Geofencing vs. Beacons: Which Should You Use?
Updated: Apr 20
The marketing community has long sought after solutions on how to most effectively target and capture a continually growing consumer base. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with advertisement after advertisement, many of us have become desensitized to their messages and prevalence in society. Personally, I don't even notice most print ads, billboards, or physical signage when I'm out and about, so how could I expect others to do so? As a marketer myself, I had to ask the question: how do we reach people that are constantly on the move, have more shopping options than ever, and are more frequently looking down at their phone rather than what's in front of them? Fortunately, I and many others have found a solution through using the services and platforms provided by Location Based Service/Advertisement companies.
But what is a Location Based Service (LBS)? LBS is centered around software that uses location data tracked from user's phones/devices to send push notifications and advertisements to them at the most opportune times and locations. This strategy has a multitude of uses and branches into the realms of social networking. entertainment, business, and advertising. Today, the two main methods incorporated in LBS to target users is through either Geofencing or Beacons.
Geofencing: the use of GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary
Beconing: proximity marketing through the use of a physical device that can communicate with smartphones and tablets via bluetooth low energy (BLE)
There is some contention in marketing circles on which of the two is more beneficial to use, although we believe geofencing is the superior choice. Beacons are limited due to the fact that they requires a separate physical technology in order to transfer it's signal and also requires that the phones it's targeting have bluetooth enabled and permissions granted. Geofencing however, only requires users to have GPS enabled, which most users already have on for many apps and mapping. Below we'll look at a couple of the pros and cons for both approaches.
Geofencing sets a virtual perimeter around a geographic area and then uses GPS location data to track users who pass within that boundary. Once the geofence is breached, automatic custom push notifications and messages can be sent out to customers. One big benefit to geofencing is that it provides companies with analytics and information about individual users, rather than seeing them as a small subset of a whole. This allows marketers to send specialized messages and offers based off a plethora of different variables such as whether or not a user has visited before, the frequency of their visits, and average time spent/average purchase amount. This gives the customer a much more personalized experience catered to their needs and wants. Perfect for large areas and events, or drawing people in a shopping center or mall to a specific store. Geofences can be moved around and change location instantly, allowing much more flexibility in your advertising campaigns.
By relying on GPS, geofences use data and require a connection, which may use more battery power than something such as bluetooth. While geofencing is still the best choice for pinpointing a device's location, they are generally used to grab larger areas, and in doing so lose a tiny bit of precision on the exact coordinates of users within the perimeter. Remains static to the set location, cannot move around.
Unlike geofences, beacons transmit radio signals through bluetooth technology, sending push notifications in real time as soon as the beacon pairs with a user's device. Beacons are small, physical devices that use little battery and can last for years without needing a recharge. This means that the beacon can be affixed to a moving object and constantly transmit it's signal while travelling over time. Because they connect to users through bluetooth, a cellular or internet connection isn't required. Good for immediate situations and pulling people to smaller stores, booths, or concessions in a specific place.
When it comes to recognizing users, beacons are relatively primitive. They do not capture or pull any pertinent information about your device, where it's been before, or any relevant past history that may be useful for advertising purposes. Because beacons require actual hardware to beam their signal, it's hard to change campaigns and target destinations on the fly.
So Which Should You Use?
Although both have their place in the marketing world, geofencing comes out on top in most situations. With no hardware required, the ability to make easy and instant changes to your campaigns and locations, a treasure trove of user analytics and data to shift through, and versatile methods of specialized user targeting, the advantages geofencing provides the marketer is indisputable.
For anybody looking to boost their store traffic, sales or presence, location based services are the way to go. No longer do we have to flood the consumer market with boring generic advertisements in blind faith that they'll work, now we can let the consumers come to us and provide them with an organic experience along the way.