Lately, if you have perused newspapers, consumer magazines, and/or trade publications like this one, then you’ve undoubtedly seen ‘em among the pages: 2D barcodes (aka smart tags). What might appear to some readers as just another graphic element alongside the headlines and blurbs, others know these squares are cool. Indeed. These four-sided “tags” (some sporting a matrix of multicolored triangles, others featuring a blocky black and white design pallate) actually are flat-page portals to a vast world of integrated, multimedia information. And within an expanding universe of mobile communication technology and exchange, the call from consumers continues to increase for more and better intel to be delivered on demand.
Armed with a smartphone or mobile device equipped with a camera and one of the multiple free applications (apps) created specifically to scan or snap these 2D tags, the digital content in which you are seeking will appear in the palm of your hand without having to type in a single digit.
Hunting And Gathering
Speaking In Code Here is a quick snapshot of MS Tags and QR Codes. - MS Tag: A newer addition to the 2D barcode game and widely used in multiple media, this proprietary tagging tool links to media via mobile app. As a bonus, it offers users the ability to track views. Learn more at www.Tag.Microsoft.com. Find the mobile tag reader app at http://Gettag.mobi.
- QR Codes: Popular in Japan where it was created more than a decade ago and now catching on in the U.S., this open-source 2D barcode is readable by QR barcode readers and/or smartphones with cameras. Learn more at www.QRcode.com. Multiple, free QR Code generators are available on the web (e.g., www.mobile-barcodes.com). QR Code reader app available for iPhone and Android systems.
For first-time users of these tag reader apps, there is a “wow” factor that accompanies the experience. The instant access to information with a simple swipe of your smartphone over a barcode is not only convenient, but also empowering. On the flipside, creating smart tags is fairly easy and gives a target audience another entry point to your message. Though relatively small in size, the two-dimensional barcodes have the ability to hold a copious amount of information compared to their traditional barcode counterparts, which makes the tools useful across multiple business platforms. The most commonly seen and used 2D barcodes in print and advertising are Microsoft (MS) Tags and QR (quick response) Codes. Both look different, but function similarly with slight differences. It is up to the creator what kind of information you want the tags to link to. Web pages, videos, eMail, text, and other information are all up for grabs.
In addition to being able to choose the content you link to, MS Tags have built-in metrics that will measure and report when and where the tags are scanned.
Good Fit For Ag
The produce industry is embracing smart tags on several different levels. HarvestMark (HarvestMark.com), a fresh food traceability solution, is using label converters to provide quality assurance with the help of 2D barcodes. The HarvestMark code, which uses Data Matrix symbology (more related to QR codes), allows consumers to get information unique to that particular product, such as where and when it was grown and its food safety status. Elliott Grant, chief marketing officer of HarvestMark, says engaging consumers with this kind of rich content is an opportunity almost unique to the produce industry. “The benefits don’t end with engaging consumers and giving them instant access to food safety information,” he says. “Every time a shopper scans a HarvestMark 2D code [see opposite page] with their smartphone (via HarvestMark app), it creates data for the grower: ‘Where is my product and how long did it take to get there?’ That’s a whole new, powerful insight into the fresh supply chain,” he says. “Even better, we now have programs where we capture this data in stores across the country for growers and retailers — giving them new visibility into their supply chains and store operations. That’s impact.”
Similarly, Top 10 Produce LLC announced the launch of Locale, a strawberry brand that is 100% percent traceable to the farm of origin. Each Locale Salinas Valley strawberry grower has a product label that can be scanned with ShopSavvy, an smartphone app, to display a mobile profile controlled by the grower. The grower profile includes information about the grower, a map of the location where the product was grown, links to the grower’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and more.
Conversely, Washington State-based Stemilt Growers recently decided to use smart tags to enhance its mobile marketing message. As of presstime, Stemilt was using QR Codes on its Piñata Apple display bins and related point-of-purchase items. The codes connect to web pages where users can see a variety of things such as a list of reasons to enjoy Piñata apples, recipes, storage and handling tips, videos, and more. According to a company news release, QR Codes will be used on its summer merchandising materials, too.
Grant believes producers should embrace 2D barcoding when it makes good business sense. For example, he lists adding traceability to the item to build consumer peace of mind or because a retailer requires it; sharing their growing/locale story with shoppers; getting insight into the fresh supply chain to optimize quality and freshness; differentiating their product in the event of a recall; collecting feedback from consumers that is linked to a particular variety or growing practice as all solid reasons. “On the other hand,” he adds, “be careful not to think of 2D Barcoding as some kind of marketing panacea.”
Outside Of The Box
There is more than one way to use 2D barcoding technology to your advantage. Here are several ideas that are being used in the marketplace today.
- Packaging: More detailed product data and/or traceability information for the end consumer instills confidence in what is being purchased and helps fortify a food safety focus.
- Print Advertisements: Add another layer to your flat-page advertisement with a tag that can help deliver your company’s message in a number of different ways.
- Signage: See above but on a larger scale. Place tags on in-store and onsite signs, billboards, and even on company vehicles.
- Business Cards: Long URLs don’t have a place on small business cards. A strategically placed smart tag or two can connect clients to your website(s) or any other digitally connected information.
- Clothing: Smart tags on T-shirts? You bet. Several exhibitors during last fall’s PMA Fresh Summit in Orlando were sporting company shirts with 2D barcodes woven into the design. Pretty cool. According to Elliott Grant of HarvestMark, the HarvestMark team all received QR Code shirts in December, celebrating passing the 2 billion mark of traceability codes issued.