A beacon is a low-cost transmitter that helps deliver extremely relevant, location-specific content to devices in its vicinity. Beacons do this by acting as a kind of booster for your phone or tablet’s built-in location services, helping to pinpoint exactly where you are in a given location, then transmitting information that’s targeted to that place via souped-up Bluetooth transmitter.

Where before your device might have been able to tell you were in a particular store, it now knows (thanks to beacon tech) whether you’re in the wine aisle or the fruit & veg section of your local supermarket, if you’re sitting pitch-side at the game or right up in the nosebleed seats.

So how will beacons make the world a different place? The more imaginative among you will already be buzzing with ideas about how this latest piece of future tech can help you reach your audience, whether they be guests at an event or shoppers in your store, but there might be a few ways you haven’t thought of that are, or will be, rolling out in the future.


Beacons are changing the event game

The connection between events and beacons is an easy one to make. As event marketers we want our work to both stand out as having something a little special and to run as smoothly as possible – and the beacon offers the chance to do both. Being able to surprise and delight your guests with targeted content that makes their experience more productive, entertaining or informative is a fantastic opportunity, and using beacons to deliver that content is sure to stay in the memory too.

That’s not to mention cost saving, another thing that’s high on event marketers’ priority lists. The soaring cost of print alone makes any way of getting key info to visitors digitally a highly attractive proposition. We wouldn’t be surprised if location-activated content beamed straight to delegates’ phones and tablets made the conference handbook a thing of the past in the next couple of years.

It’s not just business events where beacons are being used either, MasterCard already trialled the tech at a festival it sponsored in the summer, offering backstage passes, queue jump and prizes to attendees at the Northside Innovation Festival in Brooklyn. The content was well-received and MasterCard has indicated it will be developing its use of the tech further into 2015.

When teamed with products that let your audience interact with your brand and each other – like a live social feed beacons offer a complementary way of driving engagement and adding value to any event.


Shoppers delight

The retail applications for beacons are wide-ranging, but the key thing here is the ability to deliver location-specific content that relates to on-shelf product. 

Imagine being able to let your customer know which items in the section they’re browsing are in the sale, or enriching their experience with extra details on the stories behind the product. We’re not just talking about the type of basic info you’d find on a garment label, but story-driven content that builds an emotional connection between buyer and product.


Used courtesy of Virgin

Used courtesy of Virgin


Going somewhere 

If you’re an Apple user and a bit of a jet setter, you’ve probably already benefited from beacon tech without realising. The brand’s Passbook app, which is installed on all new iPhones and iPads, is already being used to bring up flyers’ e-boarding passes as soon as they move within range of a beacon at airport terminals.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is leading the way on this one. Among other applications, the airline is using thermostats built into beacons to let its crews know when it’s getting chilly – so they can bring you a blanket. It’s next-level service like this that’ll act as a point-of-difference and help premium airlines like Virgin beat the budget competition.


Treasure hunt!

Is it just us that gets a little bit excited by the prospect of huge, city-wide digital treasure hunts, with beacons hidden at different spots about town broadcasting the clues?

This isn’t a new idea of course – GPS apps like Ingress, Strava and Run An Empire (currently in development) are already bringing together the worlds of gamification, tech and exercise, while brands have long been using social media to organise treasure hunts (usually directing competitors to one of their bricks-and-mortar stores). Beacons offer a more expansive, creative canvas on which all these elements can collide in a glorious mixture of tech, exploration and branded communication!

A run-of-the-mill Facebook ‘clue competition’ isn’t going to cut it any longer.


The QR code is (finally) dead

For a while QR codes, those little squares of seemingly randomqr-code-148732_1280 black and white dots, were everywhere. You wouldn’t see a band poster, outdoor ad or newspaper without at least one of the things lurking somewhere on the page. They were heralded as the next big thing in marketing. But only by marketers. 

The only problem was that Joe Public didn’t get the memo. Some, at least, downloaded a QR reader for their phone. Very few ever actually scanned a code. Rather than simplifying life, the QR code added another layer of complexity.

It’d be unfair to say the QR code was doomed to fail. The idea had loads of potential, it just never got the buy-in from the public that it did from tech-loving marketers eager for the next big thing.

What’s great about beacons is they don’t require the user to download any third-party software. All devices now are beacon-ready out of the box and seemed poised to fulfill the promise of their pixellated predecessor.

It’s fair to say that the QR code, which for the last year has been moribund at best, is now finally at peace.


Have you heard of or seen another creative use of beacon technology? Let us know about it in the comments.
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