Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mobile tagging. How creative marketers are turning smart phones into brand selling tools.

I've been saying for years that smart agencies recognize that clients are looking for leadership, not partnership. They want an agency that will bring them new insights and new ways to build a bridge between their customers and their brand.

After years of success in Japan, QR codes are finally beginning to emerge as a legitimate marketing tool in the US, and mobile tagging with QR codes is a great way to demonstrate leadership to your clients and prospects.

When Best Buy added QR codes to their product fact tags in all their U.S. retail stores last September, it made them the first national retailer in the US to acknowledge the future potential of mobile tagging. Since then, we’ve begun to see an explosion of new and creative ways to use the two-dimensional bar codes to enhance the marketing efforts of retailers and other businesses.

Some grocery stores are now using QR codes in the meat department to provide a wine recommendation for the tenderloin on sale, or to add a QR code with a recipe on an end aisle display. In both cases, using QR codes offers the potential to not only increase sales, but also to engage their customer in a way that builds brand loyalty without the fa├žade of inflated price penalties for not using a shoppers card for that store.

The real estate industry is beginning to discover the selling advantages of replacing flyers on a lawn sign with a mobile tag that is never out of stock, and providing an on-site video tour wherever the QR code is placed. Tech savvy commercial real estate brokers are using QR codes to provide a 24/7 virtual salesperson to vacant retail storefronts. By scanning the 2D bar code, the reader is taken to a site with all occupancy, costs and local code details on the space

Now on newsstands, the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition contains QR codes throughout the issue that provide access to extras such as videos, outtakes from photo shoots, interviews and personal profile data on models as well as additional information on the swimsuits that are featured in the issue. Readers are able to share what they find through social networks. Readers can also download the Swimsuit Mobile application by scanning codes found in the magazine. The codes are also featured online through the various websites associated with the magazine. Time officials see QR codes as an opportunity to revive the print medium by offering a way to provide more versatility for advertisers than the iPad and other tablets, which many are hailing as the future of the print medium.

When the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools posted an abstract black-and-white square as its Facebook status update last week with no accompanying explanation, responses ranged from Huh? to Hurrah! depending on the users knowledge and use of their smart phone. In this case, the QR code led the smart-phone-savvy reader to an online schools survey.

QR codes to become an integral part of marketing in US.
Many tech experts and bloggers believe QR codes are on their way to becoming marketing and sales tools as ubiquitous as Facebook or texting and as familiar to US consumers as they already are to people who live in Japan and Europe.

MediaPost recently reported that 57 percent of Facebook and Twitter users said they have scanned a mobile bar code at least once in the past year, while as many as 40 percent had done so five or more times in the past year. A survey by Scanbuy found that mobile bar code usage jumped 700 percent in 2010 compared with 2009, with a big uptick during the Christmas shopping season when big-box retailers like Best Buy started adding the codes to their product packaging.

QR codes add another way for marketers to engage customers, but compatibility issues may hinder acceptance.
AT&T launched its own proprietary technology in August that requires the download of a free AT&T reader to scan. Microsoft has developed its own tags and compatible tag readers. A host of freebie websites have multiplied online that allow novice users to create their own unique alphanumeric embedded square bar codes by entering the data they want bar code swipers to be directed to.

With the resulting mix of codes and code-readers, and the variety of smart-phone systems — iPhone and Android, for example, are sold embedded with a different reader — one challenge of more widespread use is overcoming compatibility issues.

Robert Russell, AT&T's Atlanta-based mobility product management marketing director, said that global discussions are already under way to make the use of bar codes more standard. AT&T's scanner, he said, is able to read the three most widespread types of 2D codes.

"A lot of what's being discussed is how to make this ecosystem more standard," said Russell, speaking from Barcelona, Spain, where the Mobile World Congress was convening recently with standardization of mobile reading technologies part of the discussion.

Bar code information offers new potential for targeted marketing.
One advantage for marketers is the ability to gather even more data that will enable companies to keep tabs on who's using the bar codes. "Every time a code gets scanned, it brings 20 to 30 different metrics associated with the consumer, from the type of operating system being used (in the phone) to other things a consumer has voluntarily decided to enter into the scanner's settings," such as gender, age or other demographic information to create a user profile, Russell said.

