NFC’s protracted ‘launch’ and the marketing failures it highlights

NFC is a technology I’ve written about for some years now, and its inability to shake the ‘emerging technology’ tag was laid bare this week when a YouGov survey shows take-up of the technology is stagnating.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think the use of NFC on phones is something to get excited about and theoretically it can provide better services for individuals, and more market intelligence for marketers to use to hone their practice.

But obviously, a few people out there don’t agree with me. YouGov’s survey released earlier this week shows 35 per cent of UK adults are aware of NFC-enabled mobile devices – a figure that has barely increased since YouGov last looked into the area in September 2012.

The research firm was also able to reveal that fewer than one in 10 smartphone owners know their device is NFC-enabled, and of these just over a fifth  ever use it to make payments.

This is a damning indictment indeed, and the finger of blame can be pointed in a number of directions. Decision-makers at institutions such as banks and retailers refusing to embrace mobile and contactless technologies are definitely to blame here.

But ultimately, I’d say, at the core of this is the inability of ‘tech innovators’ (in this case its NFC providers) to convince other verticals of the opportunity their idea provides.

The aforementioned decision-makers just see disruption and headaches, not the big idea. Fundamentally this is a failure of marketing (from the NFC providers) and the corporate inertia then gets passed on to the consumer, and progress is needlessly arrested.

That said, there have been some attempts to roll out NFC-enabled services in the past.  One such instance was Orange Cash (which dates back to mid-2011), but I can’t help think the D2C marketing to support its launch was extremely limp-wristed – half-hearted at best.

I regularly visit mobile phone stores to ‘take the pulse of the high street’, and don’t see these services pushed massively. Compare that to the deafening noise the public is being subjected to for 4G. If EE’s numbers are to be taken at face value, that is proving to be a triumph of marketing.

I wish I could be more glowing in my assessment of NFC, and the industry as a whole, but the figures speak for themselves. The technology has been mooted in the mobile industry for many years now and, as we can see, take-up is limited, with awareness at near pitiful levels.

Part of me is starting to think its time has come and gone. Although, not all is said and done, with some proper marketing muscle put behind it things can change and this often happens at a much quicker rate than most people ever expect.

Just yesterday (5 December) I was discussing with a contact (who has dipped their toes in NFC) potential activities to improve activation rates and awareness rates for NFC.

This involved offering true incentives (like cash or vouchers) to encourage people to share something (such as a token) via their NFC handsets with their friends. Once they have interacted with ‘X’ amount of devices they could then claim the payment at a retail outlet, via their NFC handset.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job. I am sure there are more potentially workable ideas out there to ignite the potential of the technology (I welcome any suggestions) but clearly there has been a failure to communicate the idea at many points along the line.

Coming to this juncture reminds me of a quote I took recently from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, when he was offering advice to ‘tech innovators’.  

He said: “It’s a lot easier to think of an app and write it, than it is to convince people to want it… publicity is crucially important… Marketing is the most important thing.” 

And just look what happened to his company that started out as a couple of people in a garage. 

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