Wi-Fi Cloud-Based Marketing Platforms: who is who?

by Adlane Fellah

There are many platforms in the market which offer the ability to build a mobile digital marketing flow on top of Wi-Fi networks. Most offer similar benefits - splash pages, captive portals and push messages such as offering coupons, or simply pushing a survey all the way to analytics services. But how do they differentiate?

From start-ups with beta-only versions to well financed and established companies, it is easy to get lost in this emerging and highly fragmented space. In fact there is not even a real classification on which everyone agrees when it comes to this class of solutions. Some refer to them as monetization platforms, some categorize them as advertising, analytics, social Wi-Fi, cloud management - you name it.

They all promise to help businesses such as retailers and hotels to boost customer loyalty, improve customer experience, manage that experience, and ultimately monetize these free Wi-Fi access services through smarter and more relevant marketing and customer engagement.

Most solutions, such as Purple Wi-Fi and Cloud 4Wi, are cloud-based and sell through resellers and OEM partners such as Cisco-Meraki. Some, like Wavespot or Yadwire, come with their own gear. To complicate things further, leading carrier Wi-Fi access point vendors such as Ruckus are said to be developing their own monetization platforms on top of their centralized management tools; while players coming from the core network side, such as Elitecore, have released new “marketing” features on top of their Wi-Fi offload service management platform.

While these last two solutions are primarily geared towards carrier- class service, the lines are increasingly blurring between enterprise and service provider solutions.

The following are some of the important features to look for when selecting a cloud-based Wi-Fi marketing solution:

  • Hardware Compatibility: The more hardware and firmware agnostic the solution, the better. If you are a store chain using a mix of hardware this feature becomes quite important to be able to integrate the cloud solution onto your network.
  • Configuration: Some systems are hard to configure despite what the marketing material claims. Is the documentation complete? Does the help section work as described?
  • Management: Is changing settings straightforward? Are the navigation layout and features different for the central administrator? Is it easy to use for a small end-user with no IT experience or staff?
  • Sign-Up & Sign-On: The bread and butter of any Wi-Fi management system is user access. Supported social network logins can include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others. Here again actual testing can reveal malfunctions. Can form-submitted user email and password combinations be used to sign up as well?
  • Coupons: This is an important aspect of digital mobile marketing and it has to work flawlessly. Does the solution enable to create a QR or UPC code which could be scanned at a point-of-sale terminal? Can you manage how many coupons can be used from a central control panel? Does the email with the coupon code include all the relevant context and business information and expiration date? If a user is confused as to the nature of an email, it is likely to be discarded or forgotten.
  • Surveys: On-the-spot surveys enable businesses like hotels to measure their guest experience or for a store to identify which products the customer is interested in. Forms must be activated successfully and the data captured properly saved and stored for analysis and on-the-spot messaging.
  • Analytics: Big data is becoming important even for the small shop. Some companies like Euclid Analytics focus on the location analytics and partner with AP vendors such as Aerohive in high density Wi-Fi areas. Is the platform agile and is it easy to extract the data? Does it provide a visual dashboard? Is it tracking what is relevant to your business? How deeply does it track Wi-Fi usage in your premises? Does it track online HTTP data including how long people are browsing, categories of interest, the sites they are visiting and the content they are viewing?
  • Privacy: Security and privacy are becoming increasingly important issues as more data flows into all flavors of Wi-Fi networks. Is the connection secure? Is the consumer data protected from spam, intrusion? For instance, vendor Zapfi claims it differentiates by providing VPN connection, content filtering, anti-spam, and intrusion detection.
  • Support: Does the platform provide good tutorials? Is the help section complete? How difficult is it to get someone on the phone for urgent help? What is the response time for the ticket system?
  • Miscellaneous: Is it the best value on the market in terms of price/benefits? How solid is the company financially and will it be around next year? Those are important questions!

This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure there are many more in the market. Feel free to write me for a briefing about your solutions. I will also be speaking at the upcoming carrier Wi-Fi Americas December 1-3 in Dallas.

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