Kiss Another RFID Company Goodbye

Solutions providers continue to make the mistake of marketing to the 90 percent of end users on the far side of the adoption chasm.
Published: April 30, 2012

I was speaking to the head of the RFID team at a major U.S. retailer this week. He asked me about an RFID solutions provider that did not exhibit last month at RFID Journal LIVE! 2012. “What’s going on with them?” he asked me. “Are they in financial trouble?”

I told him that I couldn’t reveal anything I knew, because our dealings with RFID companies are confidential. The retailer volunteered that the solutions provider’s CEO told him the company was not exhibiting at RFID events anymore—only at retail events—and that it would no longer market RFID, but would instead sell visibility.

“Well,” I said, “you can kiss that company goodbye.”

I told the retailer that I hear this kind of thing a lot. There are 10,000 retailers that attend the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show, so RFID businesses think they can do well at that conference. If they had read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, they would know that NRF’s attendees are on the far side of the chasm—meaning they are not going to deploy RFID until it “enters the tornado,” to use Moore’s term. In other words, they will hold off deploying until the technology takes off and becomes a mainstream solution, which is likely still two years away or more within the retail sector. Companies interested in deploying RFID technology attend RFID events. So if this solutions provider continues to exhibit only at retail conferences, it will find few customers.

To prove my point, I asked, “Did you go to NRF?” His reply: “No.” I then asked if he attended any other retail shows throughout the year. His answer: “No. I only go to RFID Journal LIVE!”

Another mistake this solutions provider is making is that it insists on selling visibility instead of RFID. I’ve heard other RFID providers say they want to sell visibility—sometimes it’s traceability or something else. This type of thinking would seem to make sense, as end users don’t want to buy technology—they want solutions to their problems. But such an approach does not work, because you can’t buy visibility. During the Internet era, people didn’t sell communication or connectivity—they sold Internet technologies.

End users don’t type “visibility” into Google‘s search engine to find solutions to their problems. They type “RFID,” which has become shorthand for any wireless technology enabling end users to identify and track things. At present, end users know what radio frequency identification is, and they have a pretty strong idea of what it can do. They might not be aware of everything that the technology can accomplish, but if they are looking to track items, they attend an RFID event to find a solution that can provide them with visibility.

I hate to see companies make these mistakes, but I guess it is part of the RFID industry’s maturation process. Savvy businesses will survive and become stronger, while those poking around in the dark, trying every strategy except for the right one, will ultimately disappear.

In the end, the industry will be stronger for it.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.