After years of fits and starts — and few more fits than starts — barcode scanning is finally catching on, as evidenced by new data from the holiday shopping season. Dallas-based developer Big in Japan last week reported 2.15 million downloads of its popular ShopSavvy app in November, marking the the product’s most activity since its 2009 launch. And Scanbuy, a longtime player in a space that is just beginning to get legs, recently said use of its technology is up seven-fold in 2010 so far this year.
Interestingly, when it comes to scanning barcodes with their phones, consumers are as interested in engaging with brands as they are in comparison shopping. The checkered blocks known as 2D (or QR) codes accounted for as many scans as UPC codes, according to Scanbuy’s data, and 85 percent of 2D code scans were used to direct a consumer to a company’s mobile web site.
The codes essentially serve as a conduit between mobile users and businesses, giving the two sides a chance to interact with each other with just a few clicks (as opposed to entering a lengthy URL on a handset or sending an SMS). Codes can power a wide variety of marketing and promotional initiatives, from distributing images and video from Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to providing tasting notes for bottles of wine on store shelves. Retailers can use the codes to provide in-depth product information and to grow customer-loyalty programs. Film studios can distribute movie trailers through 2D campaigns, and performing artists can distribute music clips to promote an upcoming tour.
All too often though, that opportunity is lost due to campaigns that go unnoticed, are difficult to use or simply don’t work. So as the space begins to heat up — finally — I offer some tips to a wide variety of businesses looking to harness the power of 2D barcodes:
- Educate the consumer. While the recent uptake of 2D codes is impressive, the vast majority of mobile users still have no idea what they’re supposed to do with the little Rorschach-looking cubes. Tell them very clearly which platforms and apps support your campaign, and give them step-by-step instructions on how to use the barcode. And if you need an education, too, check this helpful white paper from NeoMedia Technologies.
- Make it obvious – and easy. Make sure customers see your barcode, and make sure they can be easily and accurately scanned (especially important in brick-and-mortar deployments like Google’s Favorite Places). Keep them at a size that can easily be captured with a phone’s camera, and make sure they’re surrounded with plenty of white space. Finally, test them regularly to make sure they work on all supporting handsets.
- Given consumers a reason. The novelty factor will surely entice some first-timers to scan a barcode with their phones, but for maximum traction tell users why they should make the effort. Given them something of value, whether it’s a discount offer, important product information or content like a song or video clip. Simply directing users to your mobile site isn’t enough. And don’t direct them to your latest TV commercial or to a shrunken version of your Internet site.
- Integrate your campaigns. Make your barcodes visible everywhere it makes sense. Present them in your print ads, online and in e-mails to customers. Brick-and-mortar retailers should consider sticking them on the front door and at the sales counter; restaurants could put them on menus and give users a way to access the menu and even place orders on the go.
- Create a dialogue. Once a consumer has engaged with you via a 2D code, given them reasons to stay engaged. After delivering something of value, encourage them to opt in to loyalty programs or newsletters. Don’t smother users with come-ons, but give them reasons to continue the conversation and keep them informed about new products and services and upcoming promotional campaigns that might interest them. And make it easy for them to respond on their phones — and to opt out at any time.