Technology is turning smartphones into a marketer’s best friend

4 minute read

It’s not just manufacturers that are making smartphones more intelligent and powerful. A host of technology companies are developing an expanding array of applications and services that make handheld devices more indispensable than ever.

One of those emerging applications is near field communications (NFC) technology, which enables communication between two electronic devices (one usually being a smartphone) in close proximity to one another.

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Marketing applications for NFC are diverse: coupons, loyalty programs, direct mail, packaging security and authenticity, even wedding invitations and other special events.


Unlocking the ever-expanding marketing power of NFC technology is the primary focus of Mark Heise, applications engineer at Arjowiggins Creative Papers of Cleveland, Ohio. “Near field communication is not a new technology but we’re using it in very fun, different ways,” Heise says.

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Bringing digital to the physical world

For Heise, the most exciting aspect of NFC is that it lets consumers interact with a physical medium at a digital level using web-based applications.

“There are so many marketing applications that can be pushed out there,” he says. “The data that you can gather is absolutely phenomenal in terms of when there were taps, who tapped it, what kind of purchase history you can build based on the list you already have.

NFC technology can be applied to any target audience, upscale and mass market, in whatever way suits the needs of your campaign. Bordeaux winery Château Le Pin attached NFC tags to their wine bottles to give wine connoisseurs a way to authenticate a bottle’s vintage using their mobile device. Domino’s Pizza launched a campaign to promote its new mobile app by using NFC-enabled advertisements outdoors. Phone maker Samsung placed NFC-powered posters across the U.S. offering Samsung Galaxy III users exclusive songs, e-books and videos by simply tapping their phones over the NFC tag.

Print as a gateway

Because Heise’s company is in the printed-paper business, he’s particularly enthusiastic about the emerging uses of NFC that combine print and mobile applications by “graphically printing very glorious, wonderful pieces. They’re either going to go out into the mail system, (are) part of packaging or sit on a menu.”


The printed page can act as a doorway into an ever-changed marketing universe. “Because you have that digital interaction, you can then start to give more information, it can be customized depending on who taps it, variable data depending on the number of times it was tapped. The content can change remotely so that you can push a relevant message, you can have it so that it’s a different award depending on who taps it and in what location. You can change adapt the language settings to that of the phone so you don’t have to have so many different pages printed out to give the same message.”

Getting better analytics from print

Besides its adaptability, perhaps the greatest attribute for marketers is how NFC can provide constant, real-time reporting. “You can adjust your marketing strategy because you have immediate feedback. It’s no longer: send out a piece, call people a couple months later and hope that you get a two or three percent return.”

In Heise’s experience, most marketers are still unaware of the power of NFC technology.

“When they do see it…a light bulb goes off right away.”

One successful application of NFC recently rolled out by his firm was for a conference in the U.S. that targeted confirmed and potential attendees. They created a NFC-enabled postcard that contained event information and links to videos teasing out speaker details.

While NFC is a “simple tool”, Heise says the potential options can be overwhelming for marketers.

His advice is to start small and be prepared to fail the first time. “Play around with it and fail. Find out what works, what doesn’t.”

Pulling it all together

Keep these best practices in mind when you launch your first NFC campaign.

Clear call to action

Make sure you’re telling users what to do and how to do it. Since NFC technology is still new for many audiences, your customers might not know how to use their device to access the campaign. Highlight the ease of use, and give them a reason to take part.

Where are you taking people?

Depending on your goals for the campaign, there are many options for where to take people. If you want to generate qualified leads, direct them to a blog with a form to learn more. Subscribers will have already validated themselves by engaging with your brand. If you’re trying to drive conversion, a relevant offer or coupon immediately rewards users for engaging with the campaign.

Gather analytics

Set up your campaign to gather as much information as possible from customers, so that you can better target in the future. Taking a look at what’s working and what’s not will allow you to optimize the experience and keep your customers happy and engaged.

Make sure the experience is relevant

What are your customers seeking when they tap into your campaign? An offer? More information? Exclusive content? Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself “what’s the most rewarding thing I could give them right now?”

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