There's an old surrealist gag by a comedian called Harry Hill that goes 'Text messaging?! What's wrong with a good old-fashioned chain of beacons, hmm?'

I think I'm remembering that right.

Anyway, it leads me to ask - are iBeacons a legitimate advancement in push communications, or are they overhyped?

To get the skinny on this subject, I caught up with former Econsultancy writer and social media man, Matt Owen, now head of inbound marketing at blueSense Networks, a beacon tech business.

At this moment in time, Matt, what are the most elegant, useful and promising use cases for beacons?

Well, it’s very different for each industry.

For example, a hospital might decide to use beacons to track expensive medical devices as they move around the building. That way you minimize loss and risk, but you also have faster access in an emergency.

For an airport, it could be a use case for security, but also for guiding passengers to their gates, or automatically printing boarding passes to avoid queuing.

I’m a big fan of passive monitoring – tracking user flow and using that data to optimize spaces – rather than interruptive marketing.

It’s important to understand that beacons allow you to add a data layer to the real world, but driving people to check their screens all the time probably isn’t the best thing to do in a physical environment, so you need to focus on experience.

Anything that makes my trip less stressful is useful.

Early iBeacon trial from Virgin Atlantic

ibeacon trial

Do you see the future of beacons as a passive technology or one that initiates experiences?

Beacons are inherently passive. I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding as many marketers assume the beacon itself delivers content to users.

It’s really just a relay that passes information on when it is asked for, so my thinking is that they are best used to supply information when a customer specifically asks for it.

That said, it’s a lot like Google Now, answering questions before you need to ask them. As with all things, the real key is in that relevance.

Couponing has been the major use case so far for beacons because it is the most obvious, but as we’ve seen from the rest of the internet, interruptive ads aren’t effective, so the messaging needs to be useful and relevant.

For example, I wouldn’t mind my car getting a message about the number of parking spaces available without needing to ask.

Couponing from the MLB


So, is retail a bit of a red herring? Do we need distractions in store?

I think we need to get beyond the urge to sell, but that’s been true of all types of marketing over the years.

If you can genuinely add to the in-store experience, then retail is an excellent use case.

Some of the examples we’ve seen have been stores using them to direct customers to click-and-collect points.

There is also an obvious case for joining up online and offline customer profiles here, which is probably where retail would see the most value overall.

What is the bigger challenge - data, infrastructure or creative?

Because it’s such an early-stage tech right now, it is a mixture of all three. We’ve certainly seen lots of creative uses.

The example I keep going back to is the Barbican in London, which has beacons that invite visitors to explore the space and learn about the history of the building in a non-linear way.

It’s creative and really makes you appreciate the space you are in on a deeper level.

Edgelands at the Barbican


Data is actually fairly easy, as nothing can be used without express permission from the customer, which again means you are kind of forced to add a lot of value in return.

I do think there is still a lot of education to be done here though, which is why we’ve been offering consulting to our customers, to help them think about what they are providing for customers and how it helps them. 

It’s actually very aligned with the focus on CX which marketing is increasingly adopting.

Infrastructure is evolving – I do see a time when beacons are installed in the same way telephone lines or internet cabling is now.

Actually, telco’s are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this, as they have physical locations as well as interests in mobile, online and more.

Ben Davis

Published 18 August, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (7)

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Darren Ravenscroft

Darren Ravenscroft, Product Consultant at DazRave

I can't comprehend this ever becoming mainstream. The technology relies on Bluetooth which many people either keep switched off or their phones have energy saving modes and keep them switched off.

There would have to be a huge shift in how customers use their phones and perhaps a lot of guidance/marketing in order for them to accept it.

almost 2 years ago


Steve Johnson, social manager at brinc

From what I understand, iBeacons require an interface with an app, whereas eddystone doesn't, so iBeacons are always going to be limited in their use.

I'm probably the most intrigued about Facebook's beacons though. I reckon those are the ones that have a better chance of taking off.

almost 2 years ago

Darren Ravenscroft

Darren Ravenscroft, Product Consultant at DazRave

Google's 'Eddystone' works on Bluetooth too as well as needing an app like Google Chrome installed in order for it to work.

Facebook's beacon's are also Bluetooth, however they do have the advantage which is the Facebook app is frequently opened on most users devices. So the potential of them opening the App to allow one of their beacons to work is much higher.

I see this technology being best used for things like Cars. Having the Bluetooth within a car always on. In theory, it'll be able to know where other cars in close proximity are. It may also help improve the tracking of vehicles on busy roads/junctions easier then current technology.

almost 2 years ago

Clare Laurie

Clare Laurie, Head of Marketing at B2B

Interesting to see the responses identify the key barriers to beacons that are perceived: Bluetooth adoption, education and awareness, limitations of apps etc.

Personally I think beacons currently offer brands the best way to deliver on the expectations of the connected consumer as (s)he moves seamlessly between online and offline. Beacons allow brands to both learn about consumers’ real world behaviour and be more relevant, timely and personal in their interactions with them.

@ Darren Yes, a shift in behaviour is required, but I do think that once brands start delivering better, more relevant customers experiences using the technology, consumers will be prepared to make these changes.

Probably the bigger issue that needs fixing, which you both touch on, is the closed way in which 'rival' beacons and beacon infrastructures are being set up at present: separate protocols, only communicating with a single app, etc. This can make beacons seem limited or niche.

But I suspect as the technologies mature, a norm will emerge. (At blueSense we've always operated on an open source basis because we think that's the right way to go.) And let's not forget that it’s Google, Apple and Facebook's plays in the market that we’re discussing here - they clearly think there's something in it!

almost 2 years ago

Darren Ravenscroft

Darren Ravenscroft, Product Consultant at DazRave

@Clare - Very good reply and you make very valid points indeed, most of which I agree with. However, all three major companies mentioned experiment with a ton of different technologies all the time and are not afraid to cut their loses and drop them completely.

Also, I'm inclined to point out you're CMO at blueSense which, after a quick google, appear to sell beacons. Which kind of highlights a possibility of you being a bit bias towards the technology.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


Not to put words in Clare's mouth, but given the article is an interview with a blueSense employee, and Clare mentions that she works for the company, I think full disclosure was implicit.

Anyway, thanks for commenting. I agree with you both that users will need a lot of education or a truly captivating experience to encourage adoption - we are all world-weary partly because of the fragmentation (walled gardens) in mobile that Clare points to.

almost 2 years ago

Darren Ravenscroft

Darren Ravenscroft, Product Consultant at DazRave

@Ben - It's been a fair few days since I read the article. I don't think I had noticed it was originally a blueSense employee interviewed, my bad that one.

almost 2 years ago

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