Open Letter to CMOs – Subject: 2D Barcodes

Dear Chief Marketing Officer:

Over the past year and a half, I have been actively researching, reporting and consulting on the strategic and tactical use of 2D barcodes (e.g., QR Code, Microsoft Tag, etc.) for advertising, promotion and general business purposes. In conducting this work, I have scanned and analyzed hundreds of 2D barcode-based campaigns, whether they be print, out-of-home, in-store, package, event, direct mail or television and, in analyzing these campaigns, I have found an inordinate amount that deliver a less-than-ideal or a less than favorable 2D barcode and/or mobile experience for the intended consumer audience. In fact, of the campaigns that I have reviewed, the ratio of good campaigns to bad campaigns is approximately 1:3.

If your company makes use of 2D barcodes, do you find this ratio as alarming and upsetting as I and many others in the industry do? If your company doesn’t make use of 2D barcodes, and you look at the situation from a pure strategic marketing perspective, doesn’t the degree of less-than-ideal or less than favorable campaigns strike you as odd? Odd to the point that red flags should be going up across the board. What if any other marketing-related technology, application, process or vehicle was being used to communicate a message or engage with someone, would you be comfortable knowing that existing or potential customers were interacting with the brand in a less-than-ideal or favorable way? Chances are, I doubt it.

With so much written and discussed on the topic of 2D barcode best practices and the technology in general I am hard pressed to understand how and/or why a sub-par 2D barcode experience can be signed-off on and allowed to see the light of day. If you use 2D barcodes, or even if you don’t, can you explain this? I have spoken with a number of professionals across functions and managerial levels, on both the client and agency side, and have yet to fully understand what might be the cause of this. Some have said it’s a matter of budget and the allocation of resources, others have said it’s executive compensation and objectives and others have said the technology is still too new to fully commit to it. In my mind, and I believe I speak for many others, none of these responses can or should be used as an excuse to develop and execute a strategy or campaign that simply fails to deliver a remarkable, let alone a half-way decent, 2D barcode or mobile experience.

To know that an experience –any experience– can affect positively or negatively on a brand, doesn’t it behoove a marketing/creative team to develop the best possible 2D barcode and mobile experience? Last I checked, no one was twisting a CMO’s or a creative director’s arm saying, “you must use 2D technology in your next campaign or else.” Would you allow other types of advertising or promotion campaigns (i.e., email, web, direct mail, television, print, package, out-of-home, in-store, etc.) to fail at delivering the best for the brand or consumers?

For companies that are using 2D barcode technology, don’t your loyal and/or prospective customers demand/deserve better? For agencies that are creating 2D barcode campaigns for their clients, don’t your clients demand/deserve better? Between the brand and the agency, there seems to be a gap where no one wants to tread. Why? 2D barcode technology works, and works well when best practices and marketing fundamentals are adhered to and implemented, but, for some reason, brand and agency leaders don’t want to recognize this or take the time to understand the technology.

As a marketing executive who has devoted a tremendous amount of time studying this technology, I have one suggestion: The next time your company or a client wishes to use 2D barcodes please take the responsibility of learning about the technology and allocating the necessary resources beforehand, so that only a winning 2D campaign is created and implemented. By winning, I am referring to a campaign that delivers value, meaning, benefit and relevance to the intended consumer audience via the 2D barcode and mobile experience, and that the experience, as a whole, works seamlessly from end to end. After all, isn’t this the way you yourself would want to experience the technology, and the brand, if you were to take the time and make the effort to scan a 2D barcode?

Lastly, from a pure return-on-investment perspective, which CMOs are being held responsible for now more than ever, don’t you believe a 2D barcode campaign that is given some forethought and executed correctly will derive a greater return or response than a campaign where the thought to place a 2D barcode in the advertisement is done at the last minute, and it’s left to chance as to whether or not the code generates any response or return? My hunch, you believe in the former.

If you wish to ask questions or comment about the information and suggestion discussed above, by all means, please contact me.

Respectfully yours,
Roger Marquis
Founder, 2D Barcode Strategy


6 thoughts on “Open Letter to CMOs – Subject: 2D Barcodes

  1. Baffling, isn't it, Roger? I'm going to guess the reason is that the CMOs ultimately responsible aren't big mobile users, and so don't appreciate the user experience as part of the brand interaction.

    Because they aren't mobile users themselves, they don't “get” mobile—that is, they don't get that by asking people to pull out their phones, download an app, and participate in a campaign, they've already made the user do a lot of work for which they should be rewarded.

    Passive print/broadcast advertising was kinda take-it-or-leave-it. Engaged advertising means the brand has to do more for people by giving them something valuable, or at least meeting them halfway by NOT boring & frustrating them with a bad experience.

