Free Wi-Fi: Make Sure Your Brand is the Superhero

Posted on June 17, 2016

As a kid you took Superman’s powers for granted. You never questioned his ability to fly, his laser-beam eyes, or the fact he could outrun a train at full tilt. That was who he was and, unlikely as it may have been, you accepted it as part of the narrative. The same goes for all the other superheroes, and it remains the case. Where necessary, our disbelief is readily suspended.

But, even as a child, there was one aspect of the superhero archetype which was far harder to swallow: The fact they found it so easy to keep quiet about their alter-egos, and the endless day-saving feats for which they were responsible.

I could not believe they hid their powers, or the pained humility behind their refusal to take the credit.

Then, as now, I would be shouting on the inside: “WHY DON’T YOU TELL THEM IT WAS YOU?!”

The same thing perplexes me about the manner in which some service and retail brands deliver free Wi-Fi to their customers. Many use their brand in the name of the Wi-Fi network in their stores (the ‘SSID’) as a way of promoting themselves. But it’s amazing how many others pass up the opportunity to take credit for supplying this highly-prized service, ceding it instead to an underlying network provider.

By doing this they are not only missing out on the chance to generate serious customer gratitude. They could be dissuading some customers from attempting to connect at all by giving the impression that the Wi-Fi is only accessible to customers of the network provider.

Shared Wi-Fi is extremely valuable to consumers. It gives them easy access to high quality mobile data in locations where it is often difficult or impossible to get a cellular signal. And it gives them that data entirely for free.

In a recent survey Popwifi measured the quality and usage of the Wi-Fi shared by leading U.S. retail and service brands, from a sample base of 350,000 smartphones. We discovered that — in the month of November 2015 alone — the top 40 brands by number of unique devices connected delivered a cumulative total of 68 years of Wi-Fi connectivity to our sample base.

Let’s scale that up. Data released by comScore this time last year showed that 187.5 million people in the U.S. own smartphones. Now imagine how many service and retail brand locations — from the largest chains to the smallest independents — offer shared Wi-Fi. Combine those numbers and it becomes clear that the amount of connectivity being provided to U.S. consumers by these brands is mind-boggling.

That is something brands should be shouting about.

That so many are not is all the more difficult to understand given that brands are not self-effacing by nature. When the supermarket delivers your groceries it doesn’t let Ford or Mercedes take the credit because they built the truck. It sends a great big brand-wagon to your house, which alerts your neighbours to its presence with its back-up beeping.

You don’t get a “Thanks for using our card reader” message from an ePOS supplier on your receipt when you make an in-store purchase, you get the store’s logo, and the store’s thanks. And restaurants don’t advertise their tableware or furniture suppliers, they take credit for the dining experience they have created.

Perhaps the willingness of brands to cede control to network providers — where it still happens — reflects something in the nature of the deal the two parties struck. But a trick is being missed here, and I suspect we will see those brands that have yet to identify the humble SSID as another branding opportunity start to wise up.

Because the reality is that this opportunity is about so much more than naming the SSID. Shared Wi-Fi networks offer the chance for brands to engage their customers in rich dialogue. Once these consumers are connected to their network, brands should be communicating with them, and letting them know they’re delivering something of value because they, in turn, value the customer.

These brands shouldn’t be like Clark Kent, clumsily deflecting attention, they should be like Tony Stark — grabbing it wherever they can.

Stark’s engineering feats, like his predecessors’ powers, stretch credibility to breaking point. But the glee with which he laps up the adulation feels far more honest. It’s what you might call the Stark Reality.

Consumers love to get connected, and any brand can be a hero by keeping them that way. So, if you’re a brand that is currently failing to take that opportunity, be like Tony Stark:

Tell them it was you.