Did you see a little square barcode in a magazine this year? How about a little colorful square that looked like a screenshot from Pac man? These scannable codes by your mobile phone or other device have been on an up and down rollercoaster trend for the past two years as public acceptance has been unclear. Unlike Facebook which is uncannily addictive, “tag barcodes” seem too been too confusing for either the vendor or user to get widespread acceptance. Generically called “tag barcodes, they can take many formats. For example, a QR code stands for “quick response code” and scanning one will take you to either the company’s website, a coupon or a mobile microsite they developed to capture your information as a new visitor. The colorful codes are Microsoft tags and are supposedly easier to scan and more customizable to the company’s brand. Click on the colorful tag for more on Microsoft’s strategy for tag barcodes and nearfield communications (NFC). NFC is a set of international standards for transferring information at low data speeds between smart phones/pads/devices based on existing radio frequency ID (RFID) standards (though not the same frequency or speed as Bluetooth).
While some experts say these little squares are the future of connecting print and digital advertising, others say they are too hard to use and too complicated for the average user. This explains the comment about the rollercoaster of popularity surrounding the codes. One month a magazine will be full of them, the next month companies leave them out due to low response.
First, here’s a quick guide to the codes and you can test out the code above, which will take you directly to the Beauty Apps Twitter feed. In comparison, the MS Code below will take you to the same place but with a totally different look.
- What is a QR Code exactly? It’s a small, barcode-style box that links to digital content on the web or can activate a number of phone functions including email, IM and SMS. It connects the mobile device to a web browser.
- How many people actually use these codes? June 2011, 14 million mobile users in the U.S., representing 6.2 percent of the total mobile audience, scanned a QR code on their mobile device.
- How does a potential customer scan a code? They must first have a code reader. There are a variety of free code readers for both QR codes and Microsoft tags. Simply searching in a mobile browser and choosing one to download is easy and only takes a few minutes.
- Where were codes most commonly found? 50% of the codes scanned in 2011 were in print material like a newspaper or magazine, 35% were on product packaging and 23% were on a poster or flyer or kiosk.
- What are some of the most creative uses? Restaurants can provide nutritional information by printing a code on their menu, museums can replace long write ups next to art with a code that provides information about the artwork itself and the artist and Taco Bell and Mountain Dew are using codes to provide free music downloads.
So, now that you know what the codes are, what they do, how to use them and some creative uses and where will they be going next? In my opinion, there won’t be any major movement toward adoption of the codes unless; a major retailer puts them into mainstream use. For example, if H&M printed them on every label allowing customers to buy their size online or if Whole Foods put them on nutrition or animal welfare labels giving people more information about the food, then we might see greater adoption of the codes. But before that happens, here are my three predictions:
- Microsoft tags will become more popular overall. They’re easier to scan and easier for the company to customize using shapes and colors.
- Codes will continue to show up in magazines and on some billboards and we’ll see new uses by a wider range of businesses like Realtors and general contractors.
- Codes and tags will show up on more business cards. This is an underutilized way to use the code. Put a code to your LinkedIn or Facebook page on your business card for easy, quick networking and connections.
Despite being more than two years old, it’s still a hot, new technology. Stick with us on the blog and we’ll see where it goes!