10.06.2010

CTIA Conference Panel Gets QR/2D Wrong

There is a story on Mobile Marketer that irks me.

A Mobile Marketer reporter writes that at the CTIA Wireless Conference yesterday, a panel of experts discussed the topic "Aligning Brand Interest with Mobile Opportunity" and, during the session, panelists Mark Kaplan (GEM Strategy), Charlie Echeverry (Univision Interactive Media), Paul Reddick (Handmark) and Scott Michaels (Atimi Software) were all in agreement that when advising their clients they do not recommend the use of QR codes. Why? Because they all do not believe that QR codes scale very well.

To quote the article, "No human knows the difference between ScanLife and every other [2D bar code reader application]," Mr. Kaplan said. "It’s just a funny little thing – users download the wrong app reader, it doesn’t work. "Regardless of what the code looks like, if the reader is incompatible, it just won’t work," he said. "QR codes are not hot today – unless you’re in Japan."

So, where do I begin?

First, Mr. Kaplan states that no human knows the difference between ScanLife and every other 2D barcode reader application. While reader apps are different, and some proprietary, isn't it up to the advertiser to advise their audience on which reader app best scans the 2D code that is being used? Also, some reader apps are actually branded and named, so for "humans" not to know the difference between say, the Microsoft Tag reader app and the ScanLife reader app, I find difficult to believe.

Second, Mr. Kaplan mentions that if the wrong reader app is downloaded and used then the code won't work. For most open source codes (i.e., QR codes) any number of "wrong reader" apps can be used and the code can still be scanned and resolved. That's the whole point of using an open source 2D code. If he was talking about proprietary 2D codes like ScanLife ezCode or Microsoft Tag, etc. then there will most likely be a problem if the wrong reader app were to be used, hence the idea of creating a proprietary reader app to go along with the proprietary code.

Third, Mr. Kaplan tries to make a comparison between Japan and the U.S. market, as it relates to the popularity of QR codes and, here too, he gets it wrong. If Mr. Kaplan and the other panel members did their homework they would know that, for a variety of reasons, to try and compare the Japanese QR code market with the U.S. QR code market it's like comparing apples and oranges. There are a number of reasons why these two markets have developed the way they have and at much different paces.

Fourth, is Mr. Kaplan not aware of the number of major brands that have delved into this space as of late. Reading this blog one can see that there are a number of key brands from a variety of industries that are testing the 2D waters and working on strategies. "Hot" the market may not be, but the water is certainly simmering.

By this point, you can probably get a sense of how foolish I believe Mr. Kaplan's and the panel's comments were. Besides the points made above, my biggest take away from the article is that it appears as though the panelists are trying to remove all responsibility from the brands and their agencies for taking the time and investing the resources in 1) learning about the technology and how it works, 2) thoroughly thinking through a concise 2D strategy and execution and 3) educating the public on how the technology works. Also, to shy away and advise against 2D technology makes me wonder how savvy the companies are that these panelists represent. Instead of trying to properly understand the space and use 2D as a means to help clients create a competitive advantage, it seems as though they are more comfortable sitting on the sideline waiting for momentum to build in the space and then jump in. So, after a few months of watching and waiting, how do they then explain to their clients that they now need to play catch up.

As stated many times on this blog, there is certainly a time and place for 2D technology to be used as a tactical element of a company's overall marketing and mobile marketing strategy. To enter the space without full knowledge, buy in and commitment will only result in poorly planned and executed 2D campaigns, ones that will most likely not achieve the desired results/objectives.

15 comments:

  1. I didnt want to be the one to take a bit out of them. Thanks.

    I feel they have no imagination or vision.

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  2. Anonymous: Was not trying to be overly harsh, just upfront.

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  3. I've seen a few posts and rebuttals circulating from this CTIA thoughtless grenade. We are in the day and age where every headline, for some unknown reason, must forecast some cataclysmic or apocalyptic event of exceptional magnitude -- It's getting tiresome (from tech news to mainstream, it's always the "end of something or other" /rant)...

    The Panelist "experts" who advise against using QR/2D appear to have two main gripes:

    a) There are too many formats in the market (QR, Scanbuy, Jagtag, Microsoft, Spyderlynk plus emerging image recognition formats: text/image detection). And, until there is a clear winner, they don't think their Clients or their Customers are smart enough to figure any of this out.

    There's some truth to this. But, I noted one comment about how this is not an either/or situation. People can have a few free Reader apps on their phones or use the MMS features some offer. Diversity is not terrible, and as most people learned the difference between a fried egg and a bowl of cereal, they'll learn the difference between a QR Tag, a Microsoft Tag, a Jagtag and a watermark.

    Broadly, what people are learning is that their camera is no longer just for taking pictures. That's a huge shift in thinking about a common device. All of these competing formats have that one thing in common - they are shifting consumer perception of what a camera is and can do.

    b) As you rightly pointed out, the Panelists seem to think the technology providers are going to miraculously educate the public, rather than the Brands and campaigns that utilize the technology.

    That's simply laziness on their part.

    All that said, someone is going to have to prove these guys wrong, otherwise, well, they'll be right.

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  4. Anonymous: Thank you for the expanded comment...I have five reader apps on my phone, but the go to open source reader I use is i-nigma. Why, no real reason, but if that does not work to read a code then I try another. So many people talk and write about how difficult or time consuming it is to download reader apps and that's why consumers won't buy-in to the technology...I don't see where this comes from...if apps were so difficult or time consuming to download 1) no one would have any on their phones and 2) no one would be creating them in the first place...there is simply no logic behind this argument.

