Beacon technology, while still at nascent stage, is being used by smart event planners as an innovative attendee engagement technique. With each passing day, as smartphone ownership draws increasingly closer to ubiquity, mobile devices have become the easiest channel for connecting organisers, brands and attendees of an event on a more personal level.
What is beacon technology?
Simply put, beacons are small pieces of hardware that can attach to a wall or a countertop, using low-energy, user-friendly Bluetooth connections to transmit messages. The system enables smart devices to detect the proximity of other devices and consequently trigger location-specific actions and content. Users need to download and install an application on their smartphones to receive and respond to messages. [Read more articles about beacons]
Some of the most popular beacons of current times are:
Estimote is currently the largest and most well-known beacon manufacturer. BlueCats, made by the Australian firm Plus Location Systems, are cat-shaped, have two easily replaceable AA batteries. These can be attached to a wall and boast of solid SDK and Data analysis. BlueSense comes with comprehensive retail beacons and integration kits. Glimworm beacons can be easily rebranded as the code is open source. Kontakt can be customized according to a brand and its colour and it also has an impressive back-end and CMS.
How does the beacon technology work at events?
Beacon technology helps event organisers to take a scientific approach towards measuring engagement at events, conferences and tradeshows, without having to make guesses based on less-than-accurate data. At events, beacons can either be clipped to the badges of attendees or as stated earlier, attendees can simply install a beacons app in their smartphones. They receive a beacon which they usually carry throughout the event as they participate in workshops, visit exhibitor booths and have a quick snack at the food court.
Beacon technology is integrated in a customized event app and function through a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connection. The event organisers can monitor attendees’ behavior throughout the event through these beacons and aggregate data for traffic flow trends, heat maps and much more. The Mobile World Congress used beacons to enhance attendee experience during the event. Insights on visitor behaviour was gathered in an attempt to make future events even better. The event lasted for four days. Out of 93,000 attendees from 200 participating countries, 48% had downloaded the event app.
How can Beacons help to personalize events?
Beacon technology is reshaping event experiences in many ways. While the true potential of this innovation is yet to be realized, here are few ways in which planners can make use of it to take their events to the next level.
1. Streamlining Navigation
Events and tradeshows – the bigger in scale they are, the harder they get to navigate through. Organisers often find it difficult to manage thousands of people lining up in queues or trying to make their way through different tradeshow buildings. Beacon-enabled wayfinder can make it easy for attendees to find exactly what they are looking for via a ‘GPS’ interface that provides turn-by-turn directions. Crowd control will become easier. Moreover, organisers will know where the attendees are going (through heat maps), if they are safe and whether they are maximizing their experiences, by not getting lost in the venue or waiting in long queues.
At the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, Detroit’s Cobo Center was fitted with 30 beacons. These interacted with the show’s smartphone app and presented the attendees with a pre-configured floorplan. Upon accessing the app, users saw a map of the exhibit venue, marked with empty red circles. As they made their way through a particular area of the show, these circles were checked off to show they had already visited that particular area.
2. Gamifying events
Organizers can keep attendees engaged during sessions at an event by encouraging them to ask questions or notifying them about personalized deals and messages. Attendees can be offered rewards and points for visiting particular booths or areas at the event. For completing a feedback questionnaire, attendees can be offered free coupons or merchandise. Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 made wonderful use the iBeacon powered Scavenger Hunt, where users were to explore the most important exhibits. They collected badges from each beacon that they came across. First three users who collected all the badges were awarded.
3. Driving real-time engagement
Session-level discussions and participation can indicate rate of engagement. However, such participation can be difficult to drive. Beacons can provide attendees with a way to check in to particular sessions based on common interests and specific topics. To take the participation event further, organisers can also run real-time in-app polls and get survey responses from the attendees. The ‘Session Live’ feature within the app allowed them to take part in real-time polls and participate in ‘in-app’ discussions. At the Cannes Lion Film Festival 2014, a beacon-integrated event app provided attendees with detailed information on campaigns and producers of the festival. The Session Live’ feature of the app enabled them to participate in real-time polls and ‘in-app’ discussions.
4. Networking among attendees
Business cards may soon be a thing of the past. Attendees using beacons at events can detect other beacon app users nearby. The app will let them connect and exchange information effortlessly. At the Cannes Lion Film Festival 2014, beacons helped attendees to quickly spot, connect and message influential industry targets near them using the ‘Around Me’ feature in the official event app.
5. Bridging the gap between virtual and real-world
Location-based interactions with offline installations such as video walls can be made possible with beacons. At settings, where making memories is a prime objective, like festivals, bridging the gap between digital and real life can help organisers to achieve more success.
6. Leveraging sponsorships
Organizers may use beacons to prompt a user to come and check out the closest booth. This may be a premium service offered just to sponsors.
7. Smooth transitioning of moving parts
Many a times, transitioning moving parts becomes a necessity at events. Sudden adjustments can leave attendees confused. These transitions can be made smoother by pushing out timely alerts to attendees, complete with updated directions and details.
Using beacons at conferences, tradeshows and events can be akin to creating a personalized communication platform for users, which can improve attendees’ as well as sponsors’ experiences. Beacons can potentially transform the way attendees interact with brands, sponsors, and each other. In order to take their events to the next level, every organizer must consider weaving beacons into the fabric of their own event. Plan ahead and see how your beacons can take your events to the next level.