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iBeacons in restaurants: A testing ground for the future

iBeacons in restaurants: A testing ground for the future Bryan Menell

The mobile revolution has expanded our understanding of how important context awareness will be for the future of marketing. Gone are the days of broad, general ad campaigns that you hope will generate a few conversions. Today, the consumer's first screen is the mobile device, and it's also the most personal technological gadget consumers own. This means that marketers need to rethink their definition of "personal." A personalized ad message used to be defined by how well a cookie tracked online users and then served them relevant ads. Those days are quickly fading and being replaced by the new definition of what personalized messages look like: context-relevant, real-world messaging.

Perhaps no better practical example is being executed today than what is happening in the restaurant industry. We spoke to Bryan Menell, CEO of Mahana, a mobile restaurant app that uses iBeacons in restaurants to provide customers a rich, contextually relevant messaging experience. The company has worked with copious restaurants to strategically place these beacons in order to send customers vital information like restaurant wait times and special offers for frequent customers. The restaurant industry might be a perfect testing ground for the practical use of beacons and how marketers can start to have meaningful, personalized conversations with consumers.

So why aren't cookies cutting it anymore? Cookies worked for a while and were very helpful during the advent of the internet. However, the biggest shift that's occurred in the past few years has arguably been the redefinition of the mobile device. Once Apple invented the iPhone and others followed suit, a new generation of consumers was born -- consumers who expect to be engaged, not advertised to. Smartphones also gave birth to the app economy, which is still going strong both with brands and consumers. Cookies are a great way to learn about an internet user's behavior, but beacons may be the new way to finally understand their motives. You can learn so much more from tracking consumers via physical location than with their digital footprint.

If beacons take off, is there a danger of over-messaging? According to Bryan Menell, CEO of Mahana, the answer is a resounding yes. Marketers need to tread lightly in this area and realize that they risk annoying consumers if they get a little too overzealous with beacon technology. This is why having the restaurant industry as a testing ground is a great way to observe consumer limits and breaking points. How much messaging is too much? Is there such a thing as too many offers and discounts? What's the actual blowback if you cross the line? These are important questions that the industry needs answered before it moves to a beacon-centric world.

So how close are we to understanding the place beacons can have in a large mobile marketing strategy? While progress is being made, we're really still in experimentation mode. Now may not be the time to make any dramatic shifts in your mobile tactics, but if you're not at least experimenting with beacons then you're missing out. The big players who take bold risks in understanding this technology's potential will be the ones who will ultimately win big business. When you send relevant messages to consumers, they will stop perceiving you as a brand and start looking at you as a friend. There's no more powerful consumer perception shift that will occur in the next few years than that. It's a brave new world you're stepping into if you take the leap.

Article written by senior media producer David Zaleski.

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Bryan Menell is the co-founder and CEO of Mahana, a company that uses iBeacons at restaurants to improve the guest experience. Menell was a finalist for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award, and has 20 years of experience founding and...

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