Prisoners of Their Own Device

By Mark Roberti

In love with their own technology, many RFID vendors fail to speak the language of RFID buyers currently in the market.


Song lyrics sometimes become stuck in my mind, and it takes me a while to figure out what they mean. Last year, I kept thinking of the line, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” from Chicago’s same-named 1969 hit. The question on my mind, I realized after a few weeks, was this: Does anyone really know where we stand in the radio frequency identification technology adoption life cycle? And the answer is “yes.” We are still in the chasm, to use the term Geoffrey Moore coined to describe the gap between early adopters and the pragmatists who make up the vast majority of technology buyers.

This year, the song on my mind is “Hotel California,” by the Eagles, and the line I can’t shake is, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”

RFID technology providers often seem to be prisoners of their own device. These companies are excited by how their offerings—tags, readers, antennas and even software (though the latter is not a device)—are better than those of their competition. The problem is that most end users don’t care. Unlike early adopters that are excited by the cool new things the technology can do, pragmatists just want a product that addresses their business issue.

There are still technology enthusiasts and visionaries who see exciting new ways in which to employ radio frequency identification. One area is in social networking and marketing. But in most markets, the technology enthusiasts either have already deployed a solution or have been browbeaten by their bosses into dropping the whole matter. The market is now dominated by pragmatists who do not want to take a chance on a new technology like RFID. They view the technology and the early adopters with skepticism.

Yet, vendors have not adjusted their thinking, and they keep selling as if it’s still the early market, in which technology enthusiasts are eager to try out their cool new systems. They tout their lightweight air-interface protocol or their tag’s long read range. They are not speaking the language of the pragmatist, who just wants to know if RFID can solve their business problem.

Pragmatists want to buy a whole product, according to Moore, but only a few RFID companies have created a whole product, or have partnered to offer such a product. He says pragmatists want to buy something that someone else has already purchased. So the key selling point for RFID companies should be, “Our technology solved the same problem for this other company, so we know it can address your concerns as well.”

To help RFID technology providers be more effective marketers and reach the people looking to buy their products, RFID Journal is publishing The RFID Marketer’s Handbook: Smart Strategies for Finding Potential Buyers and Converting Them Into Customers. This report is based on data regarding the state of RFID adoption across a variety of industries, culled from news stories and surveys of RFID Journal‘s readers. We also asked our readership about their deployment plans, how they gather RFID product information and how they make purchasing decisions.

In addition, The RFID Marketer’s Handbook includes strategies for reaching these buyers cost-effectively. The guide will be made available in a few weeks, via the RFID Journal Store.

Of course, RFID technology providers must first accept that they have a marketing problem. If they don’t recognize the problem, they will always be prisoners of their own device. Their firms will be able to check out any time they like, but they will never leave the chasm.

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.