10 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Barcodes

Mobile barcodes have been prevalent in certain Asian markets for years but are beginning to pick up in the West. We’re seeing them pop up more and more in magazines, billboards, store windows — even on bikinis.

Through all this, there’s greater awareness for what they are and what they do — a key part of the chicken-and-egg game that throttles their adoption. The other big element is device compatibility, but 38 percent smartphone penetration in the U.S. helping.

Yesterday at SES San Francisco, Angie Schottmuller, founder of Interactive Artisan, gave a great presentation on all the basics of mobile barcodes. She also tiptoed into some of the more advanced aspects and what it all means for mobile marketing strategies.

On a basic level, barcodes come in a few different forms. There are simple UPC codes, prevalent for years in retail environments. These include enough data for 30 characters — all you really need for product name and pricing. Then there are QR codes such as Microsoft Tag.

QR codes are gaining popularity for their ability to pack much more data. This can include not only a long URL to a landing page, but other things like the ability to tell your smartphone which app to open — whether its a YouTube video, Google map or CSV file (contact).

The fact that it packs a bigger punch also lets you get creative. There’s redundancy built in, says Schottmuller. If the barcode is damaged, folded or blocked, a partial scan will still do the trick. That means you can infuse your branding within the code without obscuring it.

QR code marketing is also becoming easier by the day with more and more code generators. Heck, even Google provides a free one with its link shortener goog.le. And there are a growing number of QR code readers and apps such as QuickMark, Scanbuy, MSFT Tag and RedLaser.

Schottmuller predicts awareness and device compatibly will cause them to show up wherever there are captive audiences. Waiting in line is an obvious example. Another she mentioned half jokingly: inside bathroom stall doors (hey, data indicate lots of smartphone bathroom use).

But there are an equal number of don’ts to accompany the do’s. Most are obvious but still elude overzealous marketers. Even with the data integrity mentioned above, you don’t want to make it harder on users to get a scan. You only get a few tries before they give up — especially early on.

So don’t make the barcode too small: Auto focus cameras still aren’t ubiquitous in smartphones. Anything less than 1″ x 1″ (like on a business card) can’t be scanned by most phones. And since barcodes will usually link to something, don’t put them in the subway where there’s no connection.

Also don’t put barcodes inside reflective product packaging that causes glare. Don’t do it at the end of a 30-second TV spot that precludes any human ability to get a phone (and app) out that fast. For the same reason, don’t put a barcode on a highway billboard. Just sayin’ …

This Post Has One Comment

  1. A

    Hmm, so where are the 10 things?

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