The future’s bright – Beacon technology and airport media – by Jessica Bee – Integration Director, PSI

Beacons are fast becoming the technology of the moment. Sectors as diverse as retail, public services, entertainment and leisure are all harnessing the benefits of using these small, wireless devices, to very different ends. Beacons are a type of low-cost, micro-location-based technology that uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE 4.0) to communicate with mobile devices.
They offer brands the ability to get to know target audiences and their preferences better through location and interaction data. This enables marketers to serve locally-relevant content and vouchers on people’s mobile phones or push notifications through to build loyalty programmes. With the introduction of Beacons across the globe in so many different environments, global consumer adoption is looking like it will be relatively fast-paced. Coupled with the fact that Apple is supporting through its own iBeacon platform, the future looks bright.
In the international airport environment specifically, beacons are now being used to enhance passenger services. The latest to be unveiled – in a pilot scheme by Emirates – is fitting Beacons into luggage tags to track baggage and prevent loss. Used in this way, they function as a kind of wearable technology for consumers’ suitcases. British Airways has also been trialling them along the consumer journey to improve customer experience and provide useful information like boarding times.
Of course, with this new technology comes a massive opportunity for media deployment, and nowhere is this more apparent than with out-of-home (OOH). Beacons placed in normative OOH sites transform them into an opportunity for brands to build engagement and make their OOH work even harder. As the airport environment becomes an ever more competitive retail opportunity, beacons can help provide brands with a competitive edge as they seek to bridge the path-to-purchase from departures lounge to duty free store.
One of the big questions, however, is how to host these beacons. The necessity of having an activated app running in the background of the consumer’s phone and having it Bluetooth enabled can mean that the funnel of active participants becomes too small to warrant usage.
This poses a key decision for advertisers. Do they build their own app and promote its usage to host messaging, or do they partner with an app that has a high consumer download – for example an airline app – to ensure enough users to make the platform viable?
Another key consideration is privacy and advertisers providing the right push messaging. Encroachment into the audience’s personal handset has to provide a genuine consumer service, otherwise it runs the risk of alienating the audience. For example, a travel retail brand using beacons installed in their OOH sites along the path-to-purchase in airports could offer a complimentary voucher in duty free, rather than just reasserting the messaging that already surrounds the consumer on OOH.
Investments from media owners such as EYE – which is installing beacons into their existing digital networks In London Gatwick as part of their £8m media upgrade plans – already show faith that this technology is likely to challenge other consumer engagement platforms like NFC.
Beacons can offer such a wealth of opportunity for brands, and environments like airports where there is a saturation of tech-savvy early adopters are perfect for brands looking to engage target audiences in new ways. However, to make the most of the opportunity beacons present, brands must strike the right balance and keep the consumer experience at the core of any beacon-enabled campaign. That way they can ensure that they engage consumers on their own terms, using this new technology to advertise in a new and innovative way while also enhancing consumers’ lives.
Jessica Bee – Integration Director, PSI