As digital marketers, we should all be well aware that the lines between the online and offline world are getting more and more blurred all the time. The days when you could see your digital customers in isolation are over, and marketing teams should now be working across channels to give customers a consistent, personalised experience whatever touchpoint with the business they choose, and beacons are one of the latest hot topics that can help you do just that.

Beacons are small, wireless devices that connect with your phone via Bluetooth. They can be a fantastic tool to help you translate the personalisation communication of the online world into an offline environment. It could be in a retail store or even a train station, but these discreet devices provide an opportunity for brands to improve their relevance to consumers and for society in general.

I have picked out five examples below to illustrate how some companies are already using beacons to boost their relevance for their audience (the fifth one is my favourite):

What will a McDonald’s restaurant look like in 2020?

McDonald’s is aiming to create connected restaurants by 2020, so you can expect to see more self-service kiosks in their restaurants in coming years. More than just self-service, however, consumers will be able to order their food in advance via an app, and then when you walk in the restaurant’s beacons will recognise you, so your pre-ordered meal can be delivered to your table within minutes of you finding your seat.

To further improve the customer experience, the fast food chain is also developing what they are calling ‘happy tables’ just to help customers kill time. Anyone who has eaten out with children will understand what a difference it can make for your children to be entertained while waiting for their order.

Passenger support by KLM

Airlines and airports are among the businesses that are making best use of beacons, with the perfect environment to give passengers a more personalised service. The normal loud speaker system in airports must be one of the most ineffective communication channels in the world as 99% of the messages are irrelevant to the consumer. This is where the beacons come in – KLM has developed an app that allows consumers to find their gate in the blink of an eye, showing the route to their gate on their phone and warning them of any gate changes all via beacons throughout the airport.

Beacons as hotel keys at Starwood Hotels

Starwood Hotels are trying out beacons for their most loyal clients. The Starwood Preferred Guests (or SPG) app allows guests to check in remotely and use their phone as their hotel key, completely cutting out any long check-in queues for their most valuable customers.

Keeping track of your children with Nivea

This is a creative concept, but I have to admit I am still not sure about this one. Nivea has developed their own branded utility campaign to enable parents to monitor their children via a waterproof bracelet. Parents have the ability to define an area in which their children are allowed to play, and an alarm signal then warns the parents if the children stray outside the predefined area.

Helping blind people navigate London Underground

Even better than just customer relations, this beacon use actually improves the lives of thousands of blind people. Most London Underground stations were built long ago and are so notoriously difficult to navigate for blind people that they need personal assistance to get to the right platform. Other passengers can’t always be expected to help, so Wayfindr created a system of Bluetooth-equipped beacons to guide the visually impaired through the Underground using audio directions. The system is currently still in pilot, but the plan is that all subway stations in the British capital will be equipped with this beacon technology in the near future.


By Professor Steven Van Belleghem, Author of When Digital Becomes Human, Twitter @StevenVBe.

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