When you think of downtown Safety Harbor, the first things that come to mind are probably picturesque, quaint, colorful and quiet, among other adjectives.
Chances are the phrase “high tech hotbed” isn’t in the top 10, though.
But thanks to iSign Media, a Canadian company with ties to IBM, Safety Harbor has become the launching point for a new marketing device that could revolutionize how businesses advertise their products.
“Safety Harbor is the first actual town in the U.S. that we are wiring up,” iSign Media Corp. CEO Alex Romanov said by phone. “I thought it was a cute town with a lot of pedestrian traffic that would do well with our equipment.”
“It’s an interesting mix of old school tradition with new school technology.”
The technology comes in the form of what’s called a Smart Antenna, a small blue device about the size of a pager that transmits information to people’s smart phones.
The device sits inside a participating business, usually obscured from view, and pings passing cellphones using either its WiFi or Bluetooth technology.
Clients can customize the messages that appear on the phones, using everything from a company website to coupons and specials aimed at those who accept the messages. Romanov said the antenna has a 300-foot radius and can reach thousands of phones per week.
And Romanov is quick to point out that the technology is non-invasive; the antenna gathers no personal information, and phone users always have the option to decline the messages, either on an individual or permanent basis.
“The service is absolutely free to the recipient and 100 percent private,” Romanov assured. “We don’t know your name or phone number, and we don’t collect any personal data.”
Worldwide and Soon to be U.S.-Based
The Smart Antenna technology has been widely used for years in places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as Canada, according to Romanov.
But he said he chose Safety Harbor for the product’s stateside launch after former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio made a trip to Vancouver to solicit tech companies to come to Tampa Bay.
That mission, coupled later with a positive meeting with Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce officials, spurred Romanov to not only debut the Smart Antenna downtown, but to move the company’s home base to Clearwater.
“All of our partners and customers are from the States ... and every one of our Smart Antennas are built in the U.S.” Romanov explained. “So I bought property in Clearwater and opened an office. I believe our future belongs in the United States.”
Downtown Safety Harbor to become a high tech zone
Romanov plans to have 10 Smart Antennas operating in Safety Harbor within the next couple of weeks. That number will allow iSign to completely cover the downtown district.
Needless to say, the decision to begin utilizing the technology in Safety Harbor has Chamber officials and business owners excited.
“My background is in sales and marketing and I was very impressed by it.” Chamber administrator Normajeanne Anderson said. “I thought it was cutting edge technology.”
Alex Sabo, owner of , the site of the first antenna downtown, is optimistic that the device will help spur business.
“It’s been great so far,” he said of his partnership with iSign, which began on 3rd Friday in August. “I’m just waiting to see how effective it can be.”
But Romanov and Anderson are confident the product could revolutionize marketing as we know it.
“Because everyone is always walking around with a cell phone in their pocket, you know you are going to hit on 90 percent of people walking by,” Romanov said. “That is a vital market for advertisers.”
“It’s a game changer is what I call it,” Anderson said.