Mobile Barcodes: Here Today. And Here to Stay.
If you’re an attentive marketer or just a sharp-eyed consumer, you’ve probably noticed the increasing number and variety of those funky dot matrix barcodes in your mail, on billboards and at public transit stations.
Going commonly by the moniker “QR codes” (quick-response) or “2D barcodes” (two-dimensional), these mobile tagging formats have picked up major marketing momentum in the U.S. and Europe with the explosion of smartphone adoption (camera + phone = scanner).
But what’s the realistic staying power of mobile barcodes for marketing?
It all hinges on a murky path from potential application to widespread adoption, but I’ll plant my flag by saying mobile tagging is going to be big.
Pretty much every smartphone has the capacity to take a picture of a barcode and process the data encoded in the tag to view Web content, launch a mobile app or play a video. Consider a couple of scenarios:
1) You just ordered a new high-tech gadget for your home or office. The mobile barcode on the packaging launches a mobile microsite from the manufacturer that automatically registers you as a customer, runs you through the initial setup, answers FAQs and suggests accessories.
2) A flier/billboard/bus sign from a local retailer or restaurant spits out a virtual coupon with a great offer from its mobile tag and simultaneously prompts you to opt in for future deals.
Eventually, the smart brands will integrate mobile tagging in all marketing content to connect disparate media and improve customers’ engagement with interactive features. It’s an obvious and effective way to measure return from direct marketing, advertising and PR. Check out the March Madness mobile promotion that McMurry did for UPS’ Compass magazine on page 17 (I promise, the example is as solid as the plug is shameless).
But widespread adoption? That’s the tricky, sticky wicket.
While there are some obvious frontrunners, the mobile tagging arena includes more than 70 competing encoding formats that, although they offer similar functionality, don’t necessarily play nice with one another. And most of these formats require a specific app for processing that unique data encoding, which requires a lot of manual involvement by the user.
That’s a major hurdle to adoption among the masses. But hurdles were made for leaping, and the opportunity will be worth the effort.
I like to use the analogy of the latest-generation video format war: The application and opportunity for HD video content was long obvious, and arguments could be made for any number of formats. But once Blu-Ray finally reached its tipping point over HD-DVD in 2008, the consumer adoption of HD technology exploded.
Mobile tagging and barcodes are very effective forms of marketing, and you should certainly start integrating them into your marketing mix because, if history and Malcolm Gladwell have anything to say about it, we’re not far from a tipping point with standardized formats, built-in processing applications and widespread adoption.
Luke Meyers handles all aspects of marketing, branding and market research with McMurry, with a special inclination to mobile and new media. Prior to McMurry, Luke worked in fundraising and development for the Visiting Nurse Service, one of the oldest non-profits in the country.