Geofencing at Events: How to Reach Potential Customers Live and On-Site

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Businesses have been taking a closer look at the potential for geofencing and proximity marketing for trade shows, events, and festivals. The technology, which allows marketers to send push notifications to mobile users when they are within a designated area, offers some rich opportunities for interactive messages and ensuring that promotions are especially relevant. But marketers are also having to be cautious about how they are using this burgeoning technology, ensuring it pleases customers, and is not seen as a nuisance. Following a few rules of the road, marketers can ensure they get the most out of this evolving technology.

Focus on the moment
Being able to send push notifications when users pass a booth or provide indoor navigation with sponsored messages at certain times opens up a range of new opportunities for marketers, but Jonathan Poston, mobile app marketer for content marketing firm Yiveo, stresses that marketers must keep in mind how this type of promotion is distinct from other digital marketing.

“Email or social media often rely on drip marketing for future sales,” he says. “By contrast, beacon technology is very context- or place-based and should be utilized for on-the-spot decision making.”

Proximity notifications must be focused on encouraging a person to take a specific action at that moment and in that location — for example, a spontaneous giveaway at a company booth. If it starts looking too much like traditional advertising, Poston says “those apps will be discarded in a flash.”

Make it relevant
Though “relevance” is key for any type of marketing, it is especially crucial when delivering a message to someone’s smartphone and asking them to take immediate action. Brands like Anheuser-Busch have tapped into beacon technology to offer giveaways and original content at music festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Geofencing firm Paytronix has helped a number of restaurant chains to add the technology to their marketing mix. For example, it worked with casual-dining chain Duffy’s Sports Grill to create a “Big Game Giveaway” initiative, offering points toward its loyalty program for those who visit during game day.

“Our clients have delivered messages that include reminders that a reward is about to expire as a great way to motivate an unplanned visit,” says Kristen House, mobile product manager for Paytronix. She gives the example of the casual-dining restaurant chain Elephant Bar, which after sending out this sort of message, saw 30 percent of respondents visit one of the chain’s 29 restaurants that day.

Paytronix’s clients help ensure these geo-targeted messages are relevant by pre-qualifying the recipients — for example, all those who received the Elephant Bar message were already members of its loyalty club, had downloaded its app, and were within two miles of a store when they received the alert.

Consider context
Beyond a person’s location, effective geofencing will take into account other aspects of their behavior. At a trade show, send a notification about a speaker’s autograph signing to those who registered to attend his or her keynote address. If a person has already been alerted about an offer, ensure that the same message doesn’t go out just because he or she reentered the area in which the geofencing has been activated.

“Brands must avoid discarding contextual cues that help them accurately discern an attendee’s purchasing preferences and intent,” says Carla Fitzgerald, CMO of wireless solutions firm Smith Micro. “Integrating device analytics on loyalty apps, as a background service will give brands 10 or 20 times more audience coverage and a ton of insights to enhance their mobile strategy.”

She adds that using GPS and routing algorithms can also allow marketers to help attendees find the fastest path to their destination.

Learn and improve
As this technology continues to evolve, it will be more important than ever for marketers to find ways to repeat successful campaigns, but to see when and why geofencing messages don’t have their desired impact. Paytronix’s House points to the fact that for their own clients they work to look at why an app user might have been in the area of the promotion and got a message, but did not take advantage of the offer.

“This data has tremendous value to the marketer,” she says. “It could be used to create opportunity indices for guests so that targeted discounts can be leveraged to further motivate the desired behavior.”

Alex Palmer is a freelance writer covering business, travel, and culture. Follow him @theAlexPalmer.