As many of you know, Adobe’s Flash technology is on its way out, at least for the kind of animations and banners that most companies feature on their homepages. Flash animations do not work with Apple’s mobile devices, which now constitute a large chunk of the web browsing public. In general, Flash animations do not work well with any “touch” device because of technical limitations. In order to keep our clients at the forefront of web and mobile technology, eBlox is pleased to offer two new services:
- Flash conversion: If you have any Flash-based content on your home page, eBlox will rebuild it in HTML5, which works in all modern browsers and touch devices. HTML5 is the standard that most web sites and devices are moving toward, so conversion of your animations, including their interactive features and buttons, is a wise move for forward-thinking company store managers.
- HTML5 Animation: eBlox will create original HTML5 animations and presentations for your homepage or other site areas (we’ve got a couple of good examples in this project and this one). HTML5 banners work on almost all mobile and touch devices, such as iPads and other tablets, and have the same type of animation, interactivity and “gee-whiz” factor as Flash animations. If you’d like a quote on HTML5 animations or banners for your company store (or any site you manage), please contact us for a quote.
QR codes are popping up everywhere these days, from store windows to packaging to magazine ads. You’ve probably seen them; they look an awful lot like a cross between a bar code and badly-pixelated artwork from a 1980s video game. They’re black and white with big squares on three of the corners and, like their more primitive counterpart, the UPC barcode, they store encoded information in that mass of glitchy-looking pixels.
More information, in fact, than the short set of numbers that a barcode can represent. Originally designed to help automate car manufacturing, QR codes—the QR stands for “Quick Response”—are now employed by marketers of all stripes to transmit a large block of information in an image, often to a phone.
The general idea is this: You see something that interests you —say, an ad, a sign or a shelf tag in a store—and you take your smartphone and snap a picture of the QR code that’s displayed along with it. Many smartphone apps can read these codes and take action on them. For instance, the Google app on your iPhone can decode a QR code directly and read the information from it (the Google app, along with many others, can also do the same nifty trick with regular barcodes).
It’s pretty cool, and there’s something satisfying about deciphering this clutter of computer-generated code into its real-world output. QR codes are also compact, can be printed just about anywhere, and require nothing more than a quick snapshot from your camera to record their information. In some ways, they’re like the quickest note you’ve ever taken.
Take Me Back
Yet if taking a picture of a strange, pixelated code seems a little bit, well, dated to you, that’s because it is. The format of QR codes is almost 20 years old, and there’s something quaint (and, to my mind, a little bit backwards) about scanning codes to get information. In this world of wireless communication, texting, instant messaging, Bluetooth and apps, it’s odd to have to take a picture of a code to get vital information about a company or product.
In fact, if you’re a geek like me, this may give you an overwhelming sense of déjá vu. Back in the late 90s, when the first internet boom was just gearing up, a product called the CueCat was released that did much the same thing – except you had to plug it into your PC in order to read the barcodes. Wired and a number of other magazines joined in briefly with the CueCat hysteria, printing odd slanted barcodes in their publications that you could scan with a cat-shaped reader (I’m not kidding) and have the information input directly to your PC. Because, you know, typing the URL of a website was such a chore – you needed a plastic cat with a cable for a tail to do it for you.
Of course, we now have smartphones with capable cameras, so you don’t need a fake feline to read the codes, and the web browser in your phone can go directly to the web site or resource that the QR code specifies. But, this leads to my primary problem with the current excitement over QR codes—do we really need them? In most cases, at least in a marketing or retail environment, they’re used to transmit very simple information, like the web address of a company. For the marketers, they do have the advantage of also transmitting that the visitor arrived via a QR code—which is great for the marketers to know, but useless for the consumer, who just wants to get information.
