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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Touch and Go — Applications such as access control or transport/event ticketing, where the user needs only to bring the device storing the ticket or access code close to the reader. Example for picking up an Internet URL from a smart label on a poster.
- Touch and Confirm — Applications such as mobile payment where the user has to confirm the interaction by entering a password or just accepting the transaction.
- Touch and Connect — Linking two NFC-enabled devices to enable peer to peer transfer of data such as downloading music, exchanging images or synchronizing address books.
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?