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What Every Exhibitor Should Know About RFID, NFC, and Beacons

Many trade show organizers are incorporating Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth® beacons into their events. These are technologies you, an exhibitor should become familiar with and understand how each is used so you can take advantage of the marketing opportunities they provide.

woman and man transferring application from smart mobile phone tRadio Frequency Identification (RFID)

RFID is a passive technology as far as the attendee is concerned. RFID tags are embedded in the attendee’s badge. That tag sends a signal to a reader or antenna placed strategically throughout the exhibit hall.  The show organizer can now track the movement of attendees throughout the show floor. Exhibitors can place antennas in their booth at different product stations to track attendee interest by the duration of time spent at each station. They can also use a reader to collect leads via the attendee’s information provided on that RFID tag.

Pros: There is no more guesswork when it comes to attendee traffic. You can see exactly how many people moved through the exhibit hall and where they spent their time. The amount of traffic in your aisle is no longer a number based on opinion, but actual minute-by-minute fact.

Exhibitors using this technology in their booth can break down interest in product stations based on attendee demographics such as job title, industry, and geography. That can help with targeting your marketing and determining which products are the most popular with attendees.

Cons: The cost for the antenna or reader is still relatively high with prices between a couple hundred dollars and a couple thousand dollars depending on strength and system compatibility. The readers and antennas are noticeable and may interfere with your booth design. They also require electricity to operate.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

NFC is an active technology. An attendee badge is created to act as an NFC device. Exhibitors can embed NFC “tags” into digital signage. The attendee would then touch their badge to that display to activate a download of a brochure or white paper or to register to win a prize.

Pros: The cost of the NFC tags is low, as little as ten cents each. It also eliminates the need to ship paper to the show. Unlike handing out jump drives filled with information, the attendee only gets the information that is relevant to them. Because it requires no investment of readers or antennas, it is a more cost effective option for show organizers.

Cons: The show organizer or exhibitor will have to educate the attendee on how the technology works. The show must communicate the value, or it simply will not be used.

Bluetooth® Beacons

Bluetooth beacons are transmitters that broadcast signals, which can be heard by compatible or smart devices. Exhibitors could use beacons to send relevant information to an attendee’s smartphone as they pass by the booth. When the technology is tied in with the registration data, exhibitors will know exactly which attendees stopped by their booth and what their behavior was while they were there.

Pros: The cost of this technology is very low, as little at $5 per beacon. Beacons also run on batteries (that last for months), and they are about the size of a quarter, so you can stick them anywhere in your booth. You can adjust the transmission range from 1 to 100 or so feet for more accurate readings.

Cons: The attendee has to download and log into the app, and turn on Bluetooth so that you can access their demographic information and push information to their smartphone. You are dependent on the show organizer doing a good job communicating that to the attendees.

Itech-for-tst-exhibitorswpf you’re looking for ways to use technology to enhance your trade show program, get your hands on the Tech for Trade Shows white paper. Based on an extensive survey, it’s packed with tools and information you can’t afford to miss! Click here for your free copy.



About the Author

Traci Browne is a Trade Show Consultant and Freelance Writer.

4 responses to “What Every Exhibitor Should Know About RFID, NFC, and Beacons

  1. Thanks Traci – great overview.
    I am very excited about the increased interest and exposure Beacons are getting in meeting industry media and blogs.
    Key difference with Beacons tied to the show app as we have found it is that it is highly interactive technology compared to RFID and NFC.
    Not only can Exhibitors push relevant content to visitors that match their company type or product category as they stop by. Visitors can also based on their specific interest find, connect with and create personal show floor map highlighting those exhibitors they would like to meet with.
    Booth staff can stay connected with each other and be alerted when their top customer is nearby through “Friend Finding” plus much more.

    1. Thomas, you referenced the magic words…relevant content. What I love about beacons is their potential to create a personalized experience for every attendee. They can help attendees find exhibitors who have the products and services they need. Beacons can also, as you pointed out, help attendees find people who are relevant to them as well. I’d love to get a notification that told me someone struggling with the same issues I was struggling with was standing near me in the coffee line. We could find a place to sit down together and compare notes.

  2. Great post, Traci. That’s a great line up of technologies for event managers.In fact, its only march 2015, and so many mainstream events such as SXSW2015, CES2015, Chicago Auto Show etc, have already leveraged beacons to enhance visitor experience. For example, CES2015 leveraged beacons to help visitors with navigation. And most visitors were indeed relieved that they could finally make sense of what is where at the massive event. SXSW2015 on the other hand leveraged beacons to offer enhanced networking, which is no doubt, one of the primary reasons why people attend events. We recently compiled a checklist on various ways that beacons can help enhance event experience here:

  3. Devika, thank you for highlighting some of the shows already using beacons. The more case studies we have to study, the more successful exhibitors and show organizers can be.

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