How marketers can use NFC

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Near field communication (NFC) isn't a new technology. But for most marketers, it may as well be.

"A lot of marketers -- like most consumers -- still have no clue what NFC really is or what it is capable of," says Marcelo Eduardo, associate design director at Huge. "While a reasonable number of marketers have heard about NFC, the context for most is probably as the technology for supporting contactless payment. Others know they can use it for object hyperlinking, like QR Codes. And maybe a very small number of people know about two-way communications mode. So marketers may know NFC can do one or two of these things, but most don't know that NFC can do all of these things."

How marketers can use NFC

What is it?

Don't worry. This won't get too technical. If you want to go for a deep dive into NFC, you can visit resources like The NFC Forum or NFC World. If those resources are a little too geeky for you, ArsTechnica has a nice primer on NFC.

But from a 10,000-foot view, it's important to know a few basics.

  • NFC technology is a short-range tool that operates on wireless frequencies. It works by connecting a user's mobile device, equipped with an NFC antenna or specially programmed SIM or SD data card, to a receiver, usually a few feet away.
  • Right now, a lot of the activity around NFC is in the mobile payment space. But while NFC is most commonly associated with mobile payments, it's really just a way of connecting the customer's digital handset to the face-to-face experience of a store visit. Viewed in that context, marketers can use NFC to better connect with users in real space, via their mobile devices.
  • Not all smartphones are NFC-enabled. As new models come on line, this is changing, but right now it's important to ask whether you have enough customers with the right handset to make NFC a viable part of your marketing. 
  • NFC devices don't have to be setup in advance to connect with each other. That means that a customer with an NFC-enabled smartphone and a store with a receiver can connect with a single touch or tap, provided both devices are within range (usually a few feet).