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August 16, 2012
What Agencies Need to Know About Print to Mobile
As mobile continues to grow, develop, and solidify itself as a key marketing channel, advertising agencies, among others, continue to debate whether or not print to mobile technology (i.e., 2D bar codes, digital watermarks, visual search recognition, intelligent print recognition, augmented reality, etc.) has a place within a client’s marketing mix or not. While some believe the technology has staying power, others see it as nothing more than a passing fad and look to stay away at all cost.

Regardless of which camp you and your agency may fall into, the goal of this article is to help explain the basics of print to mobile technology and, should it be decided that this is a service offering the agency would like to provide to its clients, how best to prepare itself in order to do so.

Before reading further, please know that it is this author's contention that print to mobile technology, when implemented correctly and in accordance with best practices (read that again), can greatly enhance the interactive experience a consumer can have with a brand, product and/or service. And, if the experience is positive, this can then increase the odds of success with respect to product/service sales, the sharing of content, the generation of sales leads, the building of product/service demand, etc. Additionally, it is my view that print to mobile technology has its place and is not for every advertiser and/or every advertising or promotional situation.

To begin understanding print to mobile technology, it helps to look at the phrase as though it were a mathematical equation. Half of the equation is made up of the term "print" and the other half is made up of the term "mobile." Nowhere in the equation is the term "desktop." With that being said, agencies, and the clients they represent, must realize that any print- to mobile-based campaign must be developed with mobile in mind. From end to end (i.e., from the consumer’s first impression of the advertisement to the consumer’s last action or response), the campaign must be optimized for mobile use and consumption. More often than not, forcing desktop content, images, and/or design onto a mobile device is where print- to mobile-based campaigns fail and fail big. Thinking and acting along these lines is similar to trying to place a square peg in a round hole...you can't do it. Or, you can do it by force, but the end result will not be very pretty.

Second to mobile optimization is the need for scan resolve content (i.e., the content that is viewed after scanning a bar code, watermark, symbol, etc.) that is of value, relevance, meaning, and benefit to the target audience. Here, too, many advertisers do not take this into consideration when producing a print- to mobile-based campaign and results suffer greatly. Just like any other form of advertising, a print- to mobile-based campaign needs to resonate, across levels, with the audience.
Third, as print to mobile campaigns are developed, there is absolutely no reason to ignore fundamental marketing principles and best practices. When a bar code, symbol or watermark is used, there should be a call-to-action directly associated with it. Just like a landing page, email, banner advertisement, or most any other form of advertisement would have a call-to-action, so too should a print- to mobile-based campaign.
Another marketing fundamental that seems to be ignored, or forgotten, when it comes to using this technology is testing and experimentation. For some reason, agencies will go to great lengths to test website landing pages, banner ads, emails, direct mail packages, color, copy, offers, positioning, etc., but when it comes to a print- to mobile-based advertisement, all bets are off. Print to mobile-based advertisements can be easily tested, and should be, in order to determine the most effective design, messaging, offer, call-to-action, placement, content, technology type, etc.
Fourth, as with most anything marketing/advertising related, there is a need for establishing attainable goals and objectives and, with this, comes the need to track metrics. While some may be satisfied with the number of scans a campaign may have, there is a plethora of other goals and objectives that a print to mobile-based campaign may have. For example, objectives to track and study might be product sales, leads generated, product inquires, social shares, page views, time on site, geographic location, phone type, etc., etc. Yes, scan rates provide some upfront insight as to how well a campaign may or may not have been received, but there are many other types of objectives and/or metrics to set, track and analyze. 
Fifth, print to mobile technology, in and of itself, is not a strategy but rather an additional marketing tactic that can be used to increase the odds of success when advertising a product or service. Nothing more, nothing less. If a print to mobile-based campaign fails to deliver results, chances are it’s the overall campaign strategy to blame, not the technology itself. Many believe that just because they are making use of the technology nothing else needs to be considered or thought out when, in actuality, there are plenty of moving parts, all of which need attention.

In addition to the five points listed above, which speak to print to mobile best practice, there are other aspects which an agency should be aware of so as not to be caught totally off guard if and when a client inquires about print to mobile technology. Because the list of these other aspects can get quite lengthy, I will focus on only a few.

When the topic of print to mobile technology comes up, an agency needs to know that there are essentially four main tasks and/or responsibilities that the agency will need to manage in house or, if not expert or capable enough from a resources perspective, outsource to a vendor(s). These tasks/responsibilities include:

1) Code or symbol generation: the ability to generate codes/symbols and test that they actually work.
2) Code or symbol management: the ability to actively manage codes/symbols over time, whether they are dynamic or static, direct or indirect.
3) Metric tracking and analysis: the ability to track code/symbol use, as well as where the scan resolve takes the consumer.
4) Mobile optimization: the ability to develop scan resolve content that is optimized for mobile viewing and to detect for mobile device.

On the surface, these four items may seem rather simple to grasp and understand, but in actuality there is a great amount of detail that goes along with each of them. Should an agency decide to keep this work in house, and again there is a lot to be considered here, then thought needs to go into how best to package and price the service offering. By the same token, should an agency decide to outsource this work then a great deal of due diligence needs to be done to fully understand the capabilities of the vendor(s).

In addition to the above, another key factor in an agency’s decision to offer and/or get involved with print to mobile technology is the technology itself. Should the agency work with and support 2D bar codes or digital watermarks, augmented reality, or visual search? Should the agency work with and support just one technology or several? This is where an agency (and its client) needs to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before simply jumping on the bandwagon. All too often I’ll see one-off campaigns where print to mobile is used once and never again by the same brand (i.e., jumping on the bandwagon), and I believe this has to do with, in large part, how serious and/or committed an agency (and its client) is towards making use of the technology. Of course, I realize there are other factors at play, but I have witnessed a great deal of laziness on the part of agencies and brands with the use of the technology and, I believe, it all reverts back to how serious and/or committed the agency and/or the brand was in the first place. 
Lastly, it’s important to note that each form of print to mobile technology has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, etc. and they all need to be weighed accordingly with respect to the goals and objectives of a desired campaign or set of campaigns. Agencies (and their clients) should not spend/waste time trying to figure out which print to mobile technology will win out in the end, because it is not a zero-sum game. Each technology has its place. It is my belief that there will be no single technology winner in the marketplace. Instead of slowing down the creative process or marketing process as a whole, agencies (and their clients) should spend most of their time and energy ensuring that the code/symbol works, the content is mobile optimized, and the entire experience is of value and benefit to the consumer (B2B or B2C). Because, after all, it’s all about the consumer, isn’t it?

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Roger Marquis is CEO and Founder of Mobile Strategy Group, a New York-based marketing consultancy that advises brands and advertising agencies on the strategic, tactical, and integrated use of 2D bar codes, and other print-to-digital technologies, for advertising and promotion purposes. Mr. Marquis also authors 2d-barcodestrategy.com, a blog that provides strategic commentary and analysis on the real-life use of print-to-digital technology.
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