Marketers Move To WiFi Speed

Everyone Loves Free WiFi

Sometimes a technology changes everything, not just within their own industry – but within those that connect to it. The trend becomes the ‘adjacent other’  – something from a different industry, area or market that impacts and changes yours. These changes, could open up new opportunities for you or they can be the springboard that your competitors were waiting for. Steam ships begat refrigeration, jet airplanes led the modern charter flight and tourism industry and famously microwave ovens – created a whole new way for blokes to prepare a curry, at half time during the match. Some marketers got up to speed, some missed it.

Remember when you lacked hundreds of TV channels and Sky+? Remember when you fiddled pre- smart phone? Remember when you got about without a SatNav? But can you  imagine not having them? Once tasted, technology that is easy to use and adds a real consumer benefit is part of our standard menu. And as futurist Kevin Kelly famously says, the network spreads and technology merges and adapts (what he calls ‘The Technium‘) – it grows with almost a life of its own. And WiFi is reaching that tipping point. It’s the crucial third element that connects brand content with smart devices. The growth of WiFi will lead to radical changes in how we live, work and play. And for marketers, how and where you can connect to your customers. In the UK, BT owns the biggest WiFi network with more than 4000 hotspots across stations, cafes and venues. Further WiFi networks are rapidly being rolled out by The Cloud/Sky – Virgin and O2. Deloitte reports that WiFi traffic is set to grow between 25-50% over 2011  and they note that informal and formal collaborations between venues, handset manufacturers and mobile operators will drive this surge. Bango also reported in February that UK WiFi will grow at 50% – and CEO Ray Anderson says “Our data shows that where available WiFi is becoming the mainstream method to  connect to the internet.”

And WiFi is not just about technology, apps, gadgets business either. It’s about venues, retailers, destinations and brands being able to attract and retain customers. A Research On Track June 2011 survey identified a 6% uplift in pub usage from frequent customers if free WiFi was available. Restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut are using their free WiFi offer as a hook, to promote to their users. In the US last month, it was reported that nearly a third of all web traffic is now through WiFi networks. This is higher than the top two mobile networks combined. Tesco’s Chief Information Officer Mike McNamara, interviewed by the Financial Times in July expects all of their stores to eventually offer free WiFi to customers. He notes that brands have to embrace the opportunities that WiFi will offer ; “You can stand like Canute and pretend nothing is happening or you can say its going to happen anyway, I’ll help make it happen.” He says. Deloittes identifies that consumers who want to send files ‘on the move’ or who live in rural areas may continue to heavily use 3G and 4G networks – but in urban and suburban areas – WiFi will dominate. They point out ‘WiFi-only’ tablets and other devices can be up to a third cheaper than their Sim card cousins and so will become increasingly popular with consumers. They report; “WiFi providers will likely be locating hotspots where people are known to need high-speed connections. Shopping centres could be designed around WiFi access and some retailers may make it part of their policy. And sponsored WiFi could become increasingly common part of branded marketing initiatives.” And smart providers such as JiWire enable marketers to sponsor free WiFi access and place their highly targeted promotional messages through to very specific hotspot locations. Through smart WiFi partnerships; advertisers can reach targeted audiences at specific locations, the network operators gain a revenue stream, venues attract consumers by offering free WiFi – and you get to upload photos, check your FaceBook and emails – and download the goals, before you head home and put that curry in the microwave. Marketers need to get up to WiFi speed. If you own real-estate, how can you add a hotspot? If you want to reach customers in specific venues or locations, how can you use that hotspot to reach them? For services such as JiWire, the ability to communicate to users via their specific hotspots can lead to some very smart and location based offers. At present WiFi users tend to be more affluent, with 75% being aged 25-49 and 65% being in management roles. As a channel, WiFi is ideal if you’re targeting young, media savvy, urban sophisticates, with a disposable income. And that will become a broader, more mass market user base over time too. History tells us that smart merchants adapted to technology trends and changing fashions – rather than try to build it themselves. Smart merchants have always used and adapted the latest technology, not invented it. (See my piece More Myths Of Innovation). They’ve always had to move fast – to keep ahead of their competitors. And right now, marketers need to keep up with the speed of WiFi.

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PS: Some crib notes:

If like me you sometimes wonder what all the jargon means – here’s some crib notes, courtesy of Steven Trugbild of Mobilise and Deloittes. Firstly, 3G means ‘3rd generation mobile network, to transfer data such as video, emails, internet browsing and it runs at about 500 Kbits per second. 4G is 30 times quicker than 3G and enables high-definition images and greater bandwidth. As a mobile networks, 3G and 4G have a long range. WiFi connects to the internet without using mobile network. WiFi is a technology alliance, first established in the 1980’s through a collaboration between Cisco, Motorola and Nokia. ( Amusingly the original developers took a node from the 1930’s term Hi-Fidelity (Hi-Fi) to develop the name WiFi). It requires local hotspots, just like your home wireless router and is therefore short-range – only about 20-90 metres. But it’s getting faster and faster, with speeds of around 100 Mbits per second. What does all this mean?  A 1000 Mb video file can take 7 minutes to download on 3G and about 30 seconds on 4G or WiFi. Using your mobile network could consume your entire ‘unlimited’ (but normally limited to 200 Mb per month) – data allowance. Quite simply, on WiFi – you can download the video free and quicker and because you are using a hotspot that may only be 20-90 metres away, advertisers can use that information to send you very relevant messages.

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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