How Beacons Can Help You Understand Your Trade Show

One of the hot trends of 2015 is the use of Beacons at meetings and trade shows that work with your mobile attendee app. Beacons are small wireless transmitters that interact with the latest releases of Apple iOS and Android devices. They use BLE technology – also known as Bluetooth low-energy or Bluetooth Smart. The most important thing to know is that the devices are aimed at noticing when your smart phone/wireless device enters the perimeter of an area, such as a store or a trade show. Your phone needs to have the appropriate app installed, and probably should be enabled to use your location when running in the background.

Beacon devices are small (see picture on right) and are usually attached to hidden areas, such as under a table. They have a range of about 30 feet/10 meters, which is good for noticing that someone is near a storefront or a large area such as event registration. Typical behavior is when your smartphone enters an area detected by a beacon your phone can be notified to take an action. In the store scenario, your app might bring up a message saying that a certain promotion is running or maybe even show a video of a product. If you are not currently using the app, you may receive a notification.

In the case of conferences and trade shows, the dream scenario is for the attendee to more closely interact with the booth, such as being able to download company brochures. However the current 30 foot range of beacons make this vision difficult since several booths would be in that area. It is hoped that beacons will soon have a shorter range – like 1 or 2 yards – to make this more precise interaction possible. With this range, the smartphones could become an “augmented reality” of what you are currently viewing.

Because of this range issue, the main way beacons are now being deployed is to closely track how people are covering the trade show floor and other important zones. In this scenario, beacons are placed in inconspicuous spots all over the show floor, around 10 meters apart. So every time an attendee enters an area, the beacon notifies the app and the app in returns sends a message to the beacon’s data center that someone has entered (or left) an area.

The data collected this way is quite rich. In effect you can get a digital map of the trade show activity including the “hot spots” where attendees were most attracted. The show producers can use this information to perhaps more highly sell hot spots and try to increase traffic to lesser-travelled areas. This data could also be used to show a complaining exhibitor that they actually received a lot of traffic, or conversely persuade a company to upgrade.

2015 should be the year beacon technology breaks out. Perhaps the most exciting part of the beacon technology is that the price point is much lower than existing location detecting devices like RFID. Look for beacons to be used for other tasks like printing a badge when an attendee enters the registration area. It may even be used for social networking tasks like creating virtual meeting spaces. An example of this is attendees from your city meeting spontaneously in a conference area.

Look for beacon technology to radically transform meetings over the next few years.

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