Why Facial Recognition Beats RFID for Customer Engagement Marketers

by   |   July 18, 2013 2:26 pm   |   0 Comments

Jen Ohs of Brightline Interactive

Jen Ohs of Brightline Interactive

Will facial recognition technology kill RFID as a tool for marketers? I sure hope so.

RFID is a known and well-used technology in all sorts of applications—notably, for tracking shipping containers and reporting back for logistics—and it has a relatively recent introduction into the marketing world.  Marketing companies and brands have invested a lot of money in recent years to integrate RFID into their programs.  Facial recognition has the capacity to replace RFID as a more intuitive, more integrated and less expensive technology.  If it is adopted as the new way to engage and connect with consumers, many companies that have invested in the hardware to integrate RFID will be out a lot of money and left holding onto what could be seen as antiquated technology.

In the last few years, the technology has made a breakthrough into the marketing works with companies like Fish Technologies and Catch the Moment offering RFID as a way to track and personalize live events. RFID allows marketers to associate personal content from a consumer’s registration at an event with a series of interactive elements.  With a wave of your RFID bracelet, games will greet you by name, save your scores, and offer personalized content.  On the backend, marketers track not only your entered data, but also your movements, length of engagement, and personal preferences.  The relationship is a win/win: consumers get streamlined personal experiences and marketers get more in-depth analytics in real-time.

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The downside? RFID hardware is prohibitively expensive for most brands.  I have worked with customer activation projects that have spent between $50,000 and $75,000 on just the hardware—radio frequency ID tags embedded in bracelets and cards. And tracking expensive hardware that’s being handed to consumers can lead to a lot of missing dollars on-site.

Beyond that, RFID can only track what consumers allow it to.  That means that most RFID implementations are missing out on a wide variety of demographics and data points that users don’t specify like gender, age, ethnicity, and, my favorite, reactions.

The solution to all this could be staring us in the face – literally.  The recent growth of facial recognition in marketing hints at a consumer friendly, data-centric tracking system that surpasses RFID in terms of points tracked.  Just look at Coca-Cola’s Summer of Love Tour in Israel. Coca-Cola has users RSVP to the event via Facebook, at the same time opting in to the facial recognition app FaceLook (known as Face.com before it was purchased by Facebook, as noted by Digital Buzz Blog).  Once at the event, consumers simply had to look at the FaceLook kiosks and the program enables marketers to post prewritten messages to Facebook related to the event-goer’s activity. It is all about calling attention to the person having a good time.

Coca-Cola's Summer of Love tour in Israel uses the FaceLook app. Image from video by YouTube user Enon Landenberg.

Coca-Cola’s Summer of Love tour in Israel uses the FaceLook app. Image from video by YouTube user Enon Landenberg.

While this is going on, facial recognition can determine a consumer’s gender, age, ethnicity, reaction and much more.  Users don’t need to swipe a card or wristband to be greeted by name or served personal content. No costly hardware is needed either.  A simple webcam and computer will get you started.

But, what if you don’t want to others to access your data? Privacy with facial recognition is a hot topic at the moment with consumers, privacy experts and government.  When asked by Congress, Google Glass recently came out and said that they would not integrate facial recognition into their hardware due to privacy concerns. While this hasn’t stopped developers from created facial recognition software (Lambda Labs just released a Facial Recognition API for Google Glass), it has brought to light that privacy and consent is going to need to be addressed for early adopters.  Coca-Cola was able to get around this by having consumers RSVP and give specific consent to the FaceLook app.  Other marketers will have to think similarly until there is a common consent mechanism that puts consumers in control of their own data.

True, facial recognition is a new technology.  And like all new technologies, it has its bugs to work out—for example, poor lighting can cause recognition to misread—and software has traditionally been expensive to tap into.  However, as more companies experiment with the technology, I think we’ll see a shift in the market.  Already companies like IMRSV, Lambda Labs and Orbeus are creating facial recognition Software as a Service offerings and access to APIs to be used by marketers for analytics about users in a wide variety of use cases. All three are a bargain with pricing ranging from $39.99 to $256.00 per month.

As more marketers play with facial recognition, more agencies and tech companies will work to improve the technology, making it more flexible and cheaper.  For early adopting brands, there is some risk, but the pay-off could be huge as early adopters often become the case study for others, and gain valuable media coverage as a result.

So, can facial recognition really kill off RFID? Perhaps not for tracking cargo across the globe, but for marketing, I think the chances are pretty good.

Jen Ohs is vice president of production at Brightline Interactive, a digital services agency based in Alexandria, Va., specializing in consumer experience. Prior to joining Brightline, she owned an online marketing agency.

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