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Connecting With Consumers Via Free Wi-Fi

For many of us, forgetting our mobile phones when we’re out and about can often be too much to bear. We’re social creatures and in this day and age this means, no matter where we are, we want to be able to surf the web, stream multimedia content, and keep in touch via email, instant messaging, social networks, and video calling.

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Christopher Bull, CEO Selective Media

This need to have it all at the touch of a button is such that a recent study by Ofcom found that 37 percent of adults and 60 percent of teens are ‘highly addicted’ to them. Even during meal times, we cannot resist the urge to check our phones, with nearly a quarter (23 percent) of adults and a third (34 percent) of teenagers using or answering their handset whilst sat at the dinner table.

Now more than ever, we expect our wireless devices to work perfectly at all times, whether we’re sitting at home or on the move. However, we’re often left disappointed by slow or patchy mobile internet speeds. A global study commissioned by Acision last year found that more than 60 percent of mobile users have experienced slow mobile internet speeds, with 39 percent struggling with patchy coverage.2

Even though mobile operators are trying to improve mobile services by upgrading their networks to support ultra-fast 4G connectivity, the shortcomings of current 3G services mean that many of us rely on Wi-Fi hotspots when mobile internet access is not accessible. Even when we can connect to the web over 3G, internet speeds are often too slow for some tasks, such as uploading photos to Facebook or watching videos on YouTube. As a result, we often need to connect to Wi-Fi in order to make full use of our tablets and mobile phones.

While consumers are happy to pay to access the mobile internet as part of their phone contracts, they are less keen to pay to access Wi-Fi hotspots. Many of us expect free Wi-Fi access to be on offer in all public buildings, coffee shops and hotels. This raises a question: how can operators and other organisations support the costs of providing free Wi-Fi without directly monetising the service?

Although companies including O2, Nokia and Virgin Media have all announced major free Wi-Fi zones in London, in an attempt to get in front of the thousands of tourists that are expected to descend on the capital during the Olympic Games this summer, questions still remain about how the free services can be effectively monetised if most mobile users are unwilling to pay anything to access the web.

One model that offers a way for Wi-Fi providers to monetise their hotspots is through supporting online advertising campaigns. The most used Wi-Fi hotspots will, by their very nature, be in areas of high footfall, therefore offering marketers the opportunity to access a receptive and captive audience. For instance, around 25,000 people connect to the FREE Street WiFi network operated by Spectrum Interactive in London each month.

By collecting some very basic registration information from people when they access free Wi-Fi services, companies can easily target niche audiences by age, gender or even occupation. Furthermore, as hotspots are highly location specific, companies can provide tailored marketing offers to consumers within the catchment area of shops or services, maximising their marketing spend considerably.

A platform we launched recently allows brands and advertisers in London to do just this. When shoppers in Westminster connect to one of 28 free Wi-Fi hotspots they are shown a deal for a store nearby. For example, a shopper could be presented with a 10 per cent off voucher for a bookstore or coffee shop just a stone’s throw away.

As well as driving footfall in store, Wi-Fi marketing also offers advertisers an opportunity to reach the demographic that they are typically most interested in the 18–45 professionals with relatively high disposable incomes and savvy about technology but struggle to reach cost-effectively through more traditional media channels.

Although the rise of location-based social networking sites, such as foursquare, initially popularised location based advertising campaigns, one hurdle was extremely difficult to overcome, getting large numbers of people to share their location or information. As a result we’ve seen location-based start-ups such as Gowalla and Whrrl close. In addition, foursquare itself, has only managed to signup 20 million users globally.

By utilising Wi-Fi hotspots to target consumers within a specified area, brands can enjoy all of the benefits of this kind of location-based marketing whilst reaching a greater audience that does not rely on the popularity of third party networks.

So, instead of sitting back and waiting for the likes of foursquare to do the work for you, why not do some digging and see how your brand can use Wi-Fi hotspots to target consumers by their location today?