2017 has been an exciting year for proximity marketing, especially given the re-emergence of QR codes and increased interest in NFC tags.

The great thing about all three of these proximity technologies is that consumers can link directly to a URL without the need for a dedicated app. Once they have linked the URL, consumers can do just about anything, greatly enhancing their experience. For example, they can link to web content, but it’s also possible to launch chats, initiate payments or initiate other actions. The only real difference between the three is the mode of input. Physical Web beacons utilise wireless Bluetooth, while QR codes are camera-based. NFC tags are touch-activated.

Bluetooth Beacons
Bluetooth Beacons are easily visible through the Nearby feature while Samsung phones have a Closeby application built into their Internet browser. One of the biggest strengths of Bluetooth Beacons is the ability of the consumers to see them without explicitly looking for them. They appear whenever people wake their phones, giving notifications that prompt the consumer to take further action. To do this, consumers must have Nearby or Closeby enabled. With some devices this is enabled by default, but not on others. Another important feature of Bluetooth Beacons is that Google will not promote content that’s proved unpopular or which is regarded as too spammy, and of course, Beacons do not collect personal data, so consumers’ privacy is protected.

During the next year, Bluetooth Beacons will continue to provide increased in customer engagement through Nearby, reaching brand-new audiences. Google terms this as being “bonus” engagement.

NFC tags
Most Android phones can see NFC tags by default, and they are available to iPhone 7 users and above. iPhone users need to have a compatible app open when tapping the tag, while Android users simply need to tap the tag with their device. One of the nice things about NFC tags is user intent which is dependent on a visual cue. This means that when a consumer taps a tag, it’s because they are genuinely interested in the product or service. The ability to learn more about the product through an NFC tag is more likely to lead to a purchase.

Even though iPhone usage is limited to apps for the moment, it’s expected that the popularity of NFC tags will continue to grow next year. One of the large liquor companies trialled NFC tags on around 40,000 bottles in the UK. The trial saw a 3 to 4% engagement which was far more effective than banner ads which had a 0.02% engagement.

QR Codes
You may remember QR codes when they were originally introduced, and the problems people had with reading them. Back then, the biggest problem with QR codes was the inconvenience of having to open a separate app to read them. Nowadays the app is directly integrated into most browsers and social apps. Pinterest, chrome, Firefox, Snapchat, Twitter, Samsung, and Facebook all recently integrated QR code readers. Like NFC tags, QR codes are dependent on user intent and a visual cue.

QR codes are already enormously popular in China for mobile commerce. As more people realise how easy it is to use QR codes, interest is expected to continue to increase. This is already happening in Africa and Asia and it’s likely North America won’t be far behind.