McDonald’s Plans To Expand Piper Beacon Installs Across The Southeast

The proximity marketing provider is making its beacon push equally to consumers, enterprises, and SMBs.

Piper's Beacon kit
Piper’s Beacon kit

McDonald’s is planning to roll out beacons from mobile messaging app developer Piper at an additional 263 stores across the Southeast, as the quick serve restaurant chain continues to hone its mobile marketing strategy.

Over the past year, McDonald’s has heavily promoted its use of Apple Pay and has continued to experiment with a variety of mobile-based rewards, smartphone ordering features, and constantly updated social media campaigns.

This would be the second phase of a program that started with a pilot program involving Piper’s beacons being embedded in 26 McDonald’s franchises in Columbus, GA and nearby Charleston.

The QSR’s beacon expansion is a strong vote of confidence in the three-year-old San Diego micro-targeting company, says Piper CEO Robert Hanczor, who cites the pilot program’s early success.

Piper’s McDonald’s strategy included the installation of two of its beacons at each McDonald’s. One beacon was placed at the drive-thru window; the other was situated at the sales counter.

During the initial four-week launch in December 2014, customers who had the Piper app on their Apple iPhone or Google Android device were prompted to download an offer. Using both in-store ads and mobile-targeted banners, Piper ran 18,000 offer redemptions for the promoted items, such as the McChicken, which, during the test period, saw sales rise 8 percent. A beacon-based coupon advertising McNuggets produced a 7.5 percent increase in sales between November and December.

Nevertheless, like all beacon providers, Piper still sees challenges in driving consumer and brand acceptance of the Bluetooth-powered devices. And like most beacon providers, Hanczor believes his company possesses the right strategy to surmount those hurdles.

GeoMarketing: What’s Piper’s approach in promoting consumers’ and brands’ acceptance of beacons?

Robert Hanczor: We developed Piper to be a browser of beacons. We’re trying to be a forward-looking company, and we recognize that there are both opportunities and challenges with using proximity messaging to effectively reach consumers wherever they are.

We’ve seen a lot of really good case studies spring up around the industry. Many of them tend to be very one-to-one focused. In other words, a brand buys a development kit from a beacon company; it then ties it to their mobile application. After that, consumers download the app allowing businesses to deliver messages based on proximity.

We think that’s great and the industry has to start somewhere. What we’re trying to do is to figure out what this looks like down the road.

McDonald's promotes the presence of beacons with mobile ads and outdoor signage.
McDonald’s promotes the presence of beacons with mobile ads and outdoor signage.

How does the near-term future of beacons look at this point from Piper’s perspective?

Let’s look 18 months, two years ahead. Instead of having hundreds of beacons around us, we’ve got millions of beacons around us. In that environment businesses will need a platform that makes it easy for them to attach their existing messaging platforms and strategies and deliver them as a result of proximity. In other words, we don’t think just because you’re dealing with beacons or you’re dealing with messages at the local level that you need to have a separate CMS or a separate way to connect with people.

We think people should be able to use the systems and services that they have. They can use Piper as an easy way to deliver their organization’s marketing message. From there, these brands can find a way to simply fine-tune their marketing at a local, personal level through proximity. We believe that marketing has more meaning when the connections are based on where people are and what they’re experiencing at the moment.

How do marketers use your platform? Is it limited to brands who will use the Piper app from the Apple App Store or from Google Play? Do you do any white labeling for brands?

It depends. I think that there’s a lot of value in attaching the Piper service as a plus one to any branded proximity application. We have a library and we’re in some discussions right now on white labeling, but we’re trying to be selective as to which of those kinds of projects we’re taking up.

We’re much more interested in expanding our platform so that it’s useful for everyone. There are some limitations with the technology right now that could very well be overcome in the future with new devices and smartphones that are put on the market, and software that creates a wider breadth of ranging for these types of devices.

What makes Piper different from other beacon providers?

If you look at all of these beacon companies on the market, just imagine that all of them are successful and you wind up with 30 Bluetooth sensing apps on your phone. It’s literally going to melt under the weight of all that Bluetooth activity. It’s quite possible that some of the apps that are trying to range, won’t be able to because they’re simply being blocked out by the number of UUID’s that are nearby or that the app has been trained to look for.

We believe that eventually there’s going to be this need for having a “browser for beacons” and that Piper can serve as the social media platform of proximity engagement. Much like a business would tell its customers, “Hey, you follow us on Facebook. You Follow us on Twitter. Now, go ahead and follow us on Piper.” That way, you’ve got one app that you can rely on to collect proximity messages whether you’re at a museum, you’re on a metro, you’re at a ball game, or you’re in a McDonald’s. It’s one app that the customer can use to control which messages they want and ignore others that aren’t relevant.

Our view is that the customer should decide which messages they want to attend to and having this level of control will result in a much better proximity experience without being overwhelmed by too many messages.

Piper phoneHow did Piper get started in the beacon business?

We’ve been around for about three years now. Piper started off as an app development company. We were heavily involved in local store marketing so we were primarily doing specialty applications for franchises, quick serve restaurants, and retail businesses to promote local store marketing. We did a lot of geo-location. And we still have some applications that deal with augmented reality. But as soon as we saw that Apple, and eventually, Android, were going to adopt Bluetooth-Low Energy technology, we were pretty much all in. We knew that our customers were trying to find ways that they could connect with people in individual locations – where that location had meaning and context and where we could help create rich experiences both for the consumer and for the brand.

When it comes to beacon acceptance by consumers, how do you make the case for proximity marketing to businesses, whether large ones like McDonald’s, or smaller independent retailers?

With any new technology you’re always going to have thought leaders. You’re going to have innovators who step out, grab the reins on new technology, and ride it for the rest of the industry.

If you look atMacy’s, you look at McDonald’s, you look at the variety of larger retailers who have tested, if not embraced the technology, they’ve taken a very good first step in creating awareness. It comes down to understanding how customers, who are increasingly mobile, are most likely to respond to a marketing message. For large enterprises, it’s a natural move.

Small businesses see these smartphone devices, they see their customers with their heads buried in them all the time and they’re trying to find a way to connect there. They also see the success that enterprise businesses are having with the technology and begin to say, “I can play there too. I really want the promise of Apple Pay. I really want iBeacon and this Passbook technology.”

What we’re simply doing is delivering it to them at the local level so that they can play with this new marketing technology the same way larger brands can.

There is a challenge. We have to inform, we have to educate, and as time goes by, even if you look at just three months ago, we’re seeing a huge difference in awareness in the customers that we talk to. Piper’s job is to help explain this technology’s potential and its limitations. We just need to be there as the honest broker of the technology to say, “We can get you going quickly, give you a platform that you can start off with inexpensively, without any development requirements, and help you grow from there.”


About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.