Customer Tech — Near Field Communication (NFC)

We talk all the time about mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy and the next best thing that’s com­ing along. We care about all the new ways we can reach the cus­tomer with this tech so we can give them the pos­i­tive cus­tomer expe­ri­ence we think they want at every point they touch our brand. We obsess over it. The Mobile First – Cus­tomer First ban­ner flies high above our dig­i­tal army.

Let’s turn that obses­sion on its head for just a moment. Let’s talk about cus­tomer tech­nol­o­gy where the cus­tomer is reach­ing out to us, the brand, with­out us dan­gling car­rots, offers and slick con­tent to draw them in. Let’s talk about cus­tomer tech­nol­o­gy where they hold the on/off switch and choose to engage with us because they saw a prod­uct they liked in the store and actu­al­ly want to know more about it and yes, look for a good deal. I think Near Field Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (NFC) has that qual­i­ty about it.

It seems rather odd to talk about NFC from this per­spec­tive but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. NFC was not borne by mar­keters but rather emerged from the world of radio fre­quen­cy iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID), an inven­to­ry track­ing tech­nol­o­gy. The mar­ket­ing world is still try­ing to fig­ure out if it has cus­tomer engage­ment poten­tial or not. In my first post on NFC, I talked about how the Euro­pean con­sumer has more read­i­ly adopt­ed the tech than the brand has. The “not invent­ed here” syn­drome may be in play on that one. But, I digress. The fact of the mat­ter is that NFC is pop­u­lar with the cus­tomer for sev­er­al reasons.

  1. The cus­tomer con­trols the on/off switch. NFC chips inside the cus­tomer smart phone is the com­mu­ni­ca­tions access point to the data stor­age and trans­fer tags that the mar­keters have to devel­op as the Inter­net of Things (IoT) engage­ment method with the cus­tomer. The cus­tomer can enable or dis­able NFC at their dis­cre­tion. They hold the uni­ver­sal con­troller and can change the chan­nel any time they want. The brand is at their mercy.
  2. NFC is a “pull” tech­nol­o­gy. In oth­er words, the cus­tomer has to take an action to pull the mar­ket­ing infor­ma­tion from NFC tags and sen­sors by first turn­ing on NFC in their phone and then pur­pose­ly either tap­ping their phone on the NFC tag if it’s a pas­sive tag or get close enough (a few cen­time­ters) if it’s an active, trans­mit­ting NFC sensor.
  3. NFC has many oth­er non-mar­ket­ing uses that the own­er of the smart phone can use it for includ­ing things like remote start­ing of their car, pay for their cof­fee just by com­ing close enough to the cash reg­is­ter … in oth­er words con­ve­nience for the cus­tomer. The use­ful appli­ca­tions are lim­it­ed only by our creativity.
  4. Ease of use. The NFC chip is pro­vid­ed by their smart phone man­u­fac­tur­er. NFC tags and sen­sors are inex­pen­sive if you choose to spread them around your house to per­form even more qual­i­ty of life enhance­ments from your phone or in this case, the new uni­ver­sal con­troller. I just checked Ama­zon online and a dozen pas­sive NFC tags costs about $15USD.

NFC appli­ca­tions come in three fun­da­men­tal types. There’s the:

Obvi­ous­ly, Touch and Con­nect has the pri­ma­ry inter­ests of the mar­keter at heart. You can tag mer­chan­dise in your store with tags that have mar­ket­ing offers, con­tent and media engage­ment fea­tures. Make those tags active and you get a two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion path where you get data about the cus­tomer in return for his/her inter­est in the mer­chan­dise. How about NFC embed­ded paper for hand­ing out at your con­fer­ences and seminars?

But, don’t take your eyes off the oth­er two types of use. They are cus­tomer con­ve­niences beyond mar­ket­ing that pro­vides uni­ver­sal appeal and accept­ed tech­nol­o­gy the cus­tomer will use.

Let’s get back to the point of the dis­cus­sion, mar­ket­ing. Why are brands slow to use NFC as a mar­ket­ing chan­nel? I think it is because there’s a new wrin­kle for mar­keters to fig­ure out. How do I effec­tive­ly engage NFC as a cus­tomer con­trolled, data pull access chan­nel. Maybe it’s time to real­ly accept the fact that the cus­tomer has wrest­ed con­trol away from us and now it’s up to us to adapt. What do you think?