Beacons For Events 101 – A Complete Guide [Updated 2019]

You are considering using beacons for events, but it all seems a bit like a mystery to you?

Beacons can deliver huge benefits to exhibitors, attendees, and event marketers alike.

In fact, the term “beacon technology” flooded the events industry when Apple released their proximity sensing technology known as iBeacon back in 2013.

Since then, large events like CES and SXSW have been using beacon technology to deliver a smooth event experience – full of interactivity, engagement & event data.

Retail chains like Walmart, Apple & Co. are also jumping on the beacon bandwagon to increase customer retention and boost the overall shopping experience.

Sounds like beacons could be the answer to all your event marketing goals?

Not so quick, friend…

The term “iBeacon / Beacon” still leaves a big question mark for the majority of event professionals tasked to deliver amazing attendee experiences, collect useful event data, and increase Event ROI.

Planners are still concerned about privacy, implementation, the real benefits of beacon technology, costs & adoption rates and potential use cases.

Are you also concerned? Don’t be.

This guide, once and for all, clears up your questions around using beacons for events.

Let’s dive right in.

(Event) Marketers Love Beacons, But Why?

Event professionals can learn a lot from the retail industry about using technology to create amazing experiences.

Nisa, a popular convenience store group, attached Beacon technology to trolleys and bags to track its shoppers’ behaviour and journey around their stores.

The beacons on the shopping trolley work in conjunction with sensors attached to the ceiling of the store.

The results?

Cloud-based servers pick up on the data and Nisa could analyse overall time spent in the store as well as dwell time at particular product aisles.

Nice? Nice.

Retail and events have one thing in common: The customer/attendee experience is key.

So, event marketers are using iBeacon technology for indoor navigation/wayfinding, networking, to simplify the on-site check-in or to collect insightful event data.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) ‘invented’ other use cases and used iBeacon technology for their fun and engaging scavenger hunt.

What do beacons have to do with it?

In simple words, beacons connect the physical world to the digital and that allows marketers to better understand their audiences.

Can You Tell Me What A Beacon Is?

Beacons = Hardware.

There are three main types of beacons out there, iBeacon, Eddystone & AltBeacons.

People often use the terms iBeacon and Beacon interchangeably.

They are essentially doing the same thing, but there are also some differences.

If you want to learn more about the differences, our friends over at Pulsate have created a more in-depth Beacon comparison video.

iBeacon is Apple’s implementation of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

It’s supported from iOS7 (iPhone 4s and newer), but Android devices (4.3 and upwards) can also work with those signals.

Bluetooth Low…what?

Okay, you already know Bluetooth and use it in everyday life, right?

Maybe you use wireless headphones, maybe you use it to connect your phone to your speakers at home to listen to your favourite music.

While Bluetooth can handle a lot of data, costs a lot and consumes battery life quickly, Bluetooth Low Energy doesn’t require large amounts of data.

Therefore, the technology can run on battery power for years at cheaper costs.

Makes sense?

OK. So How Do Beacons For Events Actually Work?

In a nutshell, beacons are small Bluetooth radio transmitters.

It’s like a lighthouse: it constantly transmits a single signal that devices can pick up.

Instead of sending visible light though, beacons broadcast a very short-range radio signal that’s made up of a unique identifier.

A Bluetooth enabled device like a smartphone or tablet can “see” the beacon once it’s in proximity, much like sailboats looking for a lighthouse to know where they are.

iBeacon work one-way, e.g. they send out a signal, but are unaware of themselves or any other devices around them. They are sending small amounts of data and saying “Hey, I’m here, see me, take action if you want.”

In general, beacon technologies come in two forms, installed and wearable.

Let’s look at those differences.

Wearable Beacons For Events vs. Installed Beacons

Wearable beacons are small proximity beacons that you can either attach to your attendees’ lanyards or badge.

They have tiny built-in antennas and broadcast Bluetooth LE signals just like installed beacons do.

Smart devices within the range receive those signals and transfer the unique Beacon ID to the cloud.

The cloud can identify the user associated with the Beacon ID and take further actions if needed.

For example, it can respond with a notification or other action.

You can see that wearable beacons are quite cool, but let’s look at some common myths.

3 Common Myths About Using Beacons for Events

Myth 1: You need a mobile app for Beacons to work

In the old days, beacon technology required your event attendees to have an app installed on their phone, Bluetooth enabled, and their batteries charged in order for things to work.

Consequently, most attendees didn’t match all of these criteria 100%.

No one wants to drain battery half way into the event, right?

With the next generation of Beacons, attendees have much less hassle and worries.

First of all, the technology is far less intrusive. As a result, it doesn’t interfere with the overall attendee experience.

Second, the beacons can be attached to a badge or lanyard. They’re silently doing their job in the background, no action required.

Finally, it’s most likely that everyone can use it. How they work is quite simple:

The tags transmit a Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth Low Energy) signal to its surrounding. That data can be captured by cloud software and/or mobile apps.

As a result, the technology opens new opportunities for attendee tracking & data analysis for event planners and marketers.

Myth 2: Beacons steal data and track everything

Beacons are actually unaware of the mobile devices or apps around them.

They have a single purpose in life and that purpose is shouting out: “Hey, I’m here. Come see me! Take action if you want.

Beacons are dumb.

Beacons don’t capture anything and don’t save any data on them.

They don’t collect and transmit any personal data per se and they don’t track attendees’ location.

Cloud-based software like TRC Touchpoint are able to “see” those devices moving around your event venue.

This enables planners to gain insights into attendee behaviour and event traffic.

These software solutions can also tie in to your registration data (opt-in from delegates required).

The identifier of the Beacon paired with the registration record can then give you useful insights for event marketing and planning purposes.

Myth 3: Beacons are similar to Bluetooth Headsets or Wi-Fi

Beacons broadcast over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Unlike traditional devices like headsets, keyboards and mice, beacons only send data in tiny packets so they are much more battery-efficient.

What Are Some Examples of Using Beacons For Events?

Now since you already have “what-if-stories” in your head about the cool ways to engage and interact with attendees, let’s look at some examples how you can use beacons for events.

1) Quick Event Registration & On-Site Check In

Nobody likes to wait in queue to register for an event. It wastes their time and annoys people.

With a Beacon positioned at the registration desk, the beacon can check visitors in and direct them to collect their badge or ‘welcome kit’.

2) Session & Attendee Tracking

Beacons allow you to track how many people are entering or leaving a session or area within your event venue.

As a result, it makes it much easier for you to monitor foot traffic and manage open spots.

3) CEU Tracking

Large scientific and medical conferences provide an opportunity for doctors and others to earn continuiung education credits.

Often, this causes headaches for event planners as they need to track when an attendee arrives, when she leaves and how long she’s spent in the session.

Beacon technology is your friend and allows you to easily track those who have attended and how long they’ve spend without the attendee having to put forth any effort or you having to manually scan their badge.

4) Sponsorships

Let’s say an attendee passes by a certain zone in the event venue. This can trigger a message to invite her to a certain booth and therefore add additional revenue opportunities by offering this service to exhibitors.

Conclusion

You can see, there are many use cases and examples how you can use beacons for your next event. You don’t need a mobile app to use beacon technology, you don’t need to be scared about data breaches, and you don’t need deep pockets.

If you’re looking for attendance tracking solutions, beacons allow you to gather insightful data about your audience behaviour and provide measurable data that leads to real results.

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