Friday, January 09, 2009

Mobile Codes and B2B

Over the past decade, I’ve been involved with many projects to “de-tangle” digital marketing for big companies. Big companies want to know what’s out there in the digital landscape, and how it all fits together. Most importantly, they want to know why the latest trend is important to them. Take Twitter, for example. Is it a real, honest-to-goodness life changer that will be used addictively by a whole generation of digital influentials? Or, will it be the Segway scooter of web 2.0, a tool in search of a solution, that enjoys a surge of activity followed by a slow decline into boredom and malaise? I won’t comment on Twitter (at least not for now), but I will mention a truly cool tool that could be very, very important for B2B marketers.

QR codes were invented in Japan in 1994 and are used a lot in Asia. They’re all over the place in India. The basic concept is simple—a mobile two dimensional barcode. Instead of putting barcodes on merchandise for use in payments, you can put them anywhere. Here’s what one looks like. This is the one for wikipedia's home page:

Microsoft’s biggest announcement at this weeks’ CES was their version of QR codes called Microsoft Tag. These are two-dimensional color codes that contain a lot of information and are very readable by mobile phones’ cameras. A key to adoption of these codes is ease. How close do you have to be to the code to take an accurate picture; how much light is necessary; how good does the camera have to be to pick out the contrasts in color. From what I’ve heard through some savvy friends, the new Microsoft technology is best-of-breed on all fronts. Here's what a Microsoft Tag looks like for B2B Marketing Confidential:

However, we’re back to the Segway question. Will this thing take off, and will it last? I think it will. For one thing, it’s taken off and lasted in the more mobile-phone-savvy countries already. For another, it’s got a lot of real, honest-to-goodness business applications. Microsoft points out several of these:
  • Real Estate Listings: Snap a code of a for sale sign, take a virtual tour on your phone.
  • Business Cards: Snap a code on a business card and download the person’s contact info.
  • Dating: Print out a t-shirt with your code. If people are interested, they snap you and get your digits (my friend Jeremy came up with this, I agree, it’s a bit sick).
  • Linking to Facebook / Twitter: Snap codes and people automatically see what you’re looking at and where.

There are lots of others that I’ve thought of for B2B marketers:

  • Put codes on retail displays / end caps. Snap the code and you download a coupon and get loyalty points
  • Put codes on all of your hardware components. Snap the code and you’re automatically routed to the best tech support person for that device, along with the device’s serial number and configuration.
  • Put codes on drug posters. Snap the code and a doctor downloads all the clinical data and prescription guidance.
  • Put codes all over at events. Snap the codes to create a customer event portfolio, complete with time visited. The sponsors also know who you are, who else you visited, etc.

There are probably 10,000 other applications. I came up with the above in three minutes; I think with some heads-down time you could come with many more meaningful B2B applications. So B2B marketers, start planning for mobile / QC codes in your planning. Some open questions:

  • Is Microsoft going to out-innovate Google here for a change, or will Google release their much better version shortly and snap up all the share?
  • What does this mean for GPS integration? Didn’t even go there but imagine that…
  • Implications for privacy? Is there a way to streamline “opt-in”?

So, so cool. I don’t say stuff like this too often, but this is exciting.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Did not know about what Microsoft is up to. There is a design firm called Warbasse Design in Los Angeles that has been doing some very cool things with BarCodes for over a year and they seem to actually be making money or at least they have some big projects going on:

Philip Warbasse is the owner and lead developer. One of the most intense dudes I have ever met - very passionate about mobile tags. Not your normal designer, but has really interesting ideas along the lines of what you wrote in your blog

I have been trying to get the company I work for to use QR codes in our marketing material and while they like the technology, they are afraid to implement anything for because they think it will confuse our customers and potential customers.

I am hoping QR codes will catch on. So much potential.

Andy H.

Anonymous said...

I can see our major brand clients incorporating their rich-media product demonstrations into this leading-edge marketing opportunity. We already produce engaging Product Tours that play at each of their online retailers’ product pages, as well as on iPhones. Just imagine how effective it would be to have this kind of presentation ( ) available to consumers reviewing products in-store?

I can’t wait.

Rob S.

Unknown said...

QR codes are on the uptake in Europe. Pepsi are printing QR codes on over 400 million cans and bottles in the UK.

QR Code news

QR Code forum

QR codes explained

Ian. Founding creator QRMe

Anonymous said...

B2B amounts to the biggest part of transactions made online. Creating sales - oriented marketing plan and strategies is essential while initiating a B2B business plan. Further, to ensure success in a B2B online marketing plan, you can seek help from an ecommerce development company. A reputed ecommerce development company providing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services can help you in popularizing your website over the internet and thereafter the online sales of your products/services would automatically boost up.

Unknown said...

If this technology depends upon print... how about the print vendors offer to place the tags on every ad.
If they take the lead and educate the advertisers, adoption rates should be higher, no?


Anonymous said...

As of now, QR codes are free to produce and work quite well ( Are we going to have to pay a license fee to Microsoft for their version? Also, colour seems like it could pose more problems with printing and registering through a QR code reader (or a phone) than black and white. Not to mention that colour is more costly to print than black and white. I don't see the advantage of using their over the existing tried and true black and white QR codes. Am I missing something?

Andy Hasselwander said...

I think the Microsoft codes can store substantially more information than QR codes due to the color and design. Haven't thought about Microsoft's monetization strategy--my guess is they're trying to get a technological foothold on a key beach head.

Anonymous said...


A few key advantages I see in MS Tags over QR Codes:
1. The use of 4 colors (CMYK) and triangles (instead of squares) allows more information to be stored per square inch, making these codes substantially smaller than QR codes.
2. Tags by design point to a server which redirects on the backend to a URL. QR Codes by design point to a static URL. Thus, at any time mid-campaign, a Tag owner can simply change the URL redirect on the backend without having to update the Tags already in market. Imagine the value in being able to change strategy mid-campaign.

Your comments about color being more expensive to print is, of course, valid. Tags won't be for everyone or for every campaign. And Tags won't be the ideal code for scanning in a dark disco, but in normal lighting conditions (outside, inside lit room, etc.) Tags have proven to hold up to tests.

Jeremy P.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. A smaller tag is certainly an advantage. And so is redirecting the tag mid campaign. I wonder how they price that service when you purchase the tag.

Lim in B2B Selling said...

Very interesting article, especially how it affects the marketing. I look forward to getting more updates on how to use QR code to improve B2B marketing.