A canonical trope of certain genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels deals with a character’s ability to move between the mortal world and a parallel world (in Fantasy it’s sometimes referred to as Faerie or, as in “The Matrix” a wholly virtual world).

Point being, characters have either special powers or some sort of talisman that they use to move between worlds. (Remember Neo’s “red pill” and the phone?)

For marketers, the shift to digital meant creating our presence or “world” online and in the past 10 years, consumers’ mobile device usage has expanded the reach of our online presence, and extended our ability to influence and sell. But marketers had to invest in search optimisation and marketing to guide consumers to their sites or others where product information or product reviewers were available. That required a lot of consumer education.

Even so, consumers were a step ahead. They started using the devices to link their online experiences with their day-to-day lives in the physical world. Do you remember how shocked and terrified retailers were when “showrooming” became a thing?

Visual search, where the user’s smartphone camera and radios are deployed to scan and identify an object in the physical world, is primed to be a valuable capability for marketers to exploit. Two scannable media technologies — the well-known and often maligned QR code — and the RFID tag — initially developed primarily as a manufacturing and supply chain technology — are critical enablers to opening new ways for marketers to engage with customers and prospects.

These technologies are proven in terms of basic functionality. QR codes were initially hampered by two things. First consumers had to have a separate application to simply do the scanning and graphic designers often objected to the fact that a blobs of black ink — though they were as small as 1/2-inch squares of ink blobs — desecrated their label or packaging designs. RFID tags history in the supply chain world is well known but consumer applications were stalled until NFC technologies became common in smartphones.

From a marketer’s perspective, however, neither of these things got much in the way of outbound consumer education/awareness efforts. There were no sustained packaged-goods or retail industry efforts to drive awareness with consumers and show them the value of the technologies. (Couple that with the need for separate apps for QR codes and the efforts were guaranteed to fizzle.)

So why did I say QR and RFID tags were primed for exploitation? It wasn’t because the CPG industry, retail industry groups got it together to promote them or graphics designers relented. We can thank popular social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram for popularising these technologies with their very large and growing audiences.

But marketers still have much they need to do in terms of consumer education. They need to invest in things like iconography in and around the physical world – near product displays or even on billboards – to show consumers where to scan to make those connections to online repositories of rich content that can help explain and make the case for their goods and services.

My colleague Charles Golvin has written extensively about mobile marketing and the Internet of Things (IOT).  This week he’s curated a terrific set of Gartner research notes and industry news articles describing how “scannable marketing” need to be a priority for marketers. Check it out!

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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