Cisco CMX – Marketing Magic? Or Big Brother?

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The first roundtable presenter at Interop New York was Cisco. Their Enterprise group always brings interesting technology to the table. This time, the one that caught my eye was the Connected Mobile Experience (CMX). CMX is a wireless mobility technology that allows a company to do some advanced marketing wizardry.

CMX uses your Cisco wireless network to monitor devices coming into the air space. They don’t necessarily have to connect to your wireless network for CMX to work. They just have to be beaconing for a network, which all devices do. CMX can then push a message to the device. This message can be a simple “thank you” for coming or something more advanced like a coupon or notification to download a store specific app. CMX can then store the information about that device, such as whether or not they joined the network, where they went, and how long they were there. This gives the company to pull some interesting statistics about their customer base. Even if they never hop on the wireless network.

I have to be honest here. This kind of technology gives me the bit of the creeps. I understand that user tracking is the hot new thing in retail. Stores want to know where you went, how long you stayed there, and whether or not you saw an advertisement or a featured item. They want to know your habits so as to better sell to you. The accumulation of that data over time allows for some patterns to emerge that can drive a retail operation’s decision making process.

A Thought Exercise

Think about an average person. We’ll call him Mike. Mike walks four blocks from his office to the subway station every day after work. He stops at the corner about halfway between to cross a street. On that street just happens to be a coffee shop using something like CMX. Mike has a brand new phone that uses wifi and bluetooth and Mike keeps them on all the time. CMX can detect when the device comes into range. It knows that Mike stays there for about 2 minutes but never joins the network. It then moves out of the WLAN area. The data cruncher for the store wants to drive new customers to the store. They analyze the data and find that lots of people stay in the area for a couple of minutes. They equate this to people stopping to decide if they want to have a cup of coffee from the shop. They decide to create a CMX coupon push notification that pops up after one minute on devices that have been seen in the database for the last month. Mike will see a coupon for $1 off a cup of coffee the next time he waits for the light in front of the coffee shop.

That kind of reach is crazy. I keep thinking back to the scenes in Minority Report where the eye scanners would detect you looking at an advertisement and then target a specific ad based on your retina scan. You may say that’s science fiction. But with products like CMX, I can build a pretty complete profile of your behavior even if I don’t have a retina scan. Correlating information provides a clear picture of who you are without any real identity information. Knowing that someone likes to spend their time in the supermarket in the snack aisles and frozen food aisles and less time in the infants section says a lot. Knowing the route a given device takes through the store can help designers place high volume items in the back and force shoppers to take longer routes past featured items.

Tom’s Take

I’m not saying that CMX is a bad product. It’s providing functionality that can be of great use to retail companies. But, just like VHS recorders and Bittorrent, good ideas can often be used to facilitate things that aren’t as noble. I suggested to the CMX developers that they could implement some kind of “opt out” message that popped up if I hadn’t joined the wireless network in a certain period of time. I look at that as a way of saying to shoppers “We know you aren’t going to join. Press the button and we’ll wipe our your device info.” It puts people at ease to know they aren’t being tracked. Even just showing them what you’re collecting is a good start. With the future of advertising and marketing focusing on instant delivery and data gathering for better targeting, I think the products like CMX will be powerful additions. But, great power requires even greater responsibility.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Cisco was a presenter at the Tech Field Day Interop Roundtable.  They did not ask for any consideration in the writing of this review nor were they promised any.  The conclusions and analysis contained in this post are mine and mine alone.

8 thoughts on “Cisco CMX – Marketing Magic? Or Big Brother?

  1. I liked many of your analogies. Thanks for sharing your views on this additional location tracking technology.

    Like you, I’m intrigued by the technology, but shy away from the personal implications. As technologists we are the ones implementing these ‘features’ that perhaps less scrupulous folks might use for nefarious means.

    If the ‘Minority Report’ phenomenon was an actual fact. Do you think any blame would/should be given to those who implemented it, or just the stores who implemented it? Or just the government agencies that exploited it?

    Many Wireless LAN vendors are all excited about the opportunities for more potential sales because of this ‘feature’ – but none I’ve spoken with are even thinking about the ramifications – they offload that responsibility to those who purchase the tools.

    I don’t have any answers… just questions on how this will effect our lives – as you’ve so eloquently elaborated with your ‘Mike’ story.


  2. Dang, I always forget to log in first to make a comment and then I lose what I wrote!

    Take 2 –

    Let’s remember that CMX only knows you as a MAC address. Unless you register your MAC with a reward program or use social media to log into the network the stores have no more of a clue WHO you are than they did before using CMX. They simply know a walking habit / pattern. I actually find the methodologies used by Target, Amazon, gas stations, etc more creepy then this. They actually have your name, address, credit card, etc.

    So let’s put away our tin foil hats and keep calm.

  3. Great post. Orwell would be happy about it. I especially enjoyed when Spiderman is cited.

    Personally, I find that Google Ads are good if they are relevant to my needs. It’s true, they will increase my consumptions and spending, but at the end of the day, we are free to decide if we want to consume/spend or not for those products/services we might need.

    CMX raised again the same issue, but nothing changed…

  4. Pingback: Cisco CMX – Marketing Magic? Or Big Brother?

  5. “They don’t necessarily have to connect to your wireless network for CMX to work. They just have to be beaconing for a network, which all devices do.” – this is not true. If you want to get push notifications without connecting to the WiFi network, you use MSAP (Mobility Services Advertisement Protocol) capable device. MSAP is is supported maybe only on 0.01% of all the smartphones.

  6. BTW, the Minority Report thing is already real(ish). I had friends who worked for a (now defunct) company that made advertising displays. Some of the TVs they used had cameras built in and they could track which part of the display you were looking at and take a pretty good guess at your basic demographics (gender, approximate age). In their case they were using it to give metrics back to their advertisers rather than customize the display, but that was mostly because users would find the customized display super creepy.

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