This week Facebook and Cisco announced a technology solution for retailers and businesses that flexes each company's networking muscle.
The official title for the venture is Cisco Connected Mobile Experience with Facebook Wi-Fi, or CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi for short, and attempts to tap into customer likes and location for targeted marketing and promotions.
While a partnership between Facebook and Cisco makes for an unlikely Silicon Valley couple, the duo's resulting technology, if implemented properly, could be a win-win for retailers and consumers alike.
At least that's what Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager for Cisco Enterprise Networks Group, hopes will happen. On a company blog post Hajela described a hypothetical scenario to explain how the system works:
When my wife and daughter are in the mall doing some holiday shopping and walk into a store running CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi, my daughter opens a browser on her mobile device, goes to any page and is directed to a "check in with Facebook" login page. She logs in to her Facebook account, is given access to the store's Wi-Fi network and is taken to their Facebook Page. From there she can check-in, "like" the store, use and share promotional information with her Facebook friends.
Of course, the seamlessness of that process is contingent on some powerhouse Wi-Fi, which Cisco will manage with its Unified Access architecture that it also announced this week. Unified Access is being expanded with the new Catalyst 3650 access switch, designed to accelerate the convergence of wireless and wired networks.
Facebook will come into play on the data front, providing aggregated anonymous insights about people's activity on a company page, including demographics such as age, gender and city. The idea is that business can analyze this data to better understand their customer's preferences and deliver targeted promotions — ultimately improving their advertising and marketing campaigns.
Brand exposure is another benefit touted with CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi, with the theory that driving more check-ins through Facebook will increase the number of stories generated about a business, hence they will become more discoverable in Facebook's Graph Search.
But while CMX with Facebook Wi-Fi creates a pleasant shopping experience in concept, it remains to be seen whether it will retain its beauty during up close implementation or start to fuzz over.
"In my experience, many in-store Wi-Fi systems have poor or spotty service," said James Tenser, principal of VSN Strategies. "The experience payoff for shoppers will come if CMX with Facebook Wi-Fi delivers easier, better, faster connectivity."
And even if the connectivity is adequate, shoppers must also want to follow the steps to log in to Facebook.
"Some folks may not be real eager to check in to Facebook every time they visit a shoe store or supermarket. I know I don't want to wait more than a few seconds for the extra page to load. If Cisco makes it snappy, it may have something here that sets CMX apart," Tenser said.
So who are the likely adopters of CMX with Facebook Wi-Fi? According to Cisco, lots of consumers are comfortable with utilizing mobile while shopping in-store. The 2013 Cisco Customer Experience Report suggests that half of consumers use a mobile phone when shopping, with the majority (54 percent) of consumers using mobile phones when shopping in a store.
The report also found that 65 percent of global consumers are comfortable receiving retail advice based on their location through their mobile device, and many consumers (39 percent) would reveal their personal income in exchange for more personalized service, discounts and sale promotions.
And it's likely that many of those consumers will come from within the demographic of Millenials.
Jeff Fromm, EVP at ad agency Barkley and co-author of "Marketing to Millennials: Reach The Largest & Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever," said that Millennials could be very receptive to the service due to their innate need to share.
"In the world of Millennials 'useful is the NEW cool' and this has the potential to be very useful and shareworthy," Fromm said. "Millennials have a big peer affirmation life theme and the ability to share things to help their friends out."
Fromm added that Millennials are 2.5-times more likely to adopt new digital, social and mobile technologies and are clearly a critical target for this technology.
"Millennials are very savvy and if the technology is simple and provides value, then rapid adaption is likely," he said.
Cisco and Facebook ran an early pilot of CMX for Facebook Wi-Fi for the Meeting of the Minds event held in September in Toronto. Today, Bloomin' Brands Bonefish Grill is testing the solution in two of its restaurant locations in the U.S.
"What I'm really excited about is how Cisco is enhancing the one-to-one consumer experience to be one-to-many, utilizing social media like Facebook to bring more consumers into a connected mobile experience," Cisco's Hajela wrote in the blog post. "I'm sure that this will make the holiday season less chaotic and enjoyable for many of you."
Helping to create a holiday season without chaos or stress would indeed be an amazing (however unlikely) triumph.