Gartner estimates that the internet of things (IoT) will comprise 20.4 billion connected items by 2020. These items–powered by batteries and featuring relatively complex electronic components–all fall within what are considered to be the conventional parameters of IoT.
But what about the hundreds of billions of everyday, disposable items found beyond the IoT’s outer edge–consumer products such as cosmetics, beverages, apparel, specialty foods, nutritional supplements, spirits, and wine? What if consumers could scan these items to repurchase them or to find out when they are back on store shelves?
As it turns out, technology to power these types of experiences already exists in the form of near-field communication (NFC), making such items “smart” while effectively connecting the physical world and the digital world through the tap of an NFC-enabled smartphone. Essentially, NFC allows a user’s mobile device to connect to objects that are near it. The caveat is that the objects do not need to be internet-connected devices.
Unlike other forms of mobile marketing that push unsolicited content to shoppers, NFC is an opt-in alternative that leads to intentional, consumer-initiated interactions with a growing mobile-first demographic. This pull approach aligns with marketing best practices and facilitates direct, one-to-one connections with consumers through which brands can deliver timely, targeted, and relevant content. These unique digital experiences–and the data generated during each physical/digital interaction–helps brands control the consumer dialogue, increase satisfaction, enhance brand loyalty, and drive additional sales.
Why is this so important? The very concept of how consumers purchase has fundamentally changed due to the emergence of digital platforms, including search engines, online reviews, social media, and e-commerce marketplaces. This new online landscape has led to a rapidly expanding gap between consumers and the brands they shop for.
To better understand this widening disconnect, one need only examine the core of this shift in shopping: a change in the consumer profile.
Mobile-conscious individuals, particularly Millennials and Generation Z shoppers, are becoming the trendsetters in our society. Pew Research has reported that Millennials have surpassed other generations—even Baby Boomers—in total number. They also spend about $600 billion a year in the U.S., according to Accenture. “Gen BuY” authors Kit Yarrow and Jayne O’Donnell say Millennial, or Generation Y, shoppers spend 25% to 40% more than the average consumer and will spend $10 trillion in their lifetimes.
This collective buying power requires that brands and agencies adapt to these generational shopping preferences or risk being left behind. Consumers now say, “I’ll Google it,” or, “I’ll buy it on Amazon” when they talk about products, establishing platform loyalty instead of brand loyalty.
This change in how consumers become informed and make purchase decisions is, ultimately, leaving brands out of the conversation—and out of the minds of the buying population. While digital platforms offer great sales reach for brands, they organize and display results through algorithms, which, for brands, comes at the cost of greatly reducing their unique quality and value. In this system, brands lose the ability to “speak” directly to customers.
Brands that want to control the message must meet consumers where they are: their smartphones. Pew Research says 72% of Americans have a smartphone, and that number is only going to increase. Indeed, 34% of shoppers believe their phones will become their main purchasing tool, according to PwC.
For brands grappling with how to utilize the smartphone connection to consumers, technologies like NFC can bridge the digital gap between brand and consumer. Most mobile devices are already NFC-capable. With a simple tap of their smartphones, consumers can be taken to personalized brand content, such as videos, coupons, and product use information. And cloud-based marketing and analytics software–through which this rich data can be analyzed–empower brands to continually delight consumers through more customized and relevant mobile experiences.
Shopping moves at the speed of always-on mobile devices today. If brands don’t move now to keep up, they’re going to be lost in the widening gulf forming between them and consumers created by intermediary digital platforms. Only the most technology-savvy and forward-thinking firms will avoid the fate of lost brand identity.