Barcode labels aren’t what they used to be. Imagine picking up a case of your favorite soda at the store. On your way home, you notice that there’s a barcode prominently placed on the side of the case, with a message encouraging you to scan it for more details. You pull out your smart phone and download a free digital barcode reader, using it to scan the code on the case. A webpage pops up on your phone displaying a video about how the soda was made, coupons for your next purchase, and a link to enter a contest to win free soda for life. Whether you know it or not, you’ve just taken part in one of the new biggest trends in the digital revolution, known as QR codes. They’ve already caught on big overseas, and they’re slowly starting to sweep the nation in 2010.
In the early nineties, before even the Internet had caught on, Vibrant Graphics started out as a branch of OnCourse Information Services, a document management company. OnCourse needed to keep medical records organized for a variety of organizations, and started printing simple barcode labels on a tabletop printer to aid in the process. When scanned, these barcode labels provided unique data that kept files identifiable and in order. The service grew so popular that OnCourse had to buy more printers to keep up with the demand, and eventually the entire printing division split off and became Express Labels. Barcode labels had grown more complex, with room for variable images and unique sizes and shapes, and the company purchased two large barcode label printers that featured these printing capabilities. Although most people think digital printing is a recent innovation, barcode label printing is actually technically digital, because it operates without plates and can print variable images and data accurately and efficiently. Express Labels was a digital printer from the start, although the company eventually transitioned over to high speed, modern digital presses that offered greater flexibility, and renamed themselves as Vibrant Graphics to reflect the change. The barcode label business died down a bit, although Vibrant still processes these labels for a handful of regular customers.
Now with the advent of iPhones, Androids, and smart mobile technology, a new breed of barcode labels is roaring into prominence. Alysha Schertz from the Milwaukee BizTimes recently posted an article about how QR Codes are adding another dimension to traditional media. A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode, also known as a matrix code, that can store anything from traditional tracking data to website URL’s. They originated in the tech mecca of Japan and have since caught on in many parts of Asia and Europe. The U.S. has been slower to catch on, only recently realizing the marketing potential of this inauspicious device. MillerCoors brewing, who’s better known for their mountain-centric TV ads than their love of social media, recently released a Colorado Native Lager that uses these codes in an innovative way. Each beer label features a “Snap Tag,” a variation of a QR code that doesn’t even require scanning. If the user snaps a picture of the tag with a mobile phone, then emails it to the phone number on the tag, the brand begins a conversation with the individual user with a series of emails featuring Colorado trivia and questions about hobbies and interests. These conversations are stored, and the brand can later send emails to the user that are targeted to his or her interests, featuring special offers and promotions. It sounds a bit creepy, but MillerCoors is confident it will pay off, and it’s a whole new form of product interaction.
QR codes aren’t strictly the domain of billion dollar brands – anyone can take advantage of this new technology. Several websites offer free QR codes that you can download, customize with information, and use on anything from birthday cards to photographs. Once your friend scans the code on a card, for example, he or she might be redirected to a YouTube video of you with a personal happy birthday message. For printing and marketing companies, who have struggled with moving away from traditional media into the online marketplace, the possibilities are endless. Here at Vibrant Graphics, we’ve made note of this and we’re looking for ways to implement these innovative code into future marketing collateral. Let’s face it – a simple postcard only goes so far anymore, but when it’s tagged to something interactive, you can take personalized messages to a whole new dimension. QR codes are definitely part of the digital revolution, and as a digital printing company, we’re equipped to harness the power of this technology. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before other companies start to take notice.