Live from MWC: Would You Like Fries with That Smartphone?

February 27, 2013

mwcMobile World Congress (MWC) is larger than life, vibrant, boisterous and multi-faceted.  The new venue at Fira Gran Via boasts eight major halls and several smaller mini-halls. MWC represents every imaginable aspect of the mobile industry, from the “shiny shiny” new smartphones, tablets and hybrid “phablets” to deep tech infrastructure to front-, middle- and back-end applications. Anyone who attended COMDEX or PC Expo in the 90’s would feel right at home at MWC.  This year, a number of themes stand out; and perhaps none more than Near-Field Communications (NFC) and m-payments.

Mobile or NFC World Congress?  If you didn’t know better, you might think that this year Barcelona is hosting the NFC Congress, the underlying communications technology of many mobile payment and mobile wallet platforms. NFC has struggled for the past few years to get a seat at the table but now appears to have arrived. Whether NFC becomes the dominant enabling technology for m-payments remains to be seen, but the hype machine is working overtime to make that happen. NFC sessions, demonstrations, and promotional collateral dominated the halls and walkways at Fira Gran Via.

If you’re unfamiliar with m-payments, think buying your next combo meal with your smartphone and having the amount immediately deducted from your bank or credit card account.  If you’re old enough to remember the trepidation of your first encounter with an ATM machine, m-payment is in that same phase – mostly early adopters and nervous followers.  The exception, interestingly, is in emerging regions like Africa, where m-payment is fairly common.  For the rest of us, no reason to fret; paying for things with your mobile won’t even be an afterthought in five years.

For marketers, the real payoff of m-payment adoption is in closing the loop on realizing “in-the-moment” consumer engagements. big-data informs on who you are, what you like and your spend behavior; a profile/preference content engine crafts a tailored message; location-based/presence targeting finds you at the opportune moment – in proximity to the point of purchase and serves up the offer; finally, m-payment enables the purchase on the spot.   Hi Patrick!  This is the soda machine. I’ll bet you’re thirsty.  Since you’re here, how about 50 cents off on that frosty root beer you love?  Press ACCEPT to get refreshed!

Of note, this year attendees with NFC-enabled devices had their own “fastpass” lanes to get into the Congress. To my chagrin, I did not have one so I was relegated to the huddled masses in the standard entry lines. Much like watching the suave and savvy travelers who flash their mobile boarding passes in airport security checkpoints, we are constantly reminded at MWC that those with the newest toys look cool and get the perks.

A 20-year communications veteran, Patrick Foarde serves as senior counsel on corporate, business-to-business and technology marketing initiatives for Ketchum’s global accounts and has special expertise in the telecom and mobile sectors, as well as vertical market strategy and channel communications.