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Digital watermarks and QR Codes uncovered


Digital watermarks and quick response (QR) codes are literally bringing door drops to life by integrating the real with digital world. Mark Davies, managing director, TNT Post, and Simon Samuels, CEO Media at Digital Space look at the merits and challenges of each technology.

What are QR codes?
QR codes are, at their most basic, a barcode that encodes information in a two-dimensional space, e.g. print media such as door drops, TV images and websites. Their complex make-up stores data both vertically and horizontally which essentially means that more data can be encoded in a smaller space.

While traditional barcodes can store simple data items, such as product names and prices, QR codes can store data to trigger actions, such as launching websites or downloading files. They are thus ideal for driving content to smartphones from printed media, enhancing the interaction available from traditional advertising channels.
Mark Davies

What are digital watermarks?
A watermark links the physical and digital worlds by the integration of a virtually invisible set of algorithms embedded into print elements (such as images, graphics, text blocks) that are recognised by the camera in a mobile phone, web cam or a scanner. This instructs the device to serve up digital material, rich content or any other information associated with the uniquely identified watermark.

Key aspects

  • Almost imperceptible with instant identification (under 1 sec)
  • Applied during production of the physical media e.g. prepress for print.
  • Carries secure links, data, with the ability to interact & transact.
  • Can only be generated by approved users.
  • No third party/open source readers.

Simon Samuels

What are the advantages of QR codes?
QR codes encourage integration with mobile media and perhaps more importantly provide a means not only of driving consumers to respond online but also track that response. Since the advent of digital media, all traditional channels have struggled to prove their ability to drive online.

In spite of the best efforts of marketers to develop methods of evaluation, via unique urls, url extensions and so forth, the reality of consumer behaviour is that most response will be driven via search engines which make attribution of that response a challenge.

Marketers have spent huge amounts of money and time trying to solve this conundrum yet, in theory, QR codes and other print to digital technologies provide ‘straight line’ attribution ensuring channel accountability is perfect. MD

What are the advantages of digital watermarks?
Digital watermarks are read by a single, non-open source app reader allowing all data capture to be gathered in one central place. This means you can effectively track, report and measure all the watermarks read by the uniquely identified reader.

The channeling of data allows for much deeper analysis and insight about how consumers are engaging through these channels for CRM, profiling, segmenting and marketing