Give it a tap: NFC and the new era in digital marketing

You are not alone if you haven’t heard of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology or never realized that you’ve probably already used one form of it whether through a digital wallet, FastTrak pass to zip through a toll bridge, or paid for gas with an easy swipe. NFC uses RFID or a short length wireless radio frequency to send snippets of data to a receiver. Once touted by mobile device makers as the breakthrough technology for the mobile wallet system, it is now being leveraged by digital marketers to push content in very powerful and convenient ways.

Ultra-targeted mobile marketing coming soon
Ultra-targeted mobile marketing coming soon

Here’s how it works: your mobile device contains an NFC chip that sends a wireless signal to a “tag” that has built in circuitry embedded with information, a website link for example. The tag is passive, meaning it doesn’t need power or be “on.” It is activated by your device’s identifiable wireless signal. Not only that, but it can be encased so that it is completely weather proof. Don’t fret, you can’t inadvertently activate a NFC tag that sends a Tweet to all your friends that you “checked-in” at Moe’s Tavern in the middle of the day. The user has to open the NFC app and be within 20 cm range. Some marketers have sold it as a “swipe” or a “pass.” But a steady consensus in the marketing industry is calling it a “tap.”

NFC at work

Still in its early-adopter phase, NFC technology has been embraced by Google, Nokia, RIM, and rumors say that Apple will introduce the technology with the next version of the iPhone. Already, the latest Blackberry Bold and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphones have NFC built in for consumers to use today. But it is not mainstream because the digital infrastructure is not built yet. Most businesses haven’t embraced or don’t even know how to use NFC technology for marketing purposes. And not enough consumers have devices with NFC built in, even though that will change very fast by 2015, when it is estimated that 500 million devices will contain the technology. But some savvy companies, with the help of new NFC digital marketing firms (yes, they’ve popped up already) are defining for the rest of us, how to take advantage of this technology.

Samsung NFC Marketing
Samsung to roll out 40,000 NFC bus shelter ads. Source: Cemusa

For example, Google offers a Google Places window sticker for business to have their customers “check-in,” read reviews, and perhaps get coupons. These NFC tags can be embedded on movie posters to provide users a movie trailer or on bus shelter ads to provide free music exclusively for users of the Samsung Galaxy SIII. In fact, Samsung plans on rolling out 50 NFC kiosks and 40,000 “smart” posters all over New York to coincide with the launch of the new Galaxy S III. NFC will also be built into business cards so that a simple tap by a phone will automatically call the recipient. T-shirts, cars, even money are in the horizon for NFC technology treatment.

Samsung Tectiles

Program your life with NFC

Recently, Samsung announced that consumers will be able to buy NFC tags, called TecTiles, that are programmable. For instance, you can have a tag mounted near the front door of your house programmed to send you a text when your latchkey kids get home from school. As a small businesses owner, you can have the tags programmed to share your location with your customer’s network on Facebook with a scripted post (“I’m at Jennifer’s Flowers and I just got a free bouquet for being a loyal customer!”). The possibilities are endless.

Can you think of creative ways that NFC technology can be used for marketing campaigns?

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7 Responses to Give it a tap: NFC and the new era in digital marketing

  1. Lauren McCarthy says:

    Hi Jesus. Working at Samsung Mobile, your post immediately caught my eye. NFC is huge, and TecTiles are the buzz around the office and our PR group right now. Also, NFC is going to be used at the Olympics next month for you to make purchases at Olympic venues. How cool is that? Want a shirt? Use NFC to buy it and skip the line at the register.

    I think one way companies can capitalize on NFC technology is when it’s incorporated into social media. Using it as safety measures is also important (like you mentioned, the TecTile sends you a text when your kid gets home from school). I wonder if law enforcement and private investigators could use it to monitor people’s movements?

    • Jesus Torres says:

      Thanks Lauren. I am a big Samsung fan and like the boldness of their latest moves–the way they are challenging Apple head-on. The promise for NFC is endless. There are so many applications for the technology. It is really up to the imagination. I see it being used in healthcare connected to e-medical records and other health IT.

  2. Shane Collins says:


    Excellent insights! NFC technology is definitely an up-and-coming marketing trend that I think is a no brainer to latch onto. I attended the IABC World Conference this week where digital wallets and NFC technology was all the rage. In fact, it was brought up in an employee communication seminar that it may be used internally at companies for communication purposes, as well as a new time clock approach.

