Is NFC (Near-Field Communication) the next great lead generation/marketing thing?

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NFC forum logo
Logo from the NFC Forum. See http://www.nfc-forum.org/

Trend-seekers are observing (and some are pontificating) that Near-Field Communication (NFC) may be an important marketing device, especially as mobile devices continue their increasing importance and prices for the technology decline.

Some aren’t so certain (including me).

NFC is supposed to be better and more effective than Quick Response Codes, which allow mobile devices to interface with printed media. A couple of years ago I became truly excited about QRC’s potential — and even published some tools and resources about implementing QRCs on one of our websites — because I considered it to be one of the potential saviors of print media advertising. While QRCs have indeed some value in the marketplace, facilitating information gathering and scanning, their use is hardly widespread today. They serve some worthy functions, however, and when applied properly, make it easier for you to connect the dots from an initial impression to a valid sales lead.

NFC uses embedded chips or tags that you stick on objects where you want people to “read” you are there.  The mobile device owner simply needs to tap the mobile device against the tag to link to your site. Tags are somewhat more expensive than QR codes (which don’t cost anything to implement on printed media) but their cost is still quite low – perhaps $1.00 to $2.00 a piece (less in bulk).

Some examples of NFC at work include transit payment systems and lead-gen at trade shows. Instead of having exhibitors scan visitor badges (if you use the tools provided by trade show contractors, at a truly expensive price), you simply provide a visible “tag” or tags at your booth, and users can connect with their smartphones to your offer.

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of this technology:

Strengths (See this story from cmo.com, How NFC could lead the next generation of mobile advertising)

Novelty appeal: Always helpful to be first with anything. Can attract interest and awareness, especially if your market is within a technologically-enlightened community.

Growing market influence potential: Mobile devices are continuing to be the leading edge of business-marketing development. Consider the resources for example that Google is pouring into mobile devices and media technologies.

Inexpensive: You won’t need to break your budget to set up a simple test NFC system. You can purchase tags and access software for less than $20.00 — if you are playing with this stuff on a corporate scale you will find the cost is insignificant in budget terms.

Limitations (See this critical TechCrunch article for some observations)

Apple hasn’t bought into the system: It is using its own proprietary variation; limited because it is difficult to interface with other systems, of course. but as long as many people are using Apple smartphones, quite a few won’t be able to read your inexpensive NFC tags

The gimmick factor: NFC has been around for some time, but take-up hasn’t been as rapid as other technologies. Maybe marketers think we need this technology more than we actually want to use it.

Do the alternatives work better?  I noted earlier my initial excitement with QRC technology — we set up with a QRC offer last year to receive perhaps two or three inquiries. We haven’t totally given up on QRC, but don’t spend much energy with it now.  Maybe the simplest approach — talking to people, scanning their badges, or taking their (paper) business cards, still work best especially for business-to-business lead generation.

Conclusion: No harm in experimenting, but I wouldn’t bet too much on this one

It won’t cost you much to experiment. Additional (low-cost) lead generation options and tools are obviously never a bad idea and as a rule it is always best to be first at an activity within your niche. But I think the jury is still out on whether NFC will truly change things, or just be a minor marketing blip.

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