Digital Signage Proximity Marketing Goes (Very) High Frequency

November 4, 2013 by Dave Haynes


John Kirkpatrick, or JK as he is widely known, has been around this sector forever, having started FRED Systems 20 years ago and selling the pioneering digital signage software system to Mercury Online (which 3M then bought) in the early to mid 2000s.

These days he does management consulting and is banging the drum for mobile technology that does proximity marketing in a very different way than Bluetooth or NFC. It uses inaudible modulated codes, sent at > 18,000 Hz through standard speakers (played out by a playback device). The codes are picked up by anyone with a smartphone that has an app with a few lines of code added that will then do the necessary audio detection.

He sent me a note recently touting the features and benefits of SonicPING, so I asked if he could do a Q&A to explain what it’s all about and why I would care.


Q – What’s the distinction between this and other types of proximity marketing that’s been tried in the past, with limited success? I’m referring mainly to Bluetooth and NFC efforts?

JK-  There are a few distinctions:

1) NFC could not reach iPhones, SonicPING (SONIC) is smart phone-agnostic and reach all – iPhone and Android.

2) NFC and QR codes required customer to proactively do something, SonicPING does not.

3) SonicPING is instantaneous and hyperlocal, so it can be sync’d with digital signage content or a live event (i.e. announcement at a convention center or throughout a school).

4) SonicPING actually does use BLE (a type of Bluetooth) for what we feel is the appropriate purpose, that is to (along with GPS and cell multi-lateration) geo-fence activation of the host app to begin listening for SonicPINGs in specific locations. i.e. as you enter a bank, automatically your bank app is triggered to listen for appropriate messaging at the ATM, or teller line, or in the lobby lounge waiting area. 

SonicPING provides controlled proximity for the mobile engagement, this improves the message recency and relevance compared to Bluetooth.  SonicPING is tactful, targeted and polite (like Canadians).  The system knows precisely where you are in the environment  and this is the “holy grail” for those trying to market effectively to their customers.

How does the SONIC system have 100% accuracy as to where you are? Because, if the smart phone were not in close proximity to the sonic emitter then it would physically not be able to receive the message, and the system knows precisely where every emitter/speaker is located. Consequently  the mobile engagement message is specifically related to a place and time with extreme proximity knowledge.

Another key feature is the requirement for the receiving phone to be in emitter range for at 2-3 seconds before it will receive the SonicPING. Put another way, just walking by an emitter will not trigger the mobile engagement, therefore spamming (as experienced with Bluetooth or “small cell push”) is greatly reduced.

Q – What’s the broadcast range? 

A – The range is equivalent to the capability of the audio system. i.e. the shelf SONIC emitter/beacon can produce extreme proximity of <2 meters; an interactive kiosk volume may be set to reach <5 meters; digital signage display may reach 20 meters (i.e. hotel lobby or QSR menuboard), while the public address audio system in a stadium or convention center can deliver 100’s of meters.

Q – Is there an explicit tie to digital signage and digital OOH, or are these activities/sectors that could use this, along with many others? 

A – The SonicPING does have clear advantages when distributed via DS & OOH but can also operate separately in many use-cases.   Our Go To Market is with DS providers because I believe this is the most effective way to get to the place-based (smart phones). This in part is because with digital signage the delivery and playback infrastructure already exist or can be added easily, and in many cases SonicPING can be added without “rolling any trucks”.

Secondly, Digital Signage providers are already delivering digital media and can easily add mobile engagement to their repertoire. They can build into their CMS real time analytics reporting using the Sonic SDK  REST API’s. The DS message and the mobile engagement message may be dynamically adjusted.   Technically SonicPING can be embedded into any digital signage content, or more simply, sonic .wav files can be scheduled into the CMS playlist without any development by the digital signage provider.

Q – What’s the impact on a Smartphone battery to have this running, as I know on my Android phone putting Bluetooth on affects battery life?

A – About the same as when using GPS (note: SONIC is auto ON  when the Geo-fence is crossed and auto OFF if it does not detect SonicPING after 10 minutes).

Q – What pops up on smartphone screen if you opt in?

A – The host APP that has the SONIC SDK will have the look and feel of the host APP.  What the screen does when it is actively listening for a SonicPING is up to the designer. He/she may choose to show nothing at all or some animated gif.  What is delivered with the SonicPING is also completely variable i.e. silent, sound, vibrate, etc.

Q – Are the messages sync’d to what’s on a digital sign? Or could they be?

A – Yes, they can be embedded into the content or sync’d via the CMS schedule. With REST API’s for interfacing analytic data, they could even be dynamically adjustable to each reflect real time input (audience mobile interaction affecting the DS playlist priorities).

Q – How does a vendor, venue or brand “buy” your product? Do they license? SaaS?

A – SAAS with several different levels of engagement including provisions for CPE (Cost Per Engagement, similar to Google Ads),

Q – Where is the business at – i.e. operating, pilot, etc?

A – Technology 2+ years old, VC funded, Patent(s) issued (US & PCT), several pilots underway with major retailers but due to NDA agreements retailers cannot be named.

Hmm. I usually give my take on things, but the ties between proximity marketing and digital signage have never really developed into major business. Certainly, NFC is being used out there.

What’s intriguing, to me, is the large venue stuff. If food service concessions could push out messages at stadiums to discount and clear out overages in hot dogs, that would be interesting. So would notifications of events and presentations around large trade show facilities.

I’m less interested in stuff that’s going to pitch at me as I move around a mall, but then, I’m not 18-35 and deeply in love with my phone.

Leave a comment