My small, woman-owned public relations/marketing firm, Advice Unlimited, has been serving the Federal government marketplace for nearly 30 years to help companies with innovative technology get their solutions to the government. Every month, I’ll offer unlimited advice on how to work with this unique market. Please email me with questions or comments.

Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Monday, November 8, 2010

Choose Communication Tools Wisely

There are constantly new tools and techniques emerging in the marketplace that can help you communicate with your audience. It’s important to understand what’s out there, and new tools are fun, but you also want to be sure any new tool will actually help you reach your target audience and get your message across. Quick Response (QR) Codes are one of the most recent tools to come into play – following is some basic information on this new tool to help you determine if it’s right for your audience....

Developed by Denso Wave in 1994, a QR Code is a two-dimensional code (meaning it contains information in both the vertical and the horizontal) that is readable by QR scanners, cell phones equipped with cameras, and smartphones. The code is made up of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data. As implied by the name, the information can be decoded at high speed.

QR Codes were initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing. The use of QR Codes has expanded to include commercial tracking applications and convenience-oriented applications aimed at cell phone users – this is known as “mobile tagging.”

The idea behind mobile tagging is that when you see a code, you take a picture of the code with your cell phone. Your phone will decode the information, and you will be automatically directed to, say, a company’s website. These QR Codes can be displayed in a variety of ways, including magazines, signs, buses and business cards.

To be able to scan the codes, users must download an application to their phone. The Android Market and iTunes App Store offer some applications that can decode QR matrices. Decoding can result in the display of contact information, text, connection to a wireless network, or the opening of a web page in the phone’s browser.

QR Codes were widely used at SXSW (a film/music gathering in Austin) in March of this year. They had QR Codes on flyers, postcards, business cards and stickers. One of the more memorable examples was a QR Code embedded in a t-shirt, which directed scanners to a Twitter feed.

QR Codes have been slow to take off in the U.S. market. A recent study showed that less than 10% of consumers know what a QR Code is. Their use is much more common in Japan. Many people in the U.S. seem to think that while they are visually interesting, QR Codes are gimmicky and clumsy. The use of QR Codes does not seem to make sense (at least at this point) for the government marketplace. Many people will feel as though they create an extra step. For example, a QR Code on a panelist card used at SXSW will take you to the SXSW website, which requires login and password information, and then you will eventually reach a small blurb about the panelist. This whole process takes much longer than it would to simply exchange a business card.

There is also the issue of user responsibility. This technology requires people to distinguish between a regular barcode and a QR Code. It is impossible to differentiate with the naked eye. It is also heavily dependent on the user wanting to interact with it. They have to pull out their phone, download an application, scan the code and follow the prompts.

Another problem, especially for use in the government marketplace, is that the QR Code obscures the destination it intends to send the user to. That creates the potential for the user to unknowingly click through to a malicious or unwanted site via QR Code.

Call us at 301-924-0330 or email me at so we can help you wisely choose the communication tools and techniques that best fit your purpose. No gimmicky or clumsy tools here – just tried and true methods, ready to help you on your way to success!

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