I recently spoke at SMX West and SES New York on best practices for mobile marketing with QR codes. Here's a follow-up crash course on tools, tactics, and best practices to confidently help you jumpstart a 2D barcode marketing campaign.
2. 2D barcodes can store a variety of data.
A traditional 1D barcode (UPC/EAN) stores up to 30 numbers, while a 2D barcode (QR) can store up to 7,089 numbers. The additional storage capacity accommodates a variety of data beyond product pricing:
4. 2D barcodes can be placed in and on nearly any location.
Once the barcode image is created, it can be printed on nearly any surface and location - newspapers, TV ads, billboards, temporary tattoos, product packaging, clothing labels, cake frosting, and more. This enables you to drive traffic, interaction, and conversion from anywhere. 2D barcodes excel at bringing non-digital media to life. (Note: Use caution placing barcodes online. They should always enhance the user experience. If a user could click a hyperlink, don't make them scan a code to complete the same task.)
Bear in mind the location must be easily scannable. Plastic frames and packaging can reflect light. Lighting can cast shadows, and hillsides and subways can kill Wi-Fi access. Consider all contextual factors that could impact the scanning experience.
There are several key differences in these code formats. ScanLife EZcode and Microsoft Tag are proprietary formats only decodable by their tools, while QR and DataMatrix formats are open standard. (Additional format differences can be addressed in another blog post.)
A Google Trends analysis of these 2D barcodes shows 'QR code' dominates by far from a search popularity perspective. QR has become a common term used to reference a 2D barcode (2D code, mobile tag, mobile barcode, etc.) even when the codes are technically a different format. Even @MicrosoftTag uses the #QRcode hashtag on Twitter.
Different generators have varying features. Choose a generator based on the options for:
Note: To generate a code on the ScanLife or Microsoft Tag sites, you'll first need to create an account. (Tag requires providing personal info like birth date, gender, etc.)
Readers: Microsoft Tag and ScanLife EZcode can only be decoded by their respective reader apps. Because of the open standard for QR codes, dozens of reader apps are available. (DataMatrix is usually supported on most QR readers.) Some mobile handsets come with a reader app pre-installed.
The following 2D barcode reader apps work on the majority of phones/handsets.
|Reader App||Code Formats||Download Link (from your mobile phone)|
|BeeTagg Reader||QR, DataMatrix, BeeTagg||get.beetagg.com|
|AT&T Code Scanner||QR, DataMatrix, UPC/EAN||scan.mobi|
|ScanLife||EZcode, QR, DataMatrix, UPC/EAN||getscanlife.com|
Management tools are relatively inexpensive and sometimes free. Paid plans typically have a free trial with fees based on the number of scans.
2D Barcode Management and Tracking Tools:
For example, including a QR code on a business card that links to a meCard would be a lot easier than the user manually entering the contact record. In contrast, a QR code that links to a website home page adds limited value.
Note: If you link to a web page, make sure that it's mobile-friendly.
Warning: Small, complex QR codes are the number one mistake currently being made by marketers. (Microsoft Tag and EZcode formats generally don't have this issue.) Smartphone cameras with resolution less than 4-megapixels can't scan a QR code smaller than about 1"x1". Moreover, without the auto-focus (AF) camera feature, a complex QR code will have the same scanning issue, even if the code is larger. The iPhone 3GS and BlackBerry are popular handset examples that lack both of these camera features. Unscannable codes kill and delay the adoption rate for 2D barcode campaigns.
Tip: Always provide a back-up (i.e., hyperlink, SMS text message, etc.) option for users to retrieve info within the code. A back-up enables non-smartphone users to also participate.
Steps two and three can be combined as a call-to-action. Example: "Scan to..." (watch a video, download our app, call customer support, etc.)
QR codes include an Error Correction Level (ECL) that enables 'damaged' codes to still be scanned. The error level tolerance (set by the code generator) can be as high as 30 percent. As a result, creative license can be used to create designer QR codes from a variety of colors or materials (i.e., jelly beans, sand castles, product packaging, etc.) as long as there is adequate contrast to read the code.
Microsoft Tag also allows for artistic codes. Their custom tag tool allows users to generate art from codes or even overlay codes on top of photographs.
Note: Some artistic design is fun and good to see; however, don't go overboard. As long as 2D barcodes are a novelty, it's important that users easily recognize a scannable code from a distance.
Expertise goes beyond consultants: talk to your web analytics guru and learn all you can about the mobile users currently accessing your website. Seek out mobile marketing industry statistics regarding popular devices and demographics to appropriately target your audience. (Compete, ScanLife, and eMarketer provide regular useful reports.) Follow the #QRcode Twitter hashtag or subscribe to "QR Code News & Mobile Trends" (Paper.li) for the latest news and case studies.
Finally, download my QR Code Best Practices Checklist & Campaign Worksheet to help plan and manage your campaigns:
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
March 19, 2014