Mars, Incorporated is a global manufacturer of confectionary and other food products and is known for iconic candy brands such as Mars bars, Milky Way, M&M’s, Skittles, Snickers, and Twix. Seasonal and themed in-store displays play a key role in how Mars connects with consumers across retail locations.

When planning its Halloween display strategy, Mars was exploring opportunities to innovate. Halloween is an understandably critical sales moment, and Mars wanted to find a new way to maximize incremental sales through display campaigns during the season.

Shedding light on display blind spots

Previously, Mars was only able to track the number of retail displays it produced and how many left its warehouses for retail destinations. This left the organization with a critical information gap, as it had little to no insight into how these displays were used once they reached their destinations. Mars wanted to answer questions such as: How long does it take for displays to be put up at a retail location? Are they positioned correctly? How long do the displays stay in stores?

Looking to better understand how these displays were deployed and seeking to maximize the value from each display, Mars went hunting for a solution.

Finding the right display tracking solution—scalable, simple, and effective

Mars connected with Footmarks, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to design a pilot project for more than 7,000 large Halloween candy displays. Footmarks is a pioneer in consumer packaged goods (CPG) display tracking and provides innovative beacon solutions, with millions of beacons deployed in the United States. The Footmarks team, along with Microsoft, showcased to Mars the unique value of the Footmarks CPG Smart Tracking solution, highlighting the cost, structure, and commitment to continual improvement that Mars was looking for. According to Jason Wood, Global Display Development Head at Mars, Inc., “Footmarks and Microsoft are both pioneers in this area of technology, so we were excited to partner and test their solution to determine if it was a viable long-term option for our display business.“

The CPG Smart Tracking solution, fully developed, managed, and maintained using Microsoft Azure IoT Central, operates through Bluetooth beacon sensors installed on individual displays. These sensors allow displays to be easily tracked and managed throughout their lifecycle—from creation to retirement.

Footmarks uses crowdsourced location data from nearly 50 million consumer mobile devices to identify and capture beacon identifiers, locations, and time stamps in stores. This information is then relayed in real time to a gateway installed in a customer warehouse and connected to Azure IoT Central. Data from gateways is aggregated in a Microsoft Power BI dashboard, delivering updates in real time and enabling remote management. With this insight, a customer can track the location and status of any display at any point in time.

Once a customer like Mars is onboarded, the organization can typically launch a new initiative in a day without placing undue burden on the operator or retail partners—and, importantly, without the need for costly in-store networking installations.

Deciding on the solution platform—and how Azure IoT Central delivered

When Footmarks was building the solution, the team knew they needed an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that could enable speed, cost-effective offerings, and scale. In many campaigns, every day matters, so Footmarks needed the ability to quickly onboard beacon gateways. With Azure IoT Central, the team knew onboarding would be fast and seamless.

Another deciding factor for an IoT platform provider was simple and understandable pricing that gave a clear path for quickly onboarding new customers and enabled accurate cost predictions. According to Shawn Englund of Footmarks, “Microsoft’s new Azure IoT Central pricing completely broke down prior barriers to scale. The simplified pricing model now lets us fully leverage Azure IoT Central.”

Driving results for Mars and other CPG customers means operating at scale, so Footmarks was looking for an IoT platform that supported scale end to end—from onboarding and deployment to management, monitoring, and retirement. Through Azure IoT Central, each gateway can track thousands of individual displays, so customers can rapidly scale the solution to meet their growing needs. By using Azure IoT Central, the displays Footmarks is monitoring can number in the millions.

From a scale standpoint, another advantage of Azure IoT Central is multi-tenancy. The Footmarks solution was built with multi-tenancy from the beginning, so when a new customer is added, Footmarks sets up an isolated instance of the solution, saving hundreds of hours of development time.

To facilitate buy-in, the Footmarks offering had to be low touch and seamless to execute. By building on Azure IoT Central, Footmarks was able to deliver a solution that doesn’t require precious time from frontline employees. The beacon is placed on a display at a warehouse, and that’s it. There are zero touch points required from field reps or stores—setting up a beacon-enabled display is the same as setting up any other display.

Setting up for the Halloween season

Mars developed three different display styles for the Halloween season: one football-themed display, one optimized for a large retail chain, and a display for all other retailers. At the time of production, a Bluetooth beacon sensor with unique identifiers was installed on each individual display, allowing Mars to track each display throughout its use. Gateways were then registered in Azure IoT Central and placed in Mars’s warehouse to provide supply, inventory, and usage details in real time.

Enjoying success, while unwrapping future opportunities

With the new solution in place, Mars was equipped with information on how many displays were in warehouse, how many were in transit, where they were headed, when they were put in market, and how long they remained in use.

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This display lifecycle information proved invaluable to the Mars sales team. During execution, Mars used these insights to provide live updates to sales teams, enabling them to ensure that displays were at the right stores. Mars field reps could be alerted when displays were removed from storefronts—in some cases prior to or long after Halloween—thus giving the teams a chance to mitigate these issues. “Information on when displays came off floor was surprising—major insights that we wouldn’t have been able to get to without the solution,” says Wood of Mars.

Data collected through the solution provided Mars with a greater understanding of how campaigns were executed in real time while also allowing the company to effectively assess results and adapt future campaigns to maximize ROI. Details regarding where displays were used, and where they were most effective, provided a clearer picture of how many displays are needed. This insight will allow Mars to avoid overproduction, thereby reducing cost and waste while increasing overall effectiveness.

Additionally, this data is enabling Mars to develop a more accurate assessment of display campaign ROI, allowing the company to build a narrative that showcases the value of these displays to the retailers who can ultimately share in that success.

What’s next: live customer engagement

While Mars and Footmarks are both thrilled with the benefits realized thus far, they are equally excited about learning together and growing their partnership to capitalize upon other opportunities the solution presents.

Beyond optimizing campaign execution, the Footmarks solution offers Mars an opportunity to interact directly with shoppers who are in close proximity to displays. Footmarks has pioneered beacons that can connect with nearby customers via select mobile apps.

By communicating offers and promotions directly to customers, the Footmarks beacons augment the in-store shopping experience and raise the potential value of both seasonal and permanent displays to an entirely new level. Imagine the value of the relationship created when an in-store offer matches the purchase habits of a local consumer, from discounts to a specific recipe—the possibilities are endless.

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