Marketing & Communications

2D Barcodes: What’s All the Fuss About?

By • January 5, 2011

In the past year or so, you may have begun to notice some odd-looking boxes at the bottom of some print advertisements. They come in several forms, but typically look something like this:

With the image, there is usually a line of text urging you to snap a picture of the image with your smartphone to be taken to some other piece of content (video, editorial, coupons and more). According to ScanBuy, a barcode solutions provider, in a recent survey of people who own a smartphone, nearly three in five (57 percent) indicated they have scanned at least one mobile barcode.

This is a huge percentage considering that mobile barcodes are relatively new to the scene, and that the technology requires users to have special software loaded onto their phones to make it work.

If nothing else, this reinforces the belief that print ads drive people online for more detailed information. Rather than make the person wait to get to their computer to look up a web address for more information, they can do it immediately, while their interest is still piqued. And, depending on the type of tagging software being used, the advertiser can track detailed information about who scanned the tag and how many times they did it.

  • Mobile barcodes enable association professionals to track detailed information about precisely who engaged with a print ad and how many times they did so.
  • Mobile barcodes have gained rapid adoption in a relatively short time as nearly three in five people with a smartphone have scanned at least one mobile bar code.
  • Rather than make readers wait to get to their computer to look up a web address for more information about a product or service, mobile barcodes allow readers to do it immediately, while their interest is still piqued.

Do your homework first

Sounds great right? Before you start, here are a few things to consider. First, much like the early days of music and video files, there are multiple providers of this technology, and they don’t all work together. The basic, generic 2D Barcode (also called a QR code), is free to generate and use by anyone. There are plenty of free QR code generators on the internet, and once the code is generated, you can place the image in your print ad and away you go.

People that scan the code will be taken to the website you entered when you generated the code. Also, since this is the most common format, the majority of smartphones will be able to interpret the code with whatever code-scanning software they have loaded.

However, when a marketer uses this basic method, there is no tracking information available. You cannot easily tell how many people scanned the code, when they scanned, and certainly not who they are. For many marketers, this lack of tracking information isn’t acceptable in today’s world of measurable online ROI.

This opportunity has brought numerous players into the market, from the biggest of the big (like Microsoft) to smaller start-ups (like BeeTag and ScanBuy). These software providers require end users to download a piece of free software to their smartphones to scan and interpret QR codes. As these users scan and obtain tagged information, the software tracks the number of times a certain code has been scanned, and provides this information back to the advertiser. Depending on the software, advertisers can find out the time, date, location, smartphone type, and even some demographic information such as age, gender, and income in some cases (not name and phone number, yet).

Obviously, advertisers are thrilled to have this level of detail. To get this information, the advertiser must pay a fee for each code generated. This can be a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, depending on the amount of scans expected.

The future of scannable tags and codes

In my opinion, this technology won’t fully take off until there is a standard format defined, or a clear winner in the marketplace. Flipping through several technology and marketing magazines, I counted four different advertisements with 2D barcodes, and they required me to download three different barcode readers. Needless to say, I only scanned the one for the reader I already had loaded on my phone. I think most people will do the same thing.

A new company called JagTag claims to change all that with its introduction of 2D “brandcodes,” or unique 2D barcodes that are readable via any cell phone with a camera (even minimalistic feature-phones), and thereby require no additional software for the end user to obtain. However, users have to text the picture to a number after taking it, which is an extra step the other software providers don’t require.

Still, the technology does make sense, as smartphones have become our tether to the internet, and because a person’s ability to find out more information about a product or service at the moment their interest is highest has potential value. I think ultimately the QR codes will prevail, and someone like Google will probably find a way to integrate the code-creator and data collection into their powerful and free Google Analytics platform. It seems like a natural extension for them.

For associations, using these codes to cross-promote conferences, webinars, and other activities makes a lot of sense. Naylor uses both the paid model and the free QR codes. We will monitor our results and provide an update later this year.

Marcus Underwood is Vice President and General Manager of NaylorNet, the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.