Any attempt to imagine what the future of marketing will be like in five, ten, or twenty years’ time will have to take into account an exciting, increasingly ubiquitous technology: near-field communication. To the unspecialised ear it sounds forbiddingly complicated, but the principle of near-field communication (NFC for short) is quite simple. As a special form of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), NFC enables electronic interactions between devices over very short distances – typically up to 10cm.

The most well-known application of NFC is in contactless payment via smartphone, a service which is becoming ever more common. Already, services like Apple Pay and Android Pay are enabling customers to make their smartphones even smarter – by turning them into virtual wallets. A quick scan of an iPhone or Android phone over the card machine at the till completes the payment, seamlessly transferring money from your account without the need to enter a PIN at all.

Contactless payment via smartphone also provides the ability to run apps and go online, giving the phone, as “virtual wallet”, very powerful functionality. For example, it is possible for a smartphone to access a user’s accounts, cards PayPal, and loyalty scheme information online in order to select the most appropriate payment method in any given situation: a classic example would be the calculation of the cheapest fare possible for a journey via public transport, a service currently (but perhaps no more in the future) outsourced to applications like Tickety Split.

In terms of the general future of marketing, NFC will revolutionise outdoor advertising. Already, QR codes and similar technologies allow brands to create seamless paths from the external, embodied world (e.g. a QR code in a newspaper or bus shelter ad) to digital point of sale. A few years down the line, smartphones will be able to make immediate contactless purchases at bus shelters and shopping malls through a single swipe, making this integration even more streamlined. It is vital that any business or brand, looking to capitalise on the changes to come in the industry, take near-field communication very seriously indeed.