Recently, one would be hard-pressed to read through any tech journal or digital signage publication without finding some mention of mobile interactivity. More specifically, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding NFC (near-field communication). But why the sudden surge of excitement and evangelization of the not-so-new technology?
NFC has been around for years, and major manufacturers like Nokia have been embedding the technology into their handsets since as early as 2006, though these phones didn’t make their way into the U.S. until 2011.
With tens of billions of dollars in revenues from mobile payments on the line, the potential stakeholders — of which there are many — have been busy carving up the proverbial pie for the past few years, preventing the U.S. consumer from taking full advantage of the power of NFC. But finally, with the cell phone manufacturers, wireless carriers, credit card processors, payment technology companies and other key players seemingly making progress on establishing some sort of standard, the floodgates have opened and NFC-enabled phones have started crossing the U.S. border in meaningful numbers.
The first major NFC-enabled phone to hit the U.S. market was Google’s Nexus-S by Samsung in early 2011. Other manufacturers including Nokia, LG, Sony Ericsson, HTC, Blackberry and Motorola have since released several phone models that include NFC, bringing the total current market penetration of NFC in the U.S. to about 10 percent.
Business research and consulting firm Mercator Advisory Group predicts that number to grow to 36 percent by 2014. As the number of devices continues to grow, so will the consumer applications for NFC, which provide an opportunity for brands to communicate with their target audience on their mobile phones.
NFC’s Role in Signage
While the ability to pay for things with your phone and potentially replace credit cards is arguably the most powerful and transformational aspect of NFC, the near-term opportunity is simply about making physical-to-digital connections easier. With mobile marketing being the fastest growing segment of advertising, the ability to leverage NFC for new and improved ways to connect with consumers in a relevant context is extremely appealing to digital signage owners.
Near-field communications technologies will transform how consumers interact with digital signage.
Imagine walking into a movie theater lobby and seeing an NFC-enabled display for an upcoming movie release. By tapping your phone on the designated engagement zone, you can view the trailer of the movie; if you like what you see, you can purchase the ticket right there and then. This type of experience is revolutionary.
Companies have already started deploying campaigns with similar applications. RMG Networks, a place-based leader in Air Travel Media, partnered with Blue Bite to deliver downloads of the Hotel Tonight mobile app in its airport locations, targeting business travelers — the core demographic of the application. Users who were viewing the digital signage were encouraged to tap the NFC-enabled placard adjacent to the screen in order to directly download the application and take advantage of the monetary incentive that was offered.
The combination of the digital signage and mobile capability translated into over 50 percent of all interactions resulting in a user download and registration of the application. The digital signage serves as the call-to-action, educating consumers about how to engage with their mobile device, as well as explaining the value they will receive for taking the action. In return, the mobile component transforms the digital signage from an impression-based medium into a two-way interactive medium with detailed tracking and real-time analytics.
An Engaging Technology
From a consumer’s standpoint, NFC-based marketing has a few major advantages over existing mobile technologies. In contrast to QR (quick-response) codes, there is no need to download and install any applications, and unlike SMS, NFC does not collect personally identifiable information. NFC is also easier to set up than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, as it requires minimal modification of the phone’s settings and can remain “on” at all times without draining the battery.
Marketers will benefit from the ability to micro-target specific locations and the audience in those locations that is most interested in the offer. Thus, any such engagements are more relevant and valuable. As NFC-enabled handset saturation increases and users and marketers become more familiar with the uses of NFC, the types of campaigns and content will evolve in both creativity and usefulness.
If implemented correctly, the average U.S. mobile phone user’s inaugural NFC experience will be a relevant, valuable and exclusive interaction with a brand. This type of introduction to NFC is essential to the success and sustainability of its use as a marketing tool. U.S. consumers are creatures of habit, and both marketers and digital signage owners must ensure that the actual experience is as easy as possible and provides value for the consumer; that is, if they expect consumers to reengage in the future.
As long as these considerations are taken into account, NFC can prove to be a powerful and successful companion to digital signage.
Mikhail Damiani, CEO and co-founder of Blue Bite, has spearheaded the company’s NFC efforts with its mTAG Platform. He is also responsible for Blue Bite’s strategic partnerships, sales and client management. At Digital Signage Expo 2012 in Las Vegas, Damiani will host a pre-conference seminar, “Near-Field Communications: Changing the Digital Signage Value Proposition.”