The Missing Link

Predictably, mobile content delivery scenarios require publishers to develop made-for-mobile sites and destinations. It’s not a mammoth task for major publishers, but it can be a huge headache for eager independent publishers or smaller content providers anxious to move their old media into new territory.

After all, mobile content is hardly a case of "build it and they will come." It requires content companies to have more than a cool site. It demands that they develop mobile search and advertising strategies that place their content and advertisements where consumers on the move will find and—hopefully—buy them.

It’s a difficult but doable task. But why should publishers merely extend their reach from web to mobile when they can harness new tools and technologies to link the physical and digital worlds and, thus, open up a world of new opportunities around communication, commerce, and content delivery?

Indeed, the personal nature of the mobile device and core phone functionalities such as digital cameras and, in some cases, built-in scanners make it possible for publishers and content owners to combine content discovery and mobile commerce in new ways that take accessing and buying content to new levels. Better yet, any content provider can get involved, even those lacking the patience and/or resources to create a mobile site.

The excitement centers on 2D bar codes (also referred to as Quick Response, or QR, codes), which streamline how consumers connect with and consume content. In its simplest form, consumers use their camera- or scanner-enabled mobile devices to capture 2D bar codes, displayed on anything from a magazine cover to a billboard, to receive content, discounts, etc., directly to their mobile phones.

Before you dismiss 2D bar code schemes as a technology in search of a problem, keep in mind that 2D bar codes began in Japan about 5 years ago and are already a primary means for consumers there to access content and commerce via magazine advertisements, posters, and promotional flyers.

This year will see enthusiasm for 2D bar codes spread from Asia to Europe and North America, spearheaded by content owners anxious to connect with consumers on-the-fly. In the U.K., for example, the popular tabloid The Sun has rolled out a QR code scheme allowing readers a quick way to access mobile websites—and with them newspaper content, along with a mix of videos, film trailers, and music. In the U.S., newspaper publisher The New York Times Co. is actively investigating ways to harness QR codes to promote editorial and advertising offers.

One firm revolutionizing the way media companies, marketers, handset manufacturers, and carriers around the world provide information and services to consumers on their mobile phones is Scanbuy, a global provider of mobile marketing solutions that embrace 2D bar code solutions. It recently partnered with Billboard, Wired, and Car and Driver magazines to test publishing the bar codes in their pages.

Billboard, for example, ran two campaigns: a cover-wrapped ad with a bar code linking to its famous top 10 list and a two-page ad with codes linking to music downloads and artist information via the portal operated by mobile carrier Sprint. Car and Driver published more than 400 bar codes in its annual buyer’s guide. Each car in the guide had a corresponding bar code linking to a microsite with pictures, reviews, and a link to the full road test.

Jonathan Bulkeley, Scanbuy CEO, is confident the technology will revitalize so-called "old media" and create new revenue opportunities. "A lot of publishers haven’t moved into mobile because they can’t attract enough traffic to justify spending the money to develop the content." It’s a vicious cycle. Bulkeley reasons that 2D bar codes turn that into a virtuous cycle because they do more than take the effort and expense out of developing content and driving traffic. They let publishers make one-to-one interaction with consumers possible and measurable.

"The magazine business is dying because the advertisers are leaving print for online where they can measure traffic and generate revenues on a PPC basis," Bulkeley explains. "Bar codes bring the advertisers—and the audience—back to print because, all of a sudden, print can offer it all: interactivity because it invites consumers to capture what they see, measurability because the system counts that interaction as a monetizable form of engagement, and context because the approach reveals when, where, and why the consumer was attracted to the content in the first place."

Indeed, 2D bar code schemes promise to do more than cross-sell and upsell consumers to a variety of content. They enable a new kind of two-way conversation between content owners and their customers, creating a valuable connection.