The View from the Connected Street

24th March 2015

A lot of the time, discussing technology can feel a little like you’re floating above the surface of the planet, talking about things that aren’t rooted in the real world. With cloud-based computing, abstract algorithms and billion dollar deals, it’s easy to forget the day-to-day impact that new technologies can have on how we live, even when we’re carrying a smartphone everywhere and using it several times a day.

This can be especially true when you live outside the ‘tech capitals’ of the world – the solutions that get deployed today in London, San Francisco and Berlin may find their way to more provincial towns and cities in time, but for the moment those who live in a few select cities get to experience a sort of living laboratory for the latest ideas in tech.

That’s why it was so gratifying to see Proxama team with Norwich’s Business Improvement District to develop their Connected High Street project. As a resident of Norwich, I’ve watched the project with a lot of interest, and seeing the NFC-tagged adverts appear in buses really brought home how useful proximity marketing can be when deployed with thought.

Now, a ride into the city from the suburbs means receiving an update from the Loka app developed as part of the project, letting me know any events that are going on that I might be interested in. As I walk around the city, my phone automatically checks into various stores, restaurants and attractions, using the Bluetooth beacons to deliver information and offers straight to me.

So far, I’ve treated myself to a free drink in the bar of our local arthouse cinema, and picked up a free Lego key ring for myself while buying birthday presents for my nephew. The staff who I’ve talked to about the app are unanimously positive and well-trained. Proxama and the Norwich BID have done a great job educating businesses on how the solution can benefit them, and why business practices need to adapt.

Anyone who’s looked at the stats from the past few years doesn’t need reminding that bricks-and-mortar stores are fighting a hard battle against the allure of online retail, and as city centres empty of shoppers, hospitality and tourism businesses are hurt too. The beauty of mobile is that by connecting everyone to the digital world, wherever they are, it can bring people back into the cities and towns they’ve abandoned.

By providing the kind of omnichannel experience that proximity marketing supports, even small local businesses can build loyalty and engagement in the digital realm, while still driving footfall into their shops, cafes and museums.

The biggest hurdle that the Connected High Street project faces is adoption. With the limited funding provided by the Technology Strategy Board’s ‘Reimagine The High Street’ competition, the project has had to start small, with around 20 local businesses and limited promotion, and needs both the data and support to push past the pilot stage.

With such a polished, user-friendly product that has the potential to do so much good for consumers, businesses and the city as a whole, the project just needs to catch the imagination of the public to become the kind of self-sustaining initiative that has businesses queuing up to be involved. As someone who has used the app and talked to the businesses benefiting from it, I can only hope that it truly is a vision of how our high streets will look in the future.

You can read Tim’s article ‘Sim Cities: The Future of the Connected City’ here.

Tim Maytom, Mobile Marketing