Why 2D barcodes matter to marketers

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Recent data suggests consumers will be viewing both the physical and online worlds through their mobile devices as the norm – not the exception. Technology like 2D codes can be used to connect these worlds through the consumer's mobile device.

A 2D code is a two-dimensional barcode that links to an online experience when scanned with a mobile device. A downloaded software application turns a mobile device's camera lens into an optical scanner. Each code is encoded with specific information like a URL or contact information. 

For marketers, 2D codes open a gateway for consumers to conveniently access online information, coupons, videos, directions and more, at precisely the time and location it is most relevant.

2D codes are distinguished from one-dimensional (1D) barcodes because they can be read or scanned horizontally or vertically by optical scanners not just by laser scanners. They afford enormous flexibility and can be designed in virtually any size for use on all sorts of media.

There are many 2D code formats and technologies in the market today, which leads to a lot of confusion about which technology is the right solution. The array of code formats creates a barrier to both brand and consumer adoption. The technology is not as widely adopted by consumers as other mobile marketing standbys such as text messaging. Recognition and use of 2D codes is still in the “early adopter” phase. Only a fraction of consumers have the awareness – and smartphone technology – required to take action. 2D codes continue to gain awareness and consumer interaction rates will continue to grow.

The two most prevalent 2D code technologies today are “quick response (QR) code” and “Microsoft Tag (MS Tag).”

Here is a basic outline for comparing the two:

QR Code

  • Technology type: Quick response code
  • Rendering: one color
  • Reader download availability: Many apps, sites, plentiful device support across sites including key operating systems such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, Symbian, Android, Windows and Palm

Microsoft Tag

  • Technology type: High-capacity color barcode
  • Rendering: one color or CMYK
  • Reader download availability: One site, fairly robust device support including iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows operating system

The goal is achieving a common framework where brands, marketers and consumers are equally comfortable.

If you're serious about adopting 2D codes as part of your interactive mix, list your business objectives, do the research on each technology and actively experiment with both.

Bryce Marshall is the director of strategic services for Knotice, a direct digital marketing company in Akron, Ohio. 


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