

A real-world example:
I’m attending SXSW, one of the hottest interactive, film and music festivals in the world held in Austin, TX. The official SXSW mobile app was enabled by beacons which significantly improved my registration experience by getting an alert containing my Registration QuickCode when I was in the vicinity of the SXSW registration booth. They also placed 50+ beacons at various event venues in and around the Austin Convention Center allowing SXW to welcome me to a session, encourage me to join discussions about a session within the SXSW app, see which other attendees were at that session and view tweets related to that session.

For a smartphone to be able to detect and make use of a beacon, it must meet four criteria.

(1)  the end user must have an app installed that recognizes beacons
(2)  the device must be Bluetooth enabled
(3)  the user must opt-in to share location with the app
(4)  the device must be running iOS 7 or higher or Android 4.3 or higher

The initial lure and marketing hype around beacons centers on real-time notifications. Installing beacons in merchandising areas enables you to send shoppers location-aware, targeted notifications, branded content and personalized offers. Within seconds or less of detecting a beacon, the app decodes the signal and delivers a push alert to the device: “Welcome to Starbucks. Free Mini-Scone with Purchase of a Drink. Today Only!”

Perhaps you’re taking the family to Marvel’s “Heroes on Ice” tour. The app detects a beacon at the venue, then serves up content relevant to that context. The user opens the app and sees “Best Restaurants Downtown.”

Additionally, the app sends push notifications alerting you to content relevant to your current location, or nearby advertisers. This more active approach builds upon the first two examples, but uses a combination of beacon technology and push notifications to prompt action from the user.

As more companies around the globe deploy beacons, we end up with a network of physical places that each have their own digital bookmark. A beacon gives a location its own real-world “URL,” or a way to identify and connect the physical and digital realms.

Knowing this digital footprint of locations empowers companies to understand how an opted-in audience navigates through the world. What are people shopping for? How often? When do they typically visit?

Data built over time is the key to unlocking valuable audience understanding, which companies can use to improve local, regional, and national sales. Better audience data equals better products, happier users, more engagement, more effective campaigns, and ultimately more revenue opportunities.

Testing and innovating with beacons is absolutely worth pursuing in 2015 in parallel to using proven sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google.  Bridging the mobile revenue gap is top priority, and requires new tactics and audience understanding. Beacons offer potential solutions to both.

Image Credit:  Estimote Beacons