One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to experiment with the latest experiential technologies and think about how they can be used to improve quality of life, or at least help businesses promote themselves and sell their products or services. Most recently I’ve been exploring beacons, also known as proximity or indoor location technology.
Beacons are small devices that trigger pre-programmed actions or send relevant messages as a person with an app or sensor passes by. For instance, your company ID card can be a beacon. When you near the secured door in your company’s lobby, it automatically unlocks simply by approaching. Your beacon could trigger the lights, smartly turning them on and off as you move through a corridor or between rooms.
How else could you use a beacon? Say you’re a retailer. You could issue a beacon to loyal customers. That beacon would push smartphone notifications about a specific product relevant to that customer when he or she enters your store. Say you’re Nordstrom. Your customer recently purchased a leather belt and three dress shirts from your store. With a beacon, next time he shops he'd receive a notification on his phone as he nears the men’s section promoting wingtips or Oxfords — just what he needs to complete the outfit.
Not selling a physical product? Beacons can be used to highlight information as well. For instance, a natural history museum could push information on their T-Rex exhibit at the very moment Mrs. Johnson’s third-grade class is nearing the dinosaur wing.
Essentially, beacons understand where a user is in the physical world and delivers pre-arranged, highly relevant content at the very moment that person is most interested and receptive to receiving this information. At ViewPoint, we’re using this technology as part of a larger strategy to help our clients better engage their audiences in a variety of settings.
Beacons Offer Flexibility
Beacons broadcast their existence to the surrounding world using the Bluetooth Smart (also known as Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE) protocol. Other sensors or computers can register when a beacon comes near and trigger an action in the physical world.
Since beacons have an identifier associated with them, it's possible to trigger different responses tailored to particular beacons, and by extension the person holding it. There are other technologies out there — think GPS, motion sensors or facial recognition — that can trigger when a person moves into an area. But beacons are easier to use in a broad spectrum of circumstances, and offer more flexibility for personalization than the other tech choices.
Here’s a very simplistic example. You and your significant other both have beacons. You want the outside lights at your house to turn on when you get home — but only the front porch light. Your significant other wants the porch and side yard lights to trigger upon approach. Beacon tech makes this scenario easy to accommodate.
Privacy and Security Concerns
Overall, beacons are a technology with a spectrum of practical uses, both for businesses and for individuals. But, as with any new technology there are concerns, so caveat emptor. With beacons, privacy and data security are the key issues.
Particularly when using beacons to connect with customers, companies need to devise ways to offer useful information without being invasive. One way is to only record when a customer is near say a specific product display in a retail store, how much time the shopper spent at that physical location, and whether they returned.
ViewPoint has been extremely careful to preserve user privacy and information integrity, for instance using opt-in capabilities, while still leveraging the flexibility and convenience that beacons afford.
Though still gaining traction, beacon tech is here to stay and is finding its place alongside touchscreen kiosks, in-store WI-FI, geofencing and other technologies used for providing greater personalization and targeted marketing.
Next week, we’ll share some examples of the ways businesses in a variety of industries are using beacons to get closer to their customers.