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Barcode Marketing I - Promotional Opportunities

Monday, April 4, 2011

In this week’s Internet marketing class I played a Tesco ad that plugged both barcode marketing and Tesco’s new app, which has social shopping potential. The ad is fun, but it doesn’t emphasize the social aspect.

Consider this quote from Tesco’s agency:

Let’s say that three of your friends had bought tickets to [a concert] and advertised the fact on Facebook. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to receive an alert letting you know that they would be going to the concert and offering you the chance to buy your own ticket? This is a simple extension of current functionality but already the end user is having their possible needs preempted.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? You might want to read the post for some other ideas including the possibility that your friend Susan might be getting a cold. That one sort of creeps me out.

It will be interesting to see where Tesco goes with the social shopping aspect. They’ve experienced privacy push-back before, so they may proceed with caution. What most interested me about the video, though, was the happy consumers shopping with their smart phones in various settings.

A recent chart from eMarketer shows shoppers using their smart phones for a variety of purposes. Looking for deals is high on the list. Here’s a Reuters video that talks about the marketing implications of Tesco’s barcode app. So barcode marketing, which is essentially promotional, is clearly a growing marketing activity. Who are the enablers?

There are numerous agencies out there that develop mobile promotions (search ‘mobile shopping agency,’ for example). I was interested in DIY barcode promotions, so I kept looking. I found this really interesting case study. A mobile agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon hosted an art exhibit in their own space to test aspects of barcode promotions. They attached a barcode to each piece of art and encouraged viewers to scan them for information about the artist.

By now I had several barcode scanners on my iPhone, so I tried them all. None worked, so I made the correct assumption that I had to download the app from StickyBits in order to read them. That was only the beginning of my annoyance.

It’s a free app on iTunes. No problem there. It wanted me to sign in with Facebook Connect, which I don’t do. I don’t know whether my friends are interested in this stuff, and I don’t want to bug them. That proves I’m old, I know, but I just don’t use it. So I set up an account with StickyBits, no unusual information requested, but annoying on a smart phone. Then after a couple of other now-typical screens—Can I send you push info? No. Can I use your current location? Yes, although that could be a mistake from a privacy perspective.

Having satisfied those screens my scanner was operational and I scanned one of the artworks. The amount of information was disappointingly small. Yes, I know this was a test, but they could have made it more useful to the artists. The test performed as expected, though. Relatively few of the attendees used the barcodes and the ones who did were relatively young and computer-savvy. Read the post for yourself: it’s quite interesting and you can just click on the works of art featured to see the information provided (and consider the possibilities) and to see how few people scanned them.

I see another important lesson from the TenFour case study. Using a bar code format that isn’t recognized by the best-known barcode readers is going to present a problem. The user can prominently post the download link, but it still will probably inhibit use. My phone is already cluttered with apps—how about yours?

My investigation took me down many other paths looking for an answer to a basic DIY question, “Can businesses/non-profits do this for themselves without an agency?” The answer is “yes,” and I’ll follow up on that in a forthcoming post.
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