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November 4, 2014

Beacons: Shining Light On Consumer Tracking

How can audiences be targeted with beacon technology?

As advertisers we are always trying to target the right audience for our clients marketing message. Every week a company releases new research or a new technology is designed to aid in our audience tracking capabilities. Depending on the company or technology being used advertisers are able to specifically target an audience that has shown interest in the product or service being offered. Often the research or targeting technology gets it right and we hit the correct audience with the right message leading them to take action.

This is all effective as long as our audience is in a place where advertisers can get a message to them. But as we can all attest our lives are becoming busier and we continue to be hit with so many different messages on almost every medium causing the message to often be forgotten. Throughout our hectic lives there seems to be one device always in our hands reminding us of our friends’ birthdays or that Timmy has to be at the doctor at five. Of course this device is our phone, and without it many would feel as if they are disconnected from the world. On the flip side, for many of us our phones are almost like our own individual worlds.

With the release of a new tracking technology called beacons, this all changes. The beacon itself is a small radio transmitter that sends out small signals to any phones within a certain distance of where the beacons are placed. These signals then alert nearby consumers to sales or offers, or can even be used in crowded places like stadiums to inform patrons which entrances are least crowded. While beacons do not track a person’s location or collect personal information, they are able to send push notifications to enabled smartphones.

The concept of the beacon was first introduced by Apple with the unveiling of their iBeacon in the middle of 2013. Designed to help the retail industry by simplifying payments and enabling on-site offers, the release of Apple’s iOS7 allowed retailers and other small to medium enterprises to utilize the Bluetooth 4.0 based technology within the beacons. Beacons were recently discovered inside of hundreds of New York City phone booths by BuzzFeed News. The beacons in NYC were created by a technology company called Gimbal. Gimbal’s beacons actually create what is called a profile for brands or a retailer. Using the beacon, the profile gathers information such as:

- Demographics: age, gender, income, ethnicity, education, presence of children.
- Interests: sports, cooking, politics, technology, news, investing, etc.
- Personal places of interest (PPOI): top 20 locations where user spends time (home, work, gym, beach, etc.), around which -developers can create per-user geofences

These beacons will only work if you have Bluetooth capability activated and also have an app installed with Gimbal technology in it from a company using the beacon.

Having the ability to start a conversation with consumers on their personal devices does not have everyone so excited. When BuzzFeed first discovered these beacons in NYC, they found that the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications did approve of Titan Outdoor’s use of the devices. The problem is as privacy issue with most of the general public, as most had no knowledge that such a technology exists and therefore did not know they could be targeted so closely.

With this being said the beacon device itself is still only in very early stages of use and understanding. The public needs to be made more aware of this technology and privacy concerns need to be addressed. As with all technologies, the many uses have not even been completely laid out. The industry itself is quickly adapting to these beacon technologies, with a number of different options offered from Gimbal and Apple but also BlueBar, Swirl, Sensorberg, Estimote and many others. As more uses are discovered for the beacon and the technology’s many different capabilities become more known the discussion surrounding the device will surely become much more interesting for advertisers and retailers alike.