Beacons have become an established technology for proximity marketing and socialization at trade shows, conferences, festivals and other events. Beacons use the Bluetooth function on your smart mobile device to track you and send you messages. But how should event planners use this technology in a way that is an advantage to attendees and not an annoyance?
We all know about beacons and how they can potentially enhance an event experience, but technology is changing, and fast. We are continually chasing a rolling wheel downhill. In 2016, audio beacons are going to be the next technology that event planners and marketers will be looking at to perform similar tasks. Audio beacons use your microphone to access your device and send ultra-high frequency sounds that you cannot hear to your smart phone. With audio beacons content is delivered over a wider area, dissimilar to beacons, where content can be different based on an attendees location within a venue.
Both beacon technologies are great for event organisers and marketers, and can add value to sponsors wanting to activate their involvement in an event. But what about the attendees? Is there a danger that they may feel like they are being stalked? Is there an ethical debate to be had about how we use the technologies and encroach on the privacy of attendees? At what point could the use of beacons become an annoyance to attendees? Here is what event planners need to think about before using beacons.
Prepare Your Attendees
If you are going to use beacon technology at your event, give attendees the heads up! Provide attendees with the right information on the benefits on why beacon technology is being used, so they can make an informed choice. Let them know there is the choice of whether they turn off their phones, so they don’t receive audio notifications, or just turn of the Bluetooth function to stop iBeacon notifications. However is this realistic?
Seamless Registration and Badging
Who doesn’t want to save time and avoid a lengthy queue at an event registration desk? If you are planning to use an iBeacon enabled application that quickly and efficiently handles check in and prints attendees badges, let people know on their registration confirmation sent by email. Again, highlight the benefits of using this type of ‘fast-track’ technology. At the venue, remind them through the use of signage at the registration point that the technology is being used and offer an opt-out solution. ‘This event is using iBeacon technology to register, track and send relevant content to you. If you want to opt-out, please turn off the Bluetooth function on your mobile device’. For audio beacons the opt out is turning off the smart device - so this is not going to happen.
How Do You Provide Value to Sponsors?
We all want to see event sponsors get the best value on their investment. Planners look a different ways to do this and using beacon technologies to get a sponsor's message out there is one way of providing a return. However, what are the benefits to attendees of using the technology? You need to work out with the sponsors so that only relevant and beneficial messages – maybe in the form of discounts and other incentives - are carefully targeted to the right attendees. Adding value to the experience is a no brainer! However, attendees don’t want to be bombarded. Creating too much ‘noise’ will annoy attendees and distract them from their primary objective of the event. Sponsors that want to use this technology should be paying a bit more than others and providing relevant content and incentives.
Socialization and Networking
iBeacon supported socialization applications are now common. Via personalised profiles, seeing who is nearby and determining their importance in a networking sense is a real time saver for attendees. However, as an attendee if you are ‘buying’ you don’t want to get bombarded by sales people stalking you up close because they can see you on an event app. How do you control this? Well there is no easy answer, except that in this situation if the ‘buyer’ is putting himself out there with a profile on the socialization app then they should expect to be hit on at some point. You may want to offer advice to ‘buyers’ if they don’t want to be approached. This may simply include a sentence on their profile that says’ Please do not approach me’ or that they don’t include a profile picture to avoid being continuously hit on.
Real-time Information for Planners
What time does the next keynote start? What is for lunch? These are the types of questions that attendees may be asking themselves before they turn to the event app. In fact the event app may not be able to answer all the questions they have. However, providing relevant information in proximity to particular locations at an event is invaluable. For example when walking past the education theatre at a trade show, attendees could receive a message about the topic and speaker for the next session. But don’t go overboard! Only plan on sending out important, relevant and timely information rather than continuously bombarding attendees.
Security, Health & Safety
Security at events is an important issue, as is the safety of attendees. Planners have a duty of care and beacon technologies can be used effectively to perform part of this duty. We know that events can be targeted in many ways that compromises attendee security. Having the function where all attendees can be instantly messaged to provide life-saving advice is a no brainer. From a health and safety aspect making sure that the attendee experience is free from health risks, say at a festival site where waste disposal or restroom facilities in some areas are being serviced and pointing attendees to alternative points can provide a better experience.
Beacon technology can be a great advantage to you as a planner and to your sponsors. Through relevant real-time information and incentives, the technology adds value to the attendee experience. However, the use of the technology needs to be carefully thought out. Plan exactly how the technology will be used and look at the relevance of it through the eyes of the attendee. Delivering content through beacons costs can cost very little. On the other hand it can cost the the reputation of your event – so use it wisely. Offer information on how to opt–out and don’t give the impression that you are stalking your attendees to maximise your commercial gain. There should be an equitable exchange, and one that enhances the experience.
On the basis of the advice given in this post; what do you think? Do you think we should make greater use of these technologies or be very cautious about using them? We would welcome your comments below.