Tapping Potential

Improving the consumer experience has long been every marketer’s key remit, and creating great UX has traditionally gone hand-in-hand with delivering it as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. No doubt this is one of the reasons why the idea of using NFC – Near Field Communication – as a marketing tool is starting to create quite a stir.

NFC is being heralded as a hot new technology, with the potential to transform the way marketers deliver their brand story. The content, embedded in an NFC tag, allows wireless communication when a user touches a mobile device to a piece of marketing collateral. As far as the user experience is concerned, the magic lies in the delivery – a mere tap suffices to download content or effect a transaction.


Contactless payments

While this technology has been around since the 1980s, it evolved in the context of contactless payments. It was the now almost humble QR code that first caught marketers’ imagination. Back in 2005, when these two-dimensional matrix codes started to make an appearance, there was a huge barrier to entry, namely, the fiddly issue of downloading the appropriate app, installing, launching, aiming, taking a photo and waiting to be re-directed. Add to this the fact that back then, smartphones were still quite novel, and the mobile internet could only reveal the simplest of content.

Despite this, QR codes spread like a rash on everything from movie posters to fast-food menus, and consumers got excited at the trendy new way of downloading – usually a web link. The degree of effort required to grab the content soon started to spoil the fun, as the novelty wore off.

Now NFC has unshackled itself from its virtual wallet persona and is nudging QR codes into the sidelines. Forecasters predict that NFC will reach mass-market status by about 2015, by which time 4G will be commonplace, and we will have forgotten what limiting our data even meant. At which point there will be no further barriers to a fast-track digital bridge to physical collateral.  

However, as with any new technology, NFC as a marketing tool still has to overcome these few hurdles. While NFC certainly can boast rapid content delivery – QR codes take seven or more steps to direct users to the digital marketing content, anyone with a smartphone can effectively access a QR code. In order to enjoy the speed of NFC, consumers need to have an NFC-enabled handset.

This should not be seen as a barrier, however, since it’s not a matter of whether NFC takes off in the marketing arena, but when, and at the rate things are going this is not too far off. Many smartphone producers are leaping on the NFC bandwagon. Most new Samsung smartphones now come with NFC built in, as do HTC, Nokia and Sony devices.

Forecasters are saying that by the end of 2013, 20 – 30 per cent of all handsets on the market will have NFC capacity. Apple, on the other hand, is holding out, yet there are rumblings now that Apple may in fact be losing some of its magic. The Android OS has seen major updates each year, whilst iOS has looked the same for the last six generations.

As consumers increasingly become reliant on mCommerce, the focus for marketers is on finding the best channel to drive them to a point of purchase, be it an online checkout or a store. The application of NFC in marketing is only just coming out of early-adopter stage, but consumers are increasingly tech-savvy and eager for the next exceptional experience. They are starting to expect content to be found in new locations. As Kevin Ashton co-founder and executive director of MITs Auto-ID lab so aptly explained, we live in an era where we now expect to overlay the logic of the web to objects in the physical world: to connect everything that exists physically to the internet through the application of ubiquitous tags and sensors. According to Ashton, we are shifting towards a time when everything down to a single product on a grocery shelf will have a unique digital identity.

 Yet we don’t need to look too far into the future to see how NFC is already bedding into the marketing mix. Only last year, Microsoft and JCDecaux teamed up with Tapit to run the biggest outdoor NFC-enabled campaign in the world for the XBOX 360 launch of Halo 4 in Sydney and Melbourne. Microsoft promoted the scavenger hunt on Facebook to more than 300,000 fans, and provided an app that pinpointed the location of unclaimed posters. Halo 4 fans simply tapped on the poster with their NFC-enabled phones to ‘claim’ it. Winners were promised delivery of the poster they claimed, signed by Halo 4 creative director Josh Holmes, after the campaign finished.

Out-of-home advertising is barely the tip of the iceberg. We foresee NFC tags turning Kevin Ashton’s predictions into reality; a reality where every object naturally becomes an element of the media landscape, capable of interacting directly with end users to deliver commercial messaging.

Of course this will only become plausible once we achieve a frictionless experience of grabbing this content on the go, which is why NFC is poised to take the mobile marketing world by storm, as it integrates technology to make consumers lives easier, simpler more fluid, and totally connected. 


Niklas Bakos is VP of Tapit