So, scan a code with your smartphone, wind up at a website. It’s not too hard to type the URL of a website into your phone (some of you with fat fingers might disagree with me, but still), so it’s tough to see QR codes in a marketing or retail campaign as much more than a gimmick. Mind you, I’m not suggesting QR codes or any type of barcoding are gimmicky when used in situations like purchasing, badge scanning, manufacturing, and so on. But in an ad for a beer company that takes you to that beer company’s website and nothing more? That’s a gimmick.
Which is not to say gimmicks are a bad thing. Many of them work, especially if they have a gee-whiz factor, and QR codes get people excited about what their smartphones can do. Look, it’s a scanner! The risk with any gimmick, however, is whether or not it will hold its appeal.
Should You Use Them?
For marketers looking to make it simple for their customers to get to their e-commerce website or download their app, QR codes are a potentially risky investment. Luckily, they’re inexpensive to implement and relatively innocuous—few consumers will be bothered by the presence of a small barcode in an ad or on packaging or signage. Still, it’s worth considering some of the threats to the long-term livelihood of this old-school technology:
- Wireless replacements: While wireless technology might not supplant QR codes printed in magazine and newspapers, elsewhere the threat of wireless technology is very real. Google and others have put their support behind NFC (Near Field Communication), which is a technology very similar to the SmartPass gas station payment cards and security system access cards that many of your currently use. NFC and RFID (a similar system that is slowly replacing barcoding in many warehousing and distribution systems) both constitute substantial threats to QR codes as they become more inexpensive and ubiquitous. After all, if you could get information about a product just by waving your phone near it (instead of holding up and focusing your camera) wouldn’t that be much simpler? As these technologies get even cheaper and smaller, don’t be surprised to find an NFC code in your favorite magazine or in a shelf talker at your grocery store.
- Limitations: While QR codes can store many times the information of a barcode, they’re still very limited in most forms. They’re fine for a website URL, a link to an app, or a special link to a promotion, but they’re not too useful for longer-form information. It’s best to think of QR codes as a quick way to transmit a short blast of information—at most, someone’s full contact info – but not much else.
- Fatigue: Like all gimmicks, QR codes run the risk of becoming passé, even as they enter the mainstream. As a supplementary form of marketing your product, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a QR code onto your marketing materials. But any marketing strategy that relies purely on QR codes for user response is likely going to be short-lived.
In a strange way, QR codes are actually forward-thinking: they are geared primarily toward mobile users of smartphones. Mobile web usage is skyrocketing and there’s no doubt that a good deal of the future of marketing lies on the mobile web. If you do build QR code campaigns, make absolutely sure that your landing pages (the pages that users go to when they scan the QR code) are mobile-friendly. But I’d recommend against building your mobile strategy on QR codes—they’ll likely be replaced by more advanced technology before you know it.
– Brent Buford
A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.
If you’re promoting your business online, you’ve probably at least dipped your toe into the vast, muddy lake of social media. Some of you may have seen success with it, while others got wind of the time and effort required to maintain a social media presence and gingerly stepped away. Since most of you deal primarily with business-to-business relationships, you may not think you’re missing much—social media often seems best suited for consumer-oriented brands, politicians and Hollywood stars.
Those of you in the “this is a bunch of worthless noise” camp might want to reconsider your position for in 2012. Two factors are making social media a critical component of doing business online. First, social media is becoming a popular venue for marketing all kinds of businesses — a place where customers expect to find current information and updates about your business. Remember when you thought you probably didn’t need a website? Well, this is becoming more like that.
Second, the tools to manage and automate social media are now mature and easy to use, so even a busy, harried small business owner can queue up a slew of updates once a month and let them rip. As a bonus, social media activity and updates can improve your search engine ranking over time – if you do it right (more on that later). And finally, of course, don’t forget that more and more of your competitors are joining in every day. That doesn’t mean you have to play catch up with everything they do, but it’s worth understanding the landscape.
What’s Out There
There are four social media platforms that matter for businesses: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. (The last one would likely bristle at being called “social media” but we’ll toss it in with the others to keep things simple.) These networks are active, have large subscriber/user bases, and have become the standard venues for promoting businesses to engaged online customers. You should become familiar with all of them, and participate in at least a few. Let’s look at them in order.