    That's my guess, anyway.

  2. Erica: I understand and agree with part of what you say, but I have a hard time believing that a CMO at decent sized company is not a mobile user. Not these days anyway. I believe it goes beyond that but, regardless, there should be no excuses. Also, I believe that for too long brands and agencies have gotten away with believing that print and broadcast could be viewed as passive. Why not reward the viewer of a print or broadcast advertisement on a regular basis. Why not provide value, meaning, relevance and benefit as well? This goes to the point that Seth Godin makes with respect to permission marketing and interruptive advertising.

  3. Why not indeed? It's a shift in thinking, though, if you don't have that core expectation (from your own experience) that mobile means “I'm already giving this brand something by inviting them into my very personal mobile device, so now they will give ME something in return”.

    Not to start a platform war, but some of the CMOs I know use organization-enforced, ancient Blackberries that can barely launch a code scanner. So while they're “mobile”, they're not integrating it into their lives like the CMOs I know who use iPhone or other recent tech.

    The ones who did assimiliate mobile into their lives (beyond getting their email) care very much what happens when people scan a code.

  4. Roger: The cycle of the less-than-ideal use of 2D barcodes is because the resulting reporting tools are simply not rich enough to allow postmortem analysis. Marketers are used to quantitative, in-depth analysis of marketing and advertising tools. We can kill a tree analyzing the data from one promotion.

    The high expectations can be laid on the feet of the 1D cousin. UPCs have provided such rich tools for marketing that 1D may never be able to match. There are even better tools for headline analysis than we see with 2D codes! Campaign managers need to step up their game which may mean they share information to grow the industry. We currently pool retail UPC information into syndicated databases but barcode campaign managers act as if this is sacrilegious. Quarterly reports from players like Scanbuy are merely antidotal in nature and only serve to frustrate the sensibilities of Fortune 100 marketers.

    So it is not a lack of sophistication by top-tier marketers. It is a lack of sophistication by the barcode campaign management industry. Marketers don't repeat what they cannot measure. You letter should not be to CMOs but to CEOs of emerging barcode companies.

  5. Jon: Thank you for the comments, but I don't really buy your argument that reporting tools, or the lack thereof, are to blame for poorly developed 2D campaigns. Could code providers work to develop richer reporting capabilities, sure, but that's still not the issue. The issue is that marketers and creatives are not taking the time and dedicating the resources to properly learn about the technology and how best to apply it. All of what makes a campaign good or bad comes way before the reporting aspect.

    Also, to your point about marketers not repeating what they cannot measure, how does a marketer accurately measure the response rate of a roadside billboard or an in-store sign or a television commercial or a radio spot? With great difficulty, if at all, but yet they certainly repeat the process time and again.

    Yes, it would be great and very helpful to all if the various parties involved shared data, but how this gets done I am not certain.

  6. Roger: Reporting is cyclical to creative. We use analytic tools based on previous campaigns to construct every aspect of a promotion. Sure we use basic constructs to dictate white space, layout, headline, barcode position, etc. However, the content is data-driven.

    We analyze in-store signage with promotional lift indices using store movement, shopper basket, and loyalty card data. We use panel data to provide rich tv and radio content on the proper placement, specific messaging, geodemographic targeting, time of day, etc. I have demographic ranking, internal KPI, exposure rate, etc to rank outdoor advertising. I can tell you which specific retail locations will respond best to in-store promotion for a specific UPC.

    The number of data points is in the thousands and that data is used to pull together the components of well-orchestrated creative campaign.

    With mobile barcodes, I can tell you the top 10 states, which always seem to be the same no matter the product. I might be able to tell you M/F, but there are some large holes in the data because of company-issued smartphones. We have a smattering of data on mobile barcode user income, but it is a bit dodgy when the marketing analysts look under the hood.

    How do we bring the data together? Like other data sources we look to Nielsen and SymphonyIRI to scrub, syndicate and standardize reporting tools. We can't have a different reporting tool for Microsoft, Scanbuy, AT&T, Best Buzz, Mobile Tag, Neustar and NeoMedia. That will never work.

    So good creative does not necessarily produce good reporting and therefore we can't measure the difference between bad, good and great use of mobile barcodes. What data drives recommendations for QR position, call to actions, linked content, etc?

    However, good reports produce good creative. Without it, an advertising component will remain a novelty play ready to be taken seriously. Without it, QR campaign managers are not going find themselves in planning meetings. I think if you ask leaders like Wehrs or Marriott, you will find they agree that it is reporting holding this industry back from doing better quality work. If you ask how they plan to share data for better reporting, their answers will be a whole lot less clear.

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