    This emerging trend reminds me a lot of QR codes. While they are popping more and more, they didn’t really catch on until the past year or so. Introducing technology such as this always comes with risks – a company must go through the marketing influence phases just to get consumers to download the technology! That means that there are definitely some boundaries, some time involved, but also great gains that allow for even more creative marketing tactics.

    • Jesus Torres says:

      Thanks for your comments. There is one company that is rumored to launch NFC on their devices. Apple, you might have heard of it. Once they launch NFC, it will become all the rage. They will think of some ingenious way to use it and it will take off. Remember the iPod and the tablet weren’t Apple inventions. Apple just improved the technologies in a really nice package. I assume they might do the same with NFC. So I think once this happens, it will really become mainstream. But as you mentioned, once we get passed the early adopter phase, it will be interesting to see all the ways marketers use it.

  3. David Tinsley says:

    Tap is certainly going to be a booming technology as more devices are built with the functionality. It could also most likely be used as a tool for stores to provide on-site direct marketing to consumers inside the stores or maybe even walking past on a sidewalk. Brick and mortar stores will have to implement these types of tactics, otherwise, their sales and market shares will continue to be affected by the online channels.

    I recently read an article that discussed the curbside marketing approach in which the interaction is not initiated by a customer. I will say that there actually would have to be some level of interaction on the customer’s part because they would need to download software/apps that would allow the interaction to occur. So it is not totally passive.

    The concept I read about would allow stores to send customized messages to a smartphone outside of the store (i.e. on the sidewalk). The message would be triggered by proximity. The retail stores would have the ability to deliver highly-customized, immediate messages to enabled smartphones in an attempt to lure customers inside. These messages could theoretically change by the minute. But I think the important concept is that the retailers can open up another marketing channel that is immediate and relevant to the consumer because they are literally in front of the store.

    One concern I do have is the privacy issues that have been mentioned. The technology would require that location services be enabled. While I enable location services for some apps, I don’t do it for all. Also, we are already being tracked now in extensive ways. Would this be any different than a Four-Square check-in? Probably not. But the boundaries could be blurred even more than they are now as to just how much of our location information can be used, and, abused.

  4. Lauren Y. Walker says:

    I absolutely loved this post! It is amazing how technology has progressed in just a year or two. I remember one of our student workers graduated and his first marketing job out of USC was for a firm (name escapes me) that had a chip they’d developed. The consumer placed it on the back of their phone(at the time it was only good for Berries) not iPhones, initially, you went to participating restaurants that they had convinced to test the technology. Inside the restaurant was a post you held the phone to and there was a small chip embedded in the poster that was programmable with different weekly deals. Tied to your Facebook account, once your phone “tapped” the poster chip, a coupon was downloaded onto your phone for whatever special was being promoted…a free drink or a free appetizer or 10% off a dinner, etc. By doing this, they also used the geo-social aspect of FB by “checking you in” at that vent on your FB page.

    Now in theory, it was a great idea. The problems with this were, one, it was only good for Berries…I had an iPhone. When they finally got the iPhone app, have the time it didn’t “tap” consistently like the one made for the Berry, plus, because they couldn’t get the tech support from FB needed to improve, many times, FB would do squarely things and prohibit the smooth receipt of the coupon. In th end, our former student left the firm and I don’t know that it survived.

    It is great to see that these chips are being embedded in phones now and the technology is more consistent in its use. Someone asked the question regarding “big brother” watching….I wish I could find the article, but I just saw maybe two weeks ago, a case was thrown out for police GPSg a suspect. That is a violation of rights…thankfully, “big brother” doesn’t have that kind of power…yet.

  5. Esthela says:

    Jesus –

    Well, I was one of those that was not familiar with the NFC technology, but find it incredibly interesting. The practical applications can be endless! Do you find that corporations are concerned about security? How much information is actually released? I imagine that the information to build programs like customer retention would be so valuable. Yet, I can understand how grasping the overall benefits might be mind-boggling.

    One thing I am intrigued about are the personal applications, like the tagging the front door of our house programmed to send you a text when your latchkey kids get home from school. Or when they sign on to the computer or turn on the TV. The future is more present than never. Thanks for sharing!