As children, we learned the golden rule in the context of interacting with one another. The notion of treating people around us like we desire to be treated became ingrained into our young and developing selves. That lesson is one that holds true not only in a kindergarten classroom but in business, too—especially in marketing.

In the past, retail marketers have developed their own version of this rule when determining messaging strategies: Understand how your audience consumes information and serve it to them the way they prefer.

Unfortunately, this adaptation only focuses on one half of the two-part messaging equation: how to receive plus what to communicate. In this case, all the attention is placed on how people want to receive messages. Advertisers have determined mobile is the clear winner.

But what about the second half previously left untouched. What about the message itself? What exactly do people want to hear from brands on their mobile phone? In the past, advertisers had to make assumptions about messaging and were forced to send it without the input of the consumer.

But a new technology is emerging that has dramatically changed this equation.

The World of Beacon Technology

Beacons allow advertisers to deliver customized messages on-site aimed at improving the shopping experience. Message customization is based on a consumers' preferences, previous shopping habits, location, and other data. With the help of beacons, messaging is woven into the larger customer experience, creating both interactive and relevant messaging—all at the time of purchase.

Beacon technology may sound like a thing of the future, but a BI Intelligence report projects that use will grow 287% to nearly five million by 2018. For many brands, the benefits of beacons are clear, and early adopters are starting to see the return.

I am going to walk you through the basics of the technology and spotlight some interesting ways fellow industries are using it.

First, let's define beacons.

Beacons are small indoor positioning devices that use low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) to communicate with a shopper's smartphone in the hopes of improving the in-store shopping experience, according to Digiday. When placed in a store, beacons can detect nearby smartphones and send them media such as ads, coupons, or customized supplementary product information. Not just for shoppers, beacons can also be used as point-of-sale systems and collect large amounts of data that can then be used to improve both real-time and right-time marketing, in-store and online.

Industries Already Using Beacons

Travel Industry

Miami International Airport recently launched an app that uses beacons to help consumers navigate the overwhelming terminals and find the correct gate for departure as the app sends them notifications on their mobile devices for restaurant and retail deals in the airport.

Airports aren't the only ones capitalizing on this trend, airlines are right on their heels. Imagine there is an unexpected flight delay... Beacons can alert passengers of a complementary drink discount at the bar around the corner, creating an inviting experience to ride out their wait. Beacons are taking a typically frustrating situation and introducing customer service technology aimed at averting and appeasing potentially disgruntled passengers. Now isn't that how every airline passenger wants to be treated?


Recently, organizations such as the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Guggenheim in New York City have used the technology to enhance the museum goer's experience.

When a viewer approaches a piece, additional information about that painting, sculpture, or magazine cover is served directly to his or her phone. This beacon data isn't just used for educating customers; it also provides museum administrators with tracking data on where visitors spend most of their time. That data can help design teams determine what exhibits are most popular and which need to be tweaked to better appeal to the audience.

This technology allows museums to constantly tweak their product or product display to better reflect the needs of the customer. For brands, this could revolutionize the retail shopping experience allowing ideal shopping flows to be created based on-site consumer shopping and interaction data.

Grocery Stores

Coop and ICA—two of the largest supermarket chains in Sweden—have recently explored beacon technology to make communications in the supermarkets more timely and relevant.

McCormick & Co.'s Zatarain's use beacons to send shoppers grocery list reminders and loyalty points based on the context of the store from the food and spice brand.

Imagine that, as you walk down the grocery aisle, a beacon serves you a recipe based on something you pinned to your Pinterest board and your location relevant to an ingredient in that recipe. This plays up shoppers' creativity, inspiring them to try new ingredients and different brands. For brands, this means dollar signs and another item in the basket. By combining beacon data of previous mobile history with relevant interests and current location, retailers can have a significant influence in converting on-site purchases.

Retail Stores

Retailers like Macy's and Target are already seeing the benefits of implementing beacon technology. Beacons help these retailers recognize, reward, and get to know their best customers, increasing loyalty and, in turn, building a stronger relationship with them. The data collected on these shoppers also allows highly personalized and targeted offers, which will reinforce the loyalty programs mentioned above.

Internally, beacons can assist in tracking staff efficiency and productivity. The Guardian explains that by using beacons, retailers with mass product quantities are able to track vendor activity, monitor deliveries, and ensure vendor compliance.

Not only do beacons allow retailers to develop a more consumer-centric messaging strategy that can incorporate real-time product feedback, but they also streamline internal processes creating efficiencies while drawing attention to potential problem areas.

Being Truly Mobile

There is a difference between brands being mobile-friendly and mobile-proficient. To be truly mobile-proficient, you not only need to be communicating with your customer on mobile but also using the data to create compelling personalized and interactive mobile experiences.

These days, it isn't the strongest brands that survive but the nimble or ones that alter their products and experiences based on the constantly evolving needs of the customer.

Beacon technology is an incredibly cost-effective and targeted way to communicate, but the real value it provides is data. Endless amounts of consumer shopping habits data will allow for adjustments to in store layouts, product placement, target market penetration, and on-site displays, as well as monitoring staff efficiencies to maintain the service standards and operations your brand desires.

The potential benefits of beacon technology are endless, but the data provided is useless unless capitalized on in the right way. When sorting through this data think back to your childhood, think back to the golden rule. How do you want others to treat you?

When you use this approach as a guide for both your life and your brand strategy, you and your customers win.

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image of Dave McMullen

Dave McMullen is partner at redpepper, a full-service, integrated advertising and marketing agency that specializes in producing creative ideas that provide real results.

LinkedIn: Dave McMullen