As a digital marketing professional eager to learn, there are few things more exciting than being told that you’ll be attending an industry conference in Vegas. Not only was I excited to be surrounded by likeminded individuals in an environment that sparks creativity and forward thinking, but did I mention Vegas? As my boss Mike pointed out in his Pubcon blog post, the activities are endless.

I will, however, skip those details in respect for your time and jump right into what I thought was the most interesting and practical session I attended at Pubcon 2016: Bluetooth Beacons. This session, led by Greg Gifford and Casey Markee, was the last session I attended, so the old cliché of saving the best for last could not be more true.

What Are Bluetooth Beacons?

In order to best explain Bluetooth beacons, it’s easiest to start by defining what they are not and what tasks they do not perform, before moving into what they are and what tasks they do perform.

Bluetooth Beacons DO NOT:

  • Send content
  • See Bluetooth devices
  • Use cookies
  • Connect to Bluetooth devices
  • Steal data
  • Require an advertiser to have an app in order to utilize for marketing campaigns
  • Require a large investment

Bluetooth Beacons ARE:

  • One-way transmitters
  • Location enabling physical objects for apps to help determine mobile device proximity
  • Affordable, practical and easy to install
  • Important marketing instruments for brick-and-mortar retailers to consider
  • Small, but powerful
  • Bridges that connect the offline and online marketing worlds
  • The lighthouses of the 21st century

I’ve noticed the lighthouse analogy used quite frequently as I’ve researched beacons and, frankly, it fits perfectly. Simply put, beacons are devices that send out signals at certain intervals, saying, “Hey, Bluetooth device, I’m here!” That’s it.

Beacons Send Signals… So What?

Now more than ever, consumers expect a personalized user experience. Consider the research from a recent Think With Google study that concluded that 4 in 5 consumers want content customized to their city, zip code, or immediate surroundings. Welcome to the world of hyperlocal and convenience marketing.

Not only do consumers expect a personalized experience, but we also live in an era where online shopping has been simplified to literally one click of a button. Not to mention, many shoppers refuse to even go in a store and fight lines when they know they can just shop from their couch.

So, how can beacons actually close the gap between digital and in-store? And how can retailers use beacons to complement the online experience, or in some cases (think Amazon), compete with the digital user experience?

How Bluetooth Beacons Work in 3 Oversimplified Steps

  1. A beacon is placed in the venue (at the storefront or even inside the store)
  2. The beacon constantly sends one-way signals to enabled Bluetooth devices within a certain proximity (<1 m to 70m)
  3. The device owner receives specific app-enabled notifications

How Do Users Opt-In To Beacon Messaging?

  1. Enable Bluetooth to “On” within the mobile device settings
  2. Enable notifications to be sent from apps within the mobile device
  3. Most apps are location-aware, so they don’t need to be open to interact with beacons

Retail Use Cases for Bluetooth Beacons

  1. Push promotional messages to consumers as they pass by a certain product that is eating valuable inventory.
  2. Welcome a guest as they enter the store.
  3. Implement multiple beacons within a store and guide users to follow an indoor store map.
  4. Collect anonymous user IDs and do nothing… for a little while. Once enough data is collected, upload to an ad platform like Facebook. Marketers can then retarget actual in-store foot traffic online! Alternately, depending on campaign objectives, exclude the foot traffic list and message only new users.
  5. Test the effectiveness of geo-fencing vs. hyperlocal beacon data through remarketing. To do this, create and compare two remarketing campaigns: one targeting a certain zip code radius around a store and another that utilizes beacon data from actual in-store foot traffic.

Don’t Forget: You Don’t Need Your Own App

In the past, retailers needed an app to take advantage of Bluetooth beacon technology, because again, a beacon by itself is rather useless. This is no longer the case. If, for example, a one-person marketing team wanted to test the waters and make a use case to develop an app, he or she now has the luxury of utilizing app networks or libraries of developed apps. If you’re interested in learning more about these app networks, Gimbal is an excellent place to start. Gimbal’s network has popular apps like, Auto Trader and Spotify, to name a few. Most would agree, however, that owning your own app is preferred, but for some it’s not possible.


As with any other form of communication, marketers using Bluetooth beacon technology to communicate have a responsibility to serve messages to a well-targeted and relevant audience with a need. A marketer should not spam mobile devices with pop-ups just because they can. As I’ve outlined above, there are many more useful applications for Bluetooth beacons outside of sending coupon pop-ups to a mobile device. Spamming a potential customer for the sake of frequency makes as little sense as a local Minnesota coffee shop using AdWords to target international countries.

If you’re interested in learning about the technical components of Bluetooth beacons, check out these two excellent articles from developers at Google and Apple. As with most successful digital marketing campaigns, it requires a joint effort from both the IT and marketing team.

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