I am starting to get really excited by the potential of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. Indeed, I very much look forward to not having to carry around my wallet, Oyster card, my array of loyalty cards, etc. More importantly, however, it will allow me to more seamlessly share and connect with all sorts of people and brands.

I see NFC technology as one of the greatest opportunities for brands over the next two years. Many of the latest Android, Nokia, and Blackberry handsets are already equipped with the technology already and the next iPhone is very likely to incorporate the technology as well.

From my view, NFC technology is the next step towards integrating the offline and online worlds. The technology can be used in anything from outdoor print advertising to product packaging to vending machines. Since an NFC chip can be placed inside almost anything without requiring a power source, it enables a multitude of information to be stored and transmitted over small distances no matter where the consumer is. It is also easier for consumers to exchange information using NFC technology than say QR Codes. Nor does the user need an internet connection as one would with QR Codes because a limited amount of data can be transferred from the chip to the device be it a video, a link for later, or a coupon.

Perhaps the true potential of the technology comes when it is applied on top of existing consumer engagement tools to make them more user-friendly and enjoyable. Many brands are now engaging consumers via social channels by having blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. The question that most brands face once they’ve set these channels up, however, is how to engage their target market and build meaning relationships that translate into brand advocacy both online and offline. As we saw in GWI 5, however, only 29% of internet users worldwide have liked a product or brand on a social channel, and less than that have even visited a branded social network group. My feeling is that its not that consumers don’t want to do these things; the brands they use are part of their identity after all. But it is, instead, just too difficult or time consuming to have any meaningful engagement with brands under the current circumstances. At the moment, most outdoor brand communications will have a “call to action” that encourages them to go to their website or Facebook page by providing a URL. It is rather annoying to type in a full blown URL on a smartphone, tablet, or even a PC for that matter! Besides, one has to rely on people actually remember what that URL was by the time they have access to a device. The simple fact of the matter is that there are just too many barriers for consumers to engage with offline communications when they’re out and about.

Now, imagine instead that you see an outdoor advert as you’re walking down the street. Let’s say that it is for an early bird sale at a shop nearby, and its call to action asks you to simply touch your smartphone on a certain point to receive a ticket for the early bird sale and to like the store on Facebook. The little NFC chip inside the advert sends the information directly to your smartphone once you’ve “tapped” the poster. First, your Facebook app has opened up, prompting you to like the store. After that, a coupon is sent to you as a pdf via Facebook or email. An event is automatically created in your calendar to remind you of the event along with a google maps link that will tell you exactly how to get there. This can all come from a 1 second tap on the icon on that poster, and has taken you just 5 seconds to like that brand on Facebook and share the event with all your contacts.

This is the essence of the seamless integration between offline and online brand experiences that NFC technology has the potential to harness, and the above example is only one of a million different possibilities.

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