Where QR codes go from here is limited only by the imagination of the marketer. Want more info and ideas? Dan Smigrod, CEO and Chief IDEAologist at GREAT!, a promotions agency in Atlanta, has several good posts on how to use QR codes. Follow this link to see his thoughts on ways to use this innovative technology to grow your business.


Helping your clients discover new ways to go to market is essential in today's agency environment. Are you leading your clients in exploring mobile tagging? If not, why not?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is your website ready for mobile-access?

In my last post, I wrote about some of the reasons that many people feel 2011 will finally see mobile marketing become a mainstream marketing tool in the U.S. With more people accessing websites through mobile web browsers, it might be time to redesign your site or create a new one with mobile users in mind.

Millions of consumers and business professionals are ditching their basic cell phones in favor of more advanced cell phones and smartphones that combine the functions of a PDA, cell phone and web browser. The introduction of the Verizon iPhone and subsequent responses by AT&T will, most likely, help even more people switch over to a smartphone.

As reported last week, mobile phones and devices have increasingly become an integral part of our everyday lives, and mobile has become the “first screen” in many of our lives. When mobile first came on the scene, it was the third screen - behind TV and the Internet. Now with the advances in technology, and the ubiquitous use of text messages and apps, mobile has become the first screen.

Mobile web access is something your clients and their customers, no matter who they are, trust and use throughout the day. That was the main message presented by Brian Forth, President of SITECRAFTING, at a marketing presentation last week. His presentation and Q&A made a strong case for adapting your native site for mobile and featured real world case study examples of why “mobilizing” your website now is a good business move.

Is your website ready for customers that want to access it from a mobile device?
If it's not ready, now's the time to learn all you can about who your audience is and how they access your site. Work with your technology professional to analyze your traffic logs and see what types of browsers are accessing your site. Do you see mobile traffic? Take the time to poll some of your customers about the likelihood of them accessing your website and others on their smartphones. Once you've decided a mobile site is right for you, it's time to create one.

Native vs. a mobile web app may be the best way for many companies.
Brian made a strong case for developing a mobile version of your current native site vs. developing a mobile web app. He reviewed the time and cost to develop and maintain multiple app platforms for iOS, Android OS, Symbian, Windows OS, and RIM/Blackberry OS to be able to speak to all smartphones and tablets. Despite the well-publicized Apple App Store and its 330,000 apps, the iPhone only accounts for 32% of users. By contrast, adapting a native app requires one change that many can accommodate within their current content management system (CMS) and their content is available to all users.

Creating a Mobile-Optimized SiteIf you have a very large website with thousands of pages, it might not be necessary to configure your entire site for mobile access. A professional web developer can code your site so that when users access your main website, different content is served to web browsers depending on whether they're mobile. If you visit Google on your PC or Mac and a mobile web browser, you'll find two different screens. On your computer's web browser you'll find the full Google site. On your smartphone's web browser you'll find minimal content--a simple search box and not much more.

Brian showed an example of how Harrison Medical Center used analytics from their current site to determine the reason users were most often visiting their site. The data showed that wait times for various Harrison clinics were a primary reason for many mobile users to access their site. They simplified their mobile page to just present this important data but continued to offer the option to download the full site, if desired. It was a great example of how to quickly provide mobile users with the information they most wanted to access.

What's Next? It’s time to look for creative ways to appeal to the mobile user.This is a great opportunity for an agency to provide real value to their clients. Think about your client's business, their website and their customers. Consider whether they have--or should have--content that mobile customers would want to access. For example, Brian talked about the Starbucks Card mobile app and how it provides mobile users the ability to pay and replenish their card balance on their mobile device. Alaska Air is now offering a mobile boarding pass app where the user passes their mobile device across a scanner and avoids the need for paper ticketing and boarding passes.

Convenience in a time-pressed world is always needed and appreciated.QR codes offer convenience-oriented applications aimed at mobile phone users (known as mobile tagging) and will provide many new opportunities for creative ways marketers can build customer loyalty. Google's mobile Android OS and Nokia’s Symbian OS support the use of QR codes by natively including a barcode scanner. In the Apple iOS, a QR code reader is not natively included, but over 50 free Apps are available with reader and metadata browser URI redirection capability.


It’s time for marketers to recognize that mobile matters. It’s just too big to ignore. And it's time for smart agencies to help their clients determine if they need to “mobilize” their web content.