2D bar codes  are on buses, in newspapers and magazines, storefronts, product packaging, store shelves, bus stops, mailings from political candidates, and subways. Retail stores like Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s have corporate programs for 2D codes. Honestly, it is hard to name a place that I haven’t seen a 2D bar code. Hard to say if there are more codes — or more consumers scanning the codes. I think it is the former. As with many things mobile, this is more of a supply-side-driven phenomenon than demand-side.

Why are there so many codes? They are one of many mobile technologies that facilitate the connection of consumers to relevant content when they need it. Scanning bar codes simplifies the experience of discovering content or initiating an action on a cell phone like sending a message or adding a contact to a phone. Brands are doing all they can to educate consumers about what codes are and how to use them. Budweiser, for example, has designed an entire TV commercial around tags from Spyderlink on its Bud Light cartons. See the video.

Plastering codes everywhere, however, is working —  adoption among US adults has increased from only 1% last year to 5% this year. Adoption among smartphone owners is three times that. While adoption is relatively low today, the strong growth in usage of the codes by brands and consumers alike indicates a bright future for brands looking to deepen their engagement with consumers. Bar codes don’t facilitate just marketing —  they will be used 360 degrees around a customer’s journey —  from branding or consideration through to purchase and replenishment.

Sounds great, right? In theory it does, but in too many cases, codes are used without a broader strategy. They are used in isolation without the supporting education and mobile-appropriate content or calls-to-action. 2D codes are simply a technology that simplify an experience —  they have the potential to make experiences like comparing two digital cameras more convenient. They are part of a campaign or initiative —  they do not stand on their own. At Forrester, we classify 2D bar codes under the “T” or Technology element of POST —  one of the last decisions eBusiness professionals should be making after they understand their target audience, define clear objectives, and put a strategy in place. For a more thorough analysis and set of best practices for effectively using bar codes, please see Forrester’s new report: 2D Bar Codes: Driving Consumers To Purchase. We evaluated more than 100 uses of 2D bar codes and conducted interviews with players throughout the ecosystem. 

For interactive marketers, also see Melissa Parrish's report: "US Marketers: Stay Ahead Of 2D Bar Code Adoption."