    To your point about the providers being the ones to educate the public...I don't believe they are the ones to be responsible for this...it's the brand's responsibility since the codes sit within their creative/campaign. Yes, a public service message by a provider would not hurt but, at the end of the day, brands can't be lazy, they need to educate.

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  5. Roger -- To clarify, I was agreeing that it's the Brands and Agencies who should be doing the education. However, in thinking this through some more, the Tech Providers need to do their part in reducing confusion as well.

    There is a growing "need" by QR Code generator services and platforms to re-brand and impose their name/Brand on/around the QR Code. So, in addition to different formats there are these growing QR-branding efforts (I know of 4 I've seen in the past two weeks). This is not going to help. Consumers may feel a custom/proprietary Reader is needed, when it isn't.

    There's also a fair bit of in-fighting amongst the platforms, rather than us seeing this as a new Industry that will encompass and allow more than one platform to survive.

    If the various QR, 2D and image recognition platforms are all slamming each other - that vibe is picked up and translated by, for example, the "mobile marketing experts" at the CTIA panel, where the real take-away from their comments is: "we'll wait until one platform emerges from the wreckage before we recommend QR to clients."

    I'm of a belief that we can have multiple technologies that all essentially fulfill the same function, nuanced perhaps, but, generally bridge real-world tags/images to mobile. Consumers will be fine having 2-3 different Readers or Apps to manage this; and, for some, have the option or don't need anything (MMS access works).

    But, the infighting/positioning and the sub-branding aren't helping the cause.

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  6. Anonymous: Regarding the code providers "need" to name/brand their service, so that consumers have an easier time figuring it all out. Yes, greater brand clarity would make it easier for consumers to know which reader app goes with which type of code. This then becomes a simple branding exercise for the code providers. A branded code and reader app (I'm not talking about making it proprietary, which I assume you understand) like any other product or service is what's needed. Look at almost any major brand and see how on even the tiniest of items a logo or tag line, etc. appears. The same with the code symbol and the reader...it should/needs to be branded.

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  7. UPC barcode adaptation took more than a decade to really catch on with the major CPG manufacturers. Many retailers continued to use their own proprietary format for data. The factor which helped accelerate UPC integration was the standardization of the data/barcode (UPC). The major brand owners must adhere to a common format in order for mass acceptance. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that a user has to manage which reader to use with each brand. Thankfully, most of the popular mobile scanners can read all types of barcode symbologies, but there are new players coming out daily who don't.

    The other successful barcode protocols (UPC, ISBN, Health, Gov) have a standards organization which defines the major elements for succes. Even elements such as mininum barcode print quality and dimensions are established to facilitate positive adherance.

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  8. Roger -- I am referring to QR Tags being rebranded with the company/generator names, creating sub-brands of QR that give the impression you must use some specific Reader on them, when that's not the case.

    Not to pick on anyone, but, these examples below come to mind first. The "need" to use a Brand name to replace "QR" does add confusion to an already confused space - And, back to the Panelists at CTIA, it's to their point:

    http://www.gomonews.com/wikkit-makes-qr-code-tickets-look-sexy/ -- Trying to get users to call a QR Code a "Wikkit" -- yes, it's a specific end value and offering, distinguished from a Tag that can lead anywhere. But, do I need a Wikkit Reader? If I scan another QR am I expecting a Wikkit?

    http://sparq.it - are creating something referenced as a "Sparq Code." Now, do I need a Sparq Reader? No. Duh.

    I believe that the general public will be able to easily distinguish:

    * QR Reader
    * Microsoft Reader
    * 1 or 2 Proprietary image detection Readers
    * Readerless formats (visual keywords to a shortcode)

    This ecosystem of image-2-mobile does not need a single format. But, it does need to present clarity to the public.

    My concern is with the impression of sub-dividing QR into micro Brands, rather than emphasizing that it is a Standard.

    The light rebranding of QR via a symbol is interesting, and doesn't seem to "confuse" but it's an approach I hope more companies consider.

    http://www.tappinn.com/ do it well; and, it would be nice if other companies worked within the upper-left square only?

    Getting collaboration amongst competitive companies is difficult. But, not impossible. Ultimately, it adds a layer of value to all that outweighs the cut throat approach.

    QR companies must wonder why Microsoft Tag are gaining market share? In part, it's because the QR companies are not presenting a united front at a certain level.

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  9. If the world had to come to a standstill because of the fear that consumers can get things wrong, we would be nowhere and go nowhere. Trial and error is the very stuff of learning. Let those who want to shrink back feel free to do so. Standing still - as Lee Iaccoca said - is still the best way to get run over.

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  10. Chris: Thank you for the comment. You are absolutely right...no time to stand still. Your company seems to be doing some interesting work in the 2D space.

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  11. Anonymous: I understand what you are saying and agree.

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  12. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU! I could not believe my eyes when I read the title to this article or the quote from Mr. Kaplan. If this was an argument about the adoption of a universal standard, fine. But to say, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that QR Codes are not hot? It's funny and sad. Finally, we have a tangible, measurable link from print to mobile to Web and back around. Thank you for addressing this, though I did make a comment myself on the article, I appreciate this more in-depth analysis!

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  13. Jennifer: Thank you for the comment. Glad you found the post of interest. The more I re-read the original article and view the video of Kaplan I wonder if he had an agenda of some kind. Regardless, I am certain a lot of people went right by his comment and didn't even take notice because it was so ridiculous.

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  14. Couldn't have said it better.

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  15. http://code.google.com/p/zxing/

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