Proximity marketing: NFC vs. Bluetooth & Wi-Fi

Near Field Communication (NFC) has been making its way into every aspect of life. For example, NFC tags are embedded in products or on posters and signature. These tags can open a mobile browser in an NFC-enabled device to transmit an offer or message. User simply needs to tap his/her smartphone to the tag to start the communication and receive the transmission wirelessly.

NFC technology is perhaps mostly used as a mobile payment tool, such as the Google Wallet, which allows wireless payment via a smartphone app. But it’s also starting to appear as a proximity marketing tool in places like city bus stops, subway platforms, shopping mall kiosks and other venues to transmit advertising messages. With NFC in place, retailers have a more convenient way to communicate with consumers in a proximity marketing setting.

Currently, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are the primary platforms which are used to transmit proximity marketing messages, but some analysts expect NFC to become a competitive rival. Some even believe that NFC will eventually overtake other proximity marketing communication methods and become the dominant means.

However, there are significant obstacles:

■To use the NFC tag to receive messages, users may have to download an app, while virtually every smartphone already comes equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities.

■Another potential barrier is that NFC ad campaigns require consumers to initiate the engagement. First, they have to read the poster or sign, and then they have to decide to tap their device to receive the message. Since many consumers are already engaged with content on their devices in public spaces, they are less likely to notice the invitation to receive the message.

■Besides, since NFC has a limited transmission field, consumers must not only notice the printed ad and decide to make the connection, they must get close enough to the NFC tag to initiate the message. So it’s an open question whether or not consumers will be willing to read and respond to advertising messages that require that level of effort on their part.

In contrast, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-based proximity marketing campaigns use a technology that is already standard on nearly all handsets to deliver an opt-in message directly to the device that consumers already use for most of their communications on the go. Consumers are not required to initiate the transmission; instead, a well-designed Bluetooth/Wi-Fi campaign sends a message to all consumers who came within a range as far away as 300 feet. Consumers who opt to receive the marketing message can do so by simply touching their device screen.

Bluetooth is a ubiquitous wireless data sharing tool pre-installed on practically all smartphones, and consumers are now used to using Wi-Fi in public places. Both technologies are familiar. Consumers generally consider that they can safely receive messages via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi without unwittingly transmitting private data. This familiarity gives Bluetooth and Wi-Fi a distinct advantage over competing technologies when it comes to proximity marketing.

So perhaps it’s not so wise to ask whether or not NFC will overtake Bluetooth and Wi-Fi — who says there can’t be multiple methods of conveying proximity marketing messages to consumers?

Among a number of methods to conveying messages — including print, radio and online ads, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are particularly effective in the proximity marketing space, because they initiate communication via a tool — the smartphone — to which consumers reliably and voluntarily devote their attention. But since NFC brings a lot of conveniences and is getting more and more popular, there’s no reason enterprises can’t take an “all of the above” approach. After all, the key is to examine potential ROI and make the right decision.