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  • 2-D Bar Codes: Understanding the 'easy button'


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One of my first blogs on this site took a realistic glance at the prospect of 2-D bar code adoption in the U.S. In the last few years, brands, publishers and retailers have tested and nibbled around the edges of this technology. There is evidence in a lot of places that key players are now willing to take a bigger bite.

In the recently concluded South by Southwest interactive conference, mobile was at the core of most discussions, and 2D bar codes were employed everywhere from billboards to screens to food wrappers. There was widespread agreement that mobile will be a game changer on many fronts.

It is incumbent upon the kiosk and digital-signage industries to understand how mobile technologies can extend the value of what we design and produce. The 2-D bar code is an evolving tool that we may be called upon to evaluate and integrate.

Mobile bar codes are the "easy button" for connecting to content. They make the static interactive and the tethered mobile. The value for kiosks and digital signage is the ability to take something away from the interaction on your phone. At key points in their educational quest or transaction mobile bar codes give consumers the ability to link to information on the web that can move with them and reconnect them to a brand or retailer later.

As attractive as bar code scanning and instant connectivity appear on the surface, there are challenges with infrastructure, education and execution that we should be conversant about.

Those in the mobile industry like to refer to the complexity of the "ecosystem." This refers to different codes, different readers, and the lack of uniformity among mobile devices.

Laura Marriott, past president of the Mobile Marketing Association, has said, "The majority of the major players in the 2-D barcode ecosystem are committed to working closely with the standards bodies to help overcome the hurdles to broad-scale market development through collaboration." For now, we must go to school on the numerous options available."

In addition to a more uniform infrastructure, there is a need for consumer understanding. We are at the point where publications like USA Today have made mobile bar codes a regular feature; Coach Stores and Macy's have integrated them into their Spring advertising and in-store marketing campaigns; and giants like Google and eBaby are incorporating them into their applications. These bold moves will accelerate awareness.

Getting consumers to understand and try 2-D bar code scanning is one thing, but ensuring a good user experience is key to the success and longevity of a program. A satisfying interaction can increase loyalty or lead to a sale, while an inferior experience can detract from a brand.

Here are some considerations in marketing with 2-D bar codes:

  • Know what kinds of mobile devices your target is using. Knowing whether your target is a smart phone user or a feature phone user may dictate your choice of 2-D bar code.
  • Research what combination of bar code and reader is right for your program. There are many choices of reader applications for open source codes. Providers of proprietary codes couple a bar code with a designated reader.
  • Think beyond the tactic to the quality of content to which you are linking. Is there an adequate payoff for the time it takes to pause and scan?
  • Be certain you explain scanning and what it will link to in the medium that activates the scan. There are many examples of well-communicated instructions that can be viewed on the Internet.
  • Tell consumers where to get a code reader if they don't have one on their phone. Be aware that not every reader application reads every kind of code.
  • Consider giving consumers an alternative means of accessing the content. Some marketers have included access via text messaging or a mobile web page in their media.

As 2D bar codes make their way into the mainstream of retail and self-service experience our industry needs to be prepared with information and insight. We aren't necessarily the players to untangle the infrastructure, but we have a responsibility to strive for a satisfying user experience to the benefit of all involved.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Laura Church
    I personally am thrilled to see 2D bar codes taking hold, so we can go to the source of a product for additional information in a store, rather than the teenagers who is working the registers while testing her friend, oblivious to the distinctions between products. For me and others on the client side of advertising, it gives us a chance to "wake up" posters and printed pieces to be alive and interactive, and to not only inspire a viewer with our marketing, but to ENGAGE them, ENROLL them, and FOLLOW UP with them for our clients! Now, the trick is to get web site gurus to make sure when the 2D bar codes are employed, that the smart phone user can actually USE the web site without getting out a magnifying glass and borrowing our children's GameBoy stylus to operate it! LOL Laura Church
  • Bob Ofenstein
    In my opinion, 2D applications are missing a VERY IMPORTANT aspect. Typical use cases are just linking to a website, which makes these customer interactions to be "one time". What is really needed is for consumers to be able to COLLECT their favorite 2D discoveries. A simple concept that is used all of the time on the Internet. Capture and Managing your personal "favorites" greatly increases the benefits of easy capture. Bob at 2duMedia LLC (
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Latest posts by Ron Bowers
Ron Bowers
Ron Bowers and Frank Mayer & Associates are recognized for their expertise of the in-store merchandising marketplace. Their creative insight has developed leading edge point of purchase displays, digital signage, kiosks, mobile, and self-service retail customer experiences.
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