The Chicago Auto Show did a pilot run with beacons last year with four automakers, and having confirmed the potential marketing benefit, it's making them available to all exhibitors for the 2016 show, which begins next month.
In 2015, beacons at the Ford, Chevrolet, Volvo and Nissan displays sent 40,000 messages to visitors, with 5,000 of them being opened. The messages went to visitors who downloaded the show's app, but only after they had spent a certain amount of time at a display.
The Chicago show's app was downloaded nearly 35,000 times in 2015, and a show official expects 75,000 to 100,000 downloads for this year's show.
In 2015, automakers found that beacons with specific calls to action, such as offers for test drives and gift cards, were most effective at "converting," or getting users to click over to whatever promotion the brand is running, said Mark Bilek, senior director of communications and technology for the Chicago Auto Show.
Beacon transmissions like these earned a conversion rate of 35 percent, while weaker performers tallied rates around 5 to 10 percent, Bilek said.
Brands can make messaging changes on the fly and move their beacons around during the show if their previous approaches don’t appear to be working.
Exhibitors will have to pay to use the beacons that the Chicago show is offering, with pricing tiers based on the level of detail in the data returned to the brand.
At Tier I, an exhibitor will know, in aggregate, how much time people spend at the show and how many brand displays they visited.
For Tier II, brands also will learn how much time was spent at their own displays.
Tier III adds details on how much time was spent at other displays, among other things.
While auto shows are bastions of competition, Bilek said brands won't be able to use beacons to take direct digs at one another.
"They can't say to a person standing next to a Cadillac ATS, for example, 'Our car won car of the year, BMW didn't,'" Bilek said.