When people talk about the barriers what 2D barcodes (including QR codes and Microsoft Tags) must overcome to become mainstream, they generally mention the same three issues:
- The space is too fragmented. The market is split between the Microsoft Tag format and the QR format. Furthermore, within the QR space many generators offer their own proprietary code that looks very similar to QR, but can’t be read by other QR readers.
- The user experience isn’t consistently compelling. Too often people slap a QR code or Tag on an advertisement or product that leads to a non-mobile optimized site. There is the opportunity to enrich a user’s experience by using information such as where or when a scan takes place and how many times a person has scanned a Tag. Unfortunately, very few invest in this kind of experience.
- Poor presentation. Often times QR codes or Tags are “naked” meaning there isn’t any indicator of what a person should expect upon scanning a code. Although marketers understand what a 2D barcode is and how to use it doesn’t mean we should assume consumers are there yet. Without an idea of how to scan or what will happen after scanning consumers get confused or disappointed.
These are good in terms of best practices, but those alone won’t incentivize the act of scanning enough to get the space where it needs to be. In my opinion, the biggest problem the space has is that ever scanning experience is one-off. If I scan something today, I’m limited to the value I receive from that scan. Even if I enjoy my scanning experience, the memory will fade along with my motivation to scan again. Let’s face it, although 2D barcodes present an easier alternative to manually entering a URL it still takes time to open the app and scan. The entire process demands a person’s undivided attention for a period of time, which in today’s world is a lot to ask. For the masses to adopt this kind of behavior we need to give them something more valuable than 10% coupon.
We can look to another mobile trend to understand what is lacking in the 2D barcode space: taking and sharing pictures with our mobile device. By this summer, Facebook 100 million photos are expected to be uploaded each month.
The reason why so much content on Facebook is coming from our mobile phones is because consumers use their smartphones to discover and share the world around them. Facebook has really driven that behavior by giving us all a content hub for mobile uploads that we use to share our experiences and tell stories about our lives like a curated time capsule. With the new timeline feature Facebook will be rolling out, we have even more control over the story we tell. Startups like Pinterest and Instagr.am are building in contextual cues that allow users to tell a story more effectively (compared with photo album networks like Flickr and PhotoBucket). All these networks reinforce our desire to use pictures taken via mobile as a means to tell a story to a network. In return, the uploaded content drives interaction on the network and adds values for friends.
What a 2D Barcode Social Network Might Look Like
We need the Facebook/Pinterest/Instagr.am for the 2D barcode space. We focus too much as a means to engage a person in the moment with content that they can take action on immediately. What this approach is missing is that we all use our mobile while on the go. It’s a utility that helps us navigate on the go, get that tid-bit of info we need to make our next decision, and connects us with our social network in the moments when we have a second to spare. So instead of thinking of 2D barcodes merely as a tool to engage consumers, we should think of them as a means for consumers to “bookmark” real-life experiences.
A social network that categorizes things we scan for us, allows us to share with our network, and provides a Twitter-like tool to curate the content we share could allow us to tell a story about how we interact with the world around us. Just as Instagr.am offers context to a picture with a mapped location of where the picture was taken, the 2D barcode network would do the same. By coupling the type of content we chose to share about our scan with a category (coupon, concert info, etc.), location, and a comment from us, consumers would have all the tools they need to tell their story to their network.
The network could aggregate data across the network, or by using the Facebook open graph to make allow consumers to continue their content discovery process by seeing similar content that friends have scanned, or other codes close by that the person might be interested in. A person shouldn’t have to scan a new code every time they want to uncover something new. Interactions within a digital experience are even more valuable than the scan itself.
Value to Marketers
If this network was built out and gained critical mass, it would be extremely valuable to advertisers. The platform could transform the act of a scan into something more like a local mobile search. A scan for a coupon on a cheeseburger at midnight on a weekend and be recommended late night happy hour specials from around the city.
You may have a better idea for what the network might actually look like, but the point I’m making is that the 2D barcode space is fragmented by more than just the number of readers and formats out there. It lacks a cohesive network that accumulates value with every scan I make. If that nut is cracked more codes will make it the market and marketers will get more insight into how consumers WANT to use 2D barcodes.