Facebook: The largest social network in the world, and a surprisingly popular venue for businesses. I say “surprisingly” because while many of us assumed that Facebook would be popular for consumer brands like soft drinks and TV networks, it’s become a hot venue for businesses of all kinds. The reason is simple: everyone is there. Hundreds of millions of people spend far too many hours of their lives on the site. It’s become, for better or worse, almost like an alternate version of the web, and millions of users see updates from companies and brands they like in their News Feed every day. True, not everyone is going subscribe to updates from business like yours. But some will, and you should be in front of them
Twitter: If Facebook is like an alternate version of the web, Twitter is an abbreviated, real-time distillation of what’s happening online. Like Facebook, Twitter has expanded from purely personal use to consumer brands and far beyond. While both Facebook and Twitter offer advertising programs, the key with both services is simply participating as a business: hanging up your sign and telling people what’s going on on a regalar basis. Not sure what to tell them? We’ll talk about that in a sec.
Google Plus: I’ve discussed this new social network recently, noting that it’s essentially a clone of Facebook. Since then, Google has added even more Facebook-like features including games and pages for businesses. It’s still unclear whether Google Plus has the momentum to unseat Facebook as the king of social networking (I’m guessing it won’t) but with over 40 million registered users, it’s worth the small amount of effort required to build and maintain a page for your business on this network. [Note: Given recent changes to Google+ noted here, it’s rapidly becoming mandatory for serious online marketers to maintain a presence on the social network. See this post for more info.]
LinkedIn: Not truly a social network like the others, LinkedIn has nevertheless added social sharing and posting features and remains a great place to stay in touch with other professionals. It’s also done an exceptional job of organizing and classsifying businesses and professionals, so listing your business on LinkedIn is a no-cost way to get your name in one of the biggest real business directories on the planet. Don’t expect a mad rush of new clients from LinkedIn, but you should be there when folks are looking.
What to Say
What should a business owner post on social networks? Simple stuff, really: Specials, announcements, promotions, information, events, tips and anything else you think might be useful to your customers. Is summer fast approaching? Post some ideas for new and innovative summer products. Give them tips on ordering in time for big events. Let them know when your next open house is.
The very same things you promote in emails, phone calls and regular business conversations can be promoted via social media updates. In fact, the more you consider social media to be a conversation between you and your customers (and prospects), the better you’ll understand what it’s all about. True, that conversation will often be one-sided, but you want to facilitate a dialog. Your customers may not reply directly; instead, many engage passively, scanning for the things that interest them. But like any other form of advertising or marketing, having your name in front of them as much as possible is the key to getting their attention when it matters. Given that every one of these networks costs nary a dime to participate in at the basic level, why would you not want to hang your shingle out there?
How to Say It
Of course, you don’t want to spend your entire day posting to social networks, and very few of you are prepared to hire a full-time social media manager. That’s where the tools come in. A couple of years ago, some very smart people realized that keeping many different social networks updated was a tremendous hassle for normal people. These smart people built software and websites to automate the posting of updates across all your social media profiles, and you can thank them for your future sanity.
Social media toolkits typically do two very important things: First, they manage all your profiles at once, eliminating the need to visit each site. Your updates go out to all sites at once, and all your customers’ and associates’ updates are consolidated into a single window. Second, these tools allow you to schedule updates to go out automatically, on a schedule you create.
If you can sit down for an hour or two every month and build a couple of marketing emails or flyers, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to add social media updates to your marketing schedule. Just create your updates, give them a date and time, and let them roll. There are quite a few of these packages out there, but my pick is Hootsuite, which not only handles all your scheduled updates, but can even post automated updates whenever you create content on your blog. It’s free for the basic version, five bucks a month for the advanced version, and quite a bargain either way.
– Brent Buford
A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.