Written by Tim LaFleur, CMP | Director, Mobility Solutions and Apps
Technology is all around. Meeting planners and the public in general are high volume consumers of the technology advancements that are defining our time right now. Attendees have an unquenchable thirst for their events to be more technologically savvy. In 2015, Beacons and Beacon technology made a splash in the industry. I was intrigued to see how many events would start to utilize this technology and what they would do with it. As a mobility expert at a global event management company that oversees 2,500+ events a year, I have been keeping watchful eye on the progression and proliferation of this technology. To date, there hasn’t been the widespread adoption that I thought I would see with it being in play for 18+ months. It made me question, if event planners truly understand what it is and how to decide if it’s right for their programs. There are potential drawbacks that could make Beacon technology go the way of the QR code. Let’s explore what this technology is and what meeting planning professionals need to know.
Beacon Technology, what is it?
Before we start, it is important to note that Beacon is a technology standard and not necessarily a specific product. This means that any Beacon provider will supply the same basic functionality such as the ability to identify and trigger wireless communication. For conferences, beacons are small devices that transmit a message via Bluetooth to select mobile applications on an attendee’s personal mobile device. Show organizers and meeting planners can set the blast radius to allow for multiple Beacons to be set up in a methodical way. The range allocations are generally up to the Beacon providers, but typically can cover anywhere from 5 feet or in some extreme cases 300 feet.
As with any technology, power management needs to be considered. Like anything else, battery life is dependent on the setting (i.e. the range you have your Beacon set for, how long you have it powered on, quality of Beacon, etc.). But, on average, a Beacon should last you several months. Some Beacons are also equipped with a battery that can be changed which will greatly extend the use of the Beacon. By connecting the dots, we see that if you use the same or another app developer company that supports that specific Beacon type, you can get multiple uses out of the physical Beacon therefore increasing the ROI.
Is it right for you and your event?
Is “XYZ” technology right for our event is a question that I get asked regularly. Most of the time the conversation revolves around capabilities and if the features are robust enough for the event in question. I feel that with any technology you should ask yourself; what are my main goals of the event; what are we trying to achieve; and then decide if the technology can play a role to support that vision. Then, it is important to discuss features of the technology and if it can support the event design. Below are some basic questions to ask when deciding if this technology is right for your event:
• Are your attendees mobile-tech savvy?
• Do your attendees enjoy push notifications or do they see them as noise?
• Do you work with an app company that supports Beacons?
• Do you have a communication plan that will govern their usage?
• Do you have a Beacon schematic so attendees are not bombarded with multiple messages simultaneously?
• Do you have buy-in from your sponsors that may want to the leverage this technology?
Ultimately, what the industry and planners need to be mindful of is how Beacons fit into and complement the overall event design. If you cannot easily articulate the benefits of having the technology, then maybe it is not something you should be implementing at your meeting. I have heard of shows that put a Beacon in the motor coach during airport pick-ups so that when participants get on the bus it sends them a welcome message. Or, placing them along the way to registration so that when attendees pass by it alerts them to prudent messages. These are a few simple examples of the ways in which Beacons can provide value for your event and elevate the attendee experience.
Will it be around in two years?
Like any technology I often look at it and wonder if it will be around in two years? When it comes to the future use of Beacons, I question if it will take hold in the industry or quickly extinct. For this technology to succeed, it needs to be deployed so that it provides extreme value to the attendee and an unsurpassed “WOW” factor for events. I do think the technology has a real opportunity since Bluetooth can not only deliver messages, but also in some cases track an attendee’s location at a trade show and transmit relevant offers. All of which could lead to an elevated attendee experience.
On the flip side, there are challenges with Beacons that threaten it gaining widespread adoption:
1. Beacons require the user to do something extra on their device and turn on Bluetooth. For a certain subset of your attendee base this may be a challenge to get them to turn on extra services.
2. Finding the perfect balance of just enough messaging before it becomes just background noise. Mobile app designers are ever vigilant of this fine line in regards to app advertisements and push notifications.
3. There needs to be a higher level of logic for who gets messages or file transfers; when they get sent; how many times they get sent; how often pre-program messages get sent; and who will receive the file transfer.
How to leverage Beacon technology for your next event
Beacon technology can enhance your event and increase engagement among your audience. But to gain momentum in the marketplace it will require attendees and meeting professionals, alike, to raise their comfort level. They will need to be open to exploring the outside-the-box possibilities it offers. The challenges listed above can be minimized or eradicated all-together by proper messaging along with using reputable technology suppliers. A more targeted knowledgeable approach produces far greater return and provides a quantitative method to track the ROI of your investment. Hiring a marketing consultant who is versed in one-to-one event marketing strategies will produce greater returns and higher conversion rates. They can use their knowledge and experience to ensure Beacon technology is right for your event and will produce the results you are looking to achieve.