Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Barcode Marketing II-Creating My Own Barcode

In part 1 of this saga, I advanced my knowledge about using smartphone apps in shopping and promotional settings. What I was really looking for, though, was the answer to the question, “Can I do this myself?” Not that anyone cares that much, except that if I can do it, anyone can!
First, the terminology. The series of lines known as bar codes are featured on all products that move in distribution channels today, and they are essential to maintaining inventory all along the supply chain. However, in spite of the fact that they hold a large amount of data, they became too small for newer applications like mobile shopping and proLinkmotion. A new generation was introduced, the 2D or matrix code. I first misinterpreted this as saying that the QR code and the familiar bar code were different animals. Not so, as this list shows. There are a variety of 2D codes and there is no real standardization. Selecting one that can be accessed by the most common readers is key, as I suggested in the previous post. As a commenter suggested, standardization is needed—and I heartily agree.

Note that the Barcode generator page contains a barcode generator that appears to be useful only if you have a numerical barcode already. If you don’t, this post tells you how to get one. If you want “free,” it is not necessarily unique and just for your own use, say in a retail store to maintain inventory. I’m also not convinced that “free” is as easy as this post suggests, although there are low cost solutions available.
I used the Kaywa QR code generator to create the QR code shown in this post, on the sidebar, and at the bottom of the page (same qr image, different sizes for different placements). It is one of the solutions featured by Mashable, which has written extensively about barcodes. See the demo slideshow on their post to get started. I use the text option in order to get a message into the code.

My own experience so far has been twofold:
1. Not all codes work on all scanners. In many cases it appears that the code has to be registered with the reader’s own database to register properly.
2. Changing the size of my code made a difference in readability. I’m told that the code is more readable if it’s on a white background—thanks, Charles.

Another piece of personal experience is also puzzling. I have had good luck reading QR codes in print media. Lynkee is my favorite reader, although I’m finding print codes generally easy to read. Reading the codes on paper seems to be easier than reading them on screen; maybe that’s the white border issue.

That said, I’m sorry that Google Places has eliminated the ability to print out a QR code poster from its listings. That was easy, and it worked for me. According to ReadWriteWeb, Google is moving to NFC technology in partnership with MasterCard and Visa, working on an e-wallet, apparently.

You’ll see more QR codes around. Home Depot has just started a promotion—in print and in store—using the Scanbuy solution. It will be worth following, but I’m interested in DIY efforts.

Anyone in the mood to make their own QR code poster for their blog or office or store window?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Barcode Marketing I - Promotional Opportunities

In this week’s Internet marketing class I played a Tesco ad that plugged both barcode marketing and Tesco’s new app, which has social shopping potential. The ad is fun, but it doesn’t emphasize the social aspect.

Consider this quote from Tesco’s agency:

Let’s say that three of your friends had bought tickets to [a concert] and advertised the fact on Facebook. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to receive an alert letting you know that they would be going to the concert and offering you the chance to buy your own ticket? This is a simple extension of current functionality but already the end user is having their possible needs preempted.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? You might want to read the post for some other ideas including the possibility that your friend Susan might be getting a cold. That one sort of creeps me out.

It will be interesting to see where Tesco goes with the social shopping aspect. They’ve experienced privacy push-back before, so they may proceed with caution. What most interested me about the video, though, was the happy consumers shopping with their smart phones in various settings.

A recent chart from eMarketer shows shoppers using their smart phones for a variety of purposes. Looking for deals is high on the list. Here’s a Reuters video that talks about the marketing implications of Tesco’s barcode app. So barcode marketing, which is essentially promotional, is clearly a growing marketing activity. Who are the enablers?

There are numerous agencies out there that develop mobile promotions (search ‘mobile shopping agency,’ for example). I was interested in DIY barcode promotions, so I kept looking. I found this really interesting case study. A mobile agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon hosted an art exhibit in their own space to test aspects of barcode promotions. They attached a barcode to each piece of art and encouraged viewers to scan them for information about the artist.

By now I had several barcode scanners on my iPhone, so I tried them all. None worked, so I made the correct assumption that I had to download the app from StickyBits in order to read them. That was only the beginning of my annoyance.

It’s a free app on iTunes. No problem there. It wanted me to sign in with Facebook Connect, which I don’t do. I don’t know whether my friends are interested in this stuff, and I don’t want to bug them. That proves I’m old, I know, but I just don’t use it. So I set up an account with StickyBits, no unusual information requested, but annoying on a smart phone. Then after a couple of other now-typical screens—Can I send you push info? No. Can I use your current location? Yes, although that could be a mistake from a privacy perspective.

Having satisfied those screens my scanner was operational and I scanned one of the artworks. The amount of information was disappointingly small. Yes, I know this was a test, but they could have made it more useful to the artists. The test performed as expected, though. Relatively few of the attendees used the barcodes and the ones who did were relatively young and computer-savvy. Read the post for yourself: it’s quite interesting and you can just click on the works of art featured to see the information provided (and consider the possibilities) and to see how few people scanned them.

I see another important lesson from the TenFour case study. Using a bar code format that isn’t recognized by the best-known barcode readers is going to present a problem. The user can prominently post the download link, but it still will probably inhibit use. My phone is already cluttered with apps—how about yours?

My investigation took me down many other paths looking for an answer to a basic DIY question, “Can businesses/non-profits do this for themselves without an agency?” The answer is “yes,” and I’ll follow up on that in a forthcoming post.