WIMA 2014, from iBeacons to NFC, what brands need to know to keep up with proximity marketing technology.

Having recently got back from Monte Carlo (beats a stuffy hotel in London) where I was speaking on Proximity Mobile Marketing at the WIMA conference, I return a lot more enlightened about new developments in the world of proximity technologies like NFC, iBeacons (BLE) and many others.


It was a fascinating conference, with expert speakers, many who are working at the coal face of technology (rather than those with just an opinion) speaking passionately about how new technologies can help brands improve customer experience, especially in retail, and help sell more.

The key focus of our day was Proximity Mobile Marketing and how we can engage consumers via technologies like BLE and NFC.

So here are some of the learning from some of the world’s experts which included key advisors to some of the world’s biggest brands like McDonalds and Apple.

Firstly, the NFC vs iBeacons debate. 


There is no vs. There’s been a lot of chat about which is better so let’s clear this up for all time. The two can work together, they are not really rivals as they work in different ways, with different technology and can engage consumers in different ways. Both have their pros and cons, no technology is perfect, just as no media channel is either. Together they can be a brilliant tool in customer engagement. And the argument that Apple hasn’t adopted NFC yet (but probably will by the end of 2014) is not relevant as 74% of smartphones are Android (so NFC enabled) which gives you a greater audience than TV.  It’s a bit liker dismissing TV because BBC doesn’t run ads.

Of course Apple’s iBeacon (BLE) has been get a lot of hype and those “less informed marketers who use the media rather than their minds, to make decisions” (not my quote but one from an ex client) have probably already called up their digital agencies to ask what an iBeacon is and how can they get one. Opting for a solution before they have identified the problem!

Beware of technology White Elephants.

The key for marketers is to define their objectives first and keep their focus on the customers. Beware of using technology like a hammer, thinking you can beat a customer into submission from bombarding them with messages and offers, as Groupon discovered – the customer gets frustrated and opts out. And don’t panic, when it comes to technology, “fools often rush in…” Let others test it out, prove it’s value of you may end up with an expensive technology White Elephant.



It’s important to do you research, technology is useless without good consumer insights. And to be successful it needs to meet a human need. It also needs to be convenient and simple to use.

One place you might like to start is actually talking to the staff on the ground who deal with consumers daily. As one expert said, “the solution you are looking for may lie in human feedback rather than technology and data crunching”.

Understanding HOW consumers interact with technology (Ergopsychonomics) and HOW they use their smartphones is critical. Don’t make assumptions.

Beacons for example can be very effective at getting consumers to take the mobile out of their pocket in-store as they get a ping to tell them something has arrived on their mobile. (Beacons require you to download an app which will be automatically activated when you walk in store and automatically turn on your Bluetooth.)

As Patrick Meyer, advisor to many top brands says, “Keep it simple, one click does it, too many turns them off”. 

Consumers like convenience, ease and a benefit – one of the selling points of NFC is that it’s a one touch link to a brands website. Quicker than QR, and no need to open an app.

Overall, technology can create a connected customer experience and, as Just Desire founder Mark Scott Aubin (and one of the original developers of BLE) said, “The mobile can become a personal shopper assistant.”

Whether you are a retailer or a brand selling products or services, the real opportunity for engagement lies off line. 88.5% of retail spend is off line (official Government figures, not you usual made up figures to justify a new technology product). By 2018 it’s estimated to rise to just 12.5% of purchases online, so the real money is where we shop, eat, drink, have fun! socialise… out and about. And where we take our mobiles.


This is why Proximity Marketing is making a big comeback. It’s a great way for brands to connect. But the real challenge lies in HOW you get them to. Firstly, technology alone will not do it. You need clever, engaging ideas, unless you just want to resort to promotions.

We already know from years of research that about 76% of purchasing decisions can be influenced at point of sale and that posters in high streets are a highly influential way to drive consumers towards brands, they also are one of the biggest reasons people search brands online on mobiles – 70% of mobile searches result in a follow up action within an hour.

We also know that only 10-20% of shoppers actually end up buying an item in fashion stores, so there lies a massive opportunity to increase sales. Can technology help?

Assuming you have the rest right – design, stock, price, environment and good sales staff, yes it can.  Technologies like interactive technology, beacons and NFC can help encourage purchases, inform, pivot purchasing doubts and also give retailers valuable data about consumers.  Just because they didn’t buy something this time doesn’t mean you can’t sell them something the next,

The many ways you can use these technologies is endless, so I won’t list them here, that’s why there are experts, out there to advise you.

Connecting the dots

It’s important to consider the customer journey, and posters. Clear Channel now have 25,000 posters sites (Adshels) in high streets – they have over 45,000 6 sheet sites across the UK, so there’s always one near a retailer. Other media brands like Exterion (was CBS), JCDecaux, Eye Level  and many more are also adding NFC.

Guinness have fitted out over 80,000 beer pumps (via Proxama) with NFC. Add to that, using NFC at POS, on shelf barkers and packaging, you can make the consumers shopping experience a first rate one. We recently proposed to a baby food brand the use of active tags on shelf barkers advising parents about baby nutrition. As a lesser known brand that was trying to compete with brands like Ella’s Kitchen, Heinz and Cow and Gate, it provided a point of connection and an opportunity to deliver a voucher and encourage trial. And of course, data.


A good example of how technology can be applied to a single retail environment, that could could generate up to £2m extra income a year, check out the infographic on how it can be used in charity shops.

Mobile – the mass opportunity.

Few doubt that the mobile is now an essential part of most consumers lives, there are now over 1.5bn smart phones in the worldl, the vast majority Android (74%), and over 30m in the UK. In fact Apple are loosing out to Android, with only 7% globally of mobile phone owned. They may be big in the US and UK, but that’s not the story in many places.

The dream of all marketers is to use the mobile to connect to the consumer and engage, capture data and sell more to them. But for many marketers it will only ever be a dream because there are thousands of brands all fighting over a small space, literally, as ad spaces on mobiles are so small.

The primary thinking, as a marketer, you need adopt is: are you going for on-mobile or off-mobile?

On-mobile Is largely push – SMS, display, Wi-Fi, beacons, geo targeting, etc. Its flaw is that most consumers do not like push marketing, “83% hate it”. So the challenge lies in getting consumers to opt in and desire those marketing messages. Based on what works best in the digital space, it’s fair to say this will predominantly be promotional offers.

Off-mobile is less intrusive and more quality than quantity as it respects the consumers privacy. You will need to use external mechanics to drive consumers  to connect with brands on-mobile – like advertising, POS, on pack, NFC, QR, bar codes, etc.

The ethical benefit

Certainly the mobile is replacing paper mechanics, McDonald’s long running Monopoly promotion has had over 15m interactions, with 60% by mobile these days, which means a lot less wasted paper.

Banks could remove all print rom their banks by replacing leaflets with NFC touch tags, which in the case of loans could take you straight to a loan calculator, plus it’d give them valuable data about what customers are interested in.

The mistakes made with other technologies

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There was a great reference by Alex Meisl of Sponge (who work with McDonald’s) about, “There’s the danger if making the same mistakes of ‘app land’“. Many marketers just jumping on the technology and wagon. He pointed out that many apps have less than 1000 downloads and many never get used more than a few times, which hardly makes for a long term marketing strategy. You also have to wonder how big the negative ROI was.

You can find similar stories about AR (Augmented Reality) and other technologies, and as for online… that’d add another 10,000 words.

So the overall advice was to marketers was to think it through first, don’t just  adopt technology to look good, and remember, as Rene Batsford, Innovations Manager at McDonald’s said, “Technology is not a substitute for service and product quality.”

How brands can engage consumers on their mobile via technologies. A summery of expert advice.

1. Do your research. Make sure you have insight into your customer and how they engage with technology and their mobile. Assume nothing, and be cautious of so called facts and figures thrown around (especially by salesmen) as many are dubious or even made up. Validate everything.

2. Get your objectives, strategy and thinking right. Know what you are really trying to achieve and avoid doing it for just PR or to look cool.

3. Do it properly. Get experts in, don’t try and DIY, it’ll either fail or cost more to sort out later. Use the best technical experts, and a good creative and strategic agency (digital or advertising depending on what you are doing). Avoid anyone who throws in the thinking and creative for free, you’ll get what you pay for and it’ll be substandard

4. Respect your customer – make everything customer centric. Put them first, find out what they want and then match up the technology. Customers want simple, convenience, to be rewarded with positive experiences and of course, like a discount.

5. Be prepared to test, adapt, pivot – this is still a new area and there really are no rules yet. Be patient, it may take several versions, campaigns to get it right but make sure your learn from each.

The barriers to success…

One discussion point at the conference were the barriers, both consumers and brands. Certainly the public need educating, but as we have already seen, they have adapted to the mobile and have learnt to use all sorts of features quickly.

But the real challenge lies in brands. Whereas brands like McDonald’s , Starbucks, Nike and  a few others have pioneered new ideas and new technologies, many are too stuck in a risk adverse corporate culture. Many marketing directors I’ve talked to over the last year have expressed frustration at internal culture –  it may require 3 or even 5 departments to work together, and many ideas never get to happen.

WIMA was a great experience and one I’d happily attend again. It was great to see so many passionate people pushing the boundaries and applying technology in new ways.


There is little doubt that technology is a wonderful thing, and that it is changing the way we market. But like the nuclear bomb, it can be both a force for good and a force for bad.


Blog coming next, fresh from the  Retail Forum event (Richmond Events) – ‘How to engage consumers in the retail space, through technology.’ 

  • Eduard X

    Tks for great summary and ideas shown here!