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Mobile & Local: Using beacon technology

In Mobile Marketing by Gregg BanseLeave a Comment

Long ago I wondered about those global positioning satellites above us. I thought about how they can pinpoint where we are and how we might use that technology for more than just targeting systems. Then mobile phones came out and not long after Google Maps showed us how to get around. When Bluetooth came about, our phones suddenly became part of a hyper-local tool kit that didn’t need a satellite and is far more accurate. Bluetooth gave birth to wireless headsets so we could talk hands free.  It allows our phones to talk with our computers or our car. And as soon as we were able to download apps for our phones we had advertising to go with them. Then someone realized advertising could take advantage of that hyper-local tool kit and proximity marketing was born.

Proximity marketing is just what it says – marketing based on your proximity to something. Proximity marketing comes in the form of Wi-Fi and – in this case – beacons. Beacons transmit signals that trigger an app designed to listen for them. When the user comes within range of a beacon the beacon-enabled app wakes up and triggers an appropriate action. Proximity beacons allow marketers and content providers a way to push contextual content & advertising to users based on their location. Beacons are transforming how we receive and consume advertising and information on our mobile devices and they are quickly finding use across many industries.


A beacon is a piece of hardware that ranges from the size of a tissue box to that of a flat lollipop. Beacons are what generate the signal that mobile apps use to tell where the user is. They do NOT transmit content. They transmit a signal that triggers an action within an app. Beacon hardware is relatively low cost, the average price per beacon is less than $100. Beacons are low power. Many run on batteries and use Bluetooth which causes less battery drain than GPS.  The signal range of a beacon varies with the physical environment as obstacles affect signal reach but typically the useful range for a beacon is 1 to 50 meters.

Contact Zones

Beacon Triangulation & Tracking Image

Contact Zone [1. Katz, Mike, Building an iBeacon App, TheNewStack]

A contact zone is the area where contact with the user is desired. This could be out on the street right in front of the store or all the way around the perimeter of the store. The contact zone could be the entire footprint of a building or even a street corner a mile away. Contact zones are defined by the signal from the beacons in use. How the beacons are arranged, their signal strength, and the location of objects and the user within the zone all matter. It will likely take several beacons to cover a desired contact zone which is actually an advantage. A single beacon can indicate the user is within the zone but the system cannot determine if the user is closer to the men’s department or the women’s. Using several beacons the system can triangulate and track a user anywhere within the contact zone.

Location, Location, Location

Image of beacon signals affected by obstaclesThe usefulness of beacons depends upon their location. Important considerations include any objects within the contact zone. While the signals are likely to penetrate most objects, the objects will weaken (damp) the signal so their reach is diminished. The degree of dampening depends upon the thickness and material of the object. [2. SMA Bluetooth v1.2, p3, 2.1, SMA Solar Technology AG]  See the diagram at left for a sample of how walls affect signals. [3. Anderson, Mark, Diagram from Beacon Exploration, Bentley Communities, Dec. 3, 2014] So when mapping out locations for beacons, be sure to consider the signal path to the user in the contact zone. Line of sight is a good rule of thumb to use in addition to the specific range of the beacon to be used.

What’s the Big Deal?

Let’s face it, we’re an impatient lot and proximity marketing caters to our desire for immediate satisfaction. When we see a juicy hamburger with all the trimmings (or any food that seems delicious to us) the mere sight of it stimulates the appetite [4. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Pictures of food create feelings of hunger, Science News, January 19, 2012]. It’s no wonder fast food restaurants paste billboards along the highway with images of hamburgers and fries! We see the ad, get hungry, and start looking for the golden arches. Patience is not something we are not born with.

We: Speed date. Eat fast food. Use the self-checkout lines in grocery stores. Try the “one weekend” diet. Pay extra for overnight shipping. Honk when the light turns green. Thrive or dive on quarterly earnings reports. Speak in half sentences. Start things but don’t fin… [5. Weeks, Linton, Impatient Nation: I Can’t Wait For You To Read This, NPR, December 6, 2010]

It is because of our desire for immediate satisfaction, for immediate answers, the internet has become such a powerful medium. And thanks to mobile devices, we no longer have to wait until we get home and sit in front of our computers to surf the web. We can pull out our mobile phone and browse the web while we walk or sip coffee at the a cafe. We download the apps for our favorite store, restaurant, and brand to see what’s on sale or receive coupons for discounts.

Combine this with the an app that wakes up when we walk nearby or into the store and the ideal conditions to leverage our impulsiveness have been set. Deliver us a coupon for 10% off and 57% of us are likely to act. 62% of us are likely share the deal with our friends! [6. Petro, Greg, How Proximity Marketing Is Driving Retail Sales, Forbes, October 8, 2014] To make the deals even more enticing, there are marketing platforms that collect data on our shopping habits and past purchases and trigger the store’s app to offer suggestions or give coupons we are likely to want. It’s not hard to see how our desire for immediate satisfaction combined with beacon driven marketing can be a very effective tool for increasing sales.

Beacon Examples

So beacons are very useful things. They don’t collect data nor push it. How we use them is up to us. Here are some examples of how others have deployed beacons:


[endorsement photo=”/uploads/rite-aid.png” cite=””]Rite-Aid In partnership with inMarket, Rite-Aid is using beacon driven proximity data to provide personalization and retargeting to their customers, similar to how some websites optimize themselves based on the browsing history of the visitor.  Read more at ZDNet.[/endorsement]

Churchill Downs

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/churchill-downs.fw_.png” cite=””] Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, launches an app and beacons for racetrack attendees to order food, navigate the track and purchase tickets. Read more at MobileMarketing360.[/endorsement]

Lord & Taylor and Urban Outfitters

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/urban-outfitters-store-front.jpg” cite=””]In partnership with Swirl, Urban Outfitters, Lord & Taylor and Timberland are using a proximity marketing platform and beacons to provide product suggestions and coupons based on user data. The systems don’t need to know personal information but rather rely on shopping habits and preferences to make decisions on what to offer.  Read more at Fortune.[/endorsement]

Defence Line of Amsterdam

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/Defensiekanaal.fw_.png” cite=””]In partnership with, the Province of North Holland (Noord Holland) has launched a digital stamping (sometimes referred to as letter boxing) project. Use the app to locate the stamps (called Stampions – stamps with beacons embedded) hidden among the forts of the Defence Line of Amsterdam (Stelling van Amsterdam) and “stamp” the app. Read more at iBeacon nieuws.[/endorsement]

Schlafly Brewery

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/schlafly460.fw_.png” cite=””]In partnership with Juxtad, Drinkers of Schlafly Beer in St Louis, Missouri can receive information about drink specials, tasting notes, new beer releases and customized campaigns via beacons attached to the craft brewery’s beer taps.  Read more at NFC World.[/endorsement]


[endorsement photo=”/uploads/nanolumenes-clear-pic.fw_.png” cite=””]LED manufacturer NanoLumens has teamed up with Gimbal to provide LED displays driven by proximity beacons. “Using beacon technology to trigger content changes is a powerful way to deliver more relevant messaging.”  Read more at GeoMarketing.[/endorsement]

Brooklyn Museum

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/ask_demo.jpg” cite=””]Visitors to the museum can chat with a member of the museum staff, which is trained to help visitors engage more deeply and make personal connections with what’s on display. It’s like having a curator in your pocket: When you send a question or a comment, a team member can immediately see where in the museum you are and what artworks are nearby.  Read more at the New York Times.[/endorsement]

London, UK

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/london-bus.fw_.png” cite=””] UK-based mobile commerce provider Proxama, in partnership with out-of-home advertising firm Exterion Media, launch a beacon project that delivers up-to-date bus information and notifications to passengers. Read more and Marketing Land.[/endorsement]


Vendors come in a wide range of flavors. At one end of the scale you’ll find hardware manufacturers and software developers. At the other are solution providers that offer complete packages or services to develop a custom package that fits individual needs. This is a very short list of the many vendors in the business. For a more complete list of vendors visit Proxbook.

[endorsement photo=”/uploads/smartwhere-logo.png” cite=”smartwhere”]Smartwhere is a powerful proximity platform that allows you to quickly and easily integrate proximity campaigns into your existing mobile environment. Visit them.[/endorsement] [endorsement cite=”Clover® Rewards (by First Data)”]Clover® Rewards is one of the easiest ways to market your business. It connects you to customers through their mobile phones to draw them back to your business with special offers and rewards they’ll love. visit them[/endorsement] [endorsement photo=”/uploads/swirl_logo-200×65.png” cite=”Swirl”]For retailers who want to reach beyond their own branded mobile app user base, Swirl’s Audience Network provides the ability to reach tens of millions of consumers with a consistent, full-screen mobile experience while they shop in your store. Visit them.[/endorsement] [endorsement photo=”/uploads/inmarket-logo.png” cite=”inMarket Media”]Engage shoppers in-store where it matters most. Predict when shoppers are in the path-to-purchase. A scalable mobile beacon solution helping retailers reach customers before, during, and after the trip. Deliver better user experiences, increase daily active usage and retention, and drive new revenue. Visit them.[/endorsement] [endorsement photo=”/uploads/Beaconstac_Logo_Blue.png” cite=”Beaconstac”]Deploy beacons, create proximity marketing campaigns and track meaningful analytics, without writing a single line of code. Visit them.[/endorsement] [endorsement photo=”/uploads/info-logo.gif” cite=””]Service provider that helps clients with the creation of compelling online platforms. Visit them. [/endorsement] [endorsement photo=”/uploads/bfonics_logo.png” cite=”bfonics”]We empower businesses to engage with customers through our hyperlocal mobile platform driven by WiFi beacons. Visit them.[/endorsement]

Additional Examples & Resources:


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