Have you noticed those strange, boxy barcode images? They are everywhere. They are on signs at the mall. They are on posters in your commuter train. They are on products at the grocery store. Where did they come from, and what do they do?
Whether you’re already savvy to the 2D barcode craze, or still not sure what to do with them, here are a few pointers on how to use them as a consumer, and as a marketer.
2D Barcodes—An Exciting Alternative
Quick Response (QR) codes have been in use in Asian and European marketing for years. The images typically consist of black boxes on a white background. Like the UPC (universal product code) barcodes on everything we buy, these patterns contain information that can be scanned and translated by barcode readers. What makes them exciting is that they can be read by camera phones, allowing smartphone users to get information on the fly. The 2D codes often link to websites, text files, or vCard contact information. They can dial a phone number, and more.
What’s So Cool?
Because of instant access to information, QR codes allow your audience to take immediate action in response to your marketing campaign as they experience it. In the moment.
For example, as one debarks in the Miami airport, that traveler will see your banner advertisement. She can scan your 2D code and her phone would immediately connect to allow her to book a room, order sunscreen, or make a reservation at Joe’s Stone Crab.
Realtors use them. Instead of standing on the sidewalk ogling the photo of your dream house, you are now standing on the same sidewalk, taking a virtual tour through your iPhone.
With the QR code you have the ability to store a lot more information than you can fit on one sign or product package. Users not only get info then and there, but they can keep it in their smartphones for reference later. For example, if you’re at an electronics store shopping for an expensive item—a new big-screen TV perhaps—you could scan the 2D code on the box and review the info later when you’re at home. Linking from physical objects is known as “hardlinking.”
Also cool is the ability for phones to scan from more than just printed items. Users can read a 2D code from TV screens, computer monitors, info-kiosk screens, and more. Like tattoos. Ok, maybe not tattoos.
Smartphone users can download apps such as i-nigma or TagReader. The app will activate the phone’s camera. Focus on the 2D code and your phone will take you to the website or landing page.
Got Any Ideas on Great Ways I Can Use These in my Business?
Yes! Here are a few ways you can enhance your current marketing, save a bit of money, and get info out to your audience easily:
- Instead of a whole brochure or catalog, save money and print a smaller one that links to a website with your full offerings.
- Add the code to the back of your business card so new contacts can view your site instantly or add your information to their contact list.
- Allow guests to scan a welcome poster in the hotel lobby and get the whole agenda and floor plan for a conference or trade show.
- Provide a coupon on your storefront to entice users inside.
- Put codes on your product on packaging and point-of-purchase displays linking free bonus information that enhances your product. Provide recipes including your ingredient or an exercise guide for your yoga mat.
- Drive traffic to your site by making your 2D code part of a contest or give-away. Ask users to scan the code from a print ad to enter.
- Provide your restaurant’s full menu to passers-by.
- Put it on all the “stuff” you give away at tradeshows (t-shirts, stress balls, post-its, etc.) to encourage contacts to visit you weeks later.
- Use the code to have a user’s phone call your 800 number and get more info or sign up for a service.
- Let your customers spread the word. Have your 2D code create a text message on their phones and encourage them to send it to friends.
What Should I Keep in Mind?
There are some drawbacks with 2D codes, namely that lots of folks don’t yet know what they are or how to use them.
Don’t isolate your non-smartphone-carrying audience. Lots of people still carry a regular old cell phone without a camera—a “dumbphone,” as my parents call them—and won’t be able to access any of your added features. Likewise, just because someone carries an iPhone or Android doesn’t mean they’re scanning every barcode they see. Keep your audience in mind. Young, tech-savvy consumers are much more likely to have the technology, know-how, and desire to jump on the bandwagon.
Are 2D codes going to revolutionize the marketing world as we know it? Probably not. But they are definitely linking physical objects and printed material with the web in a way we’ve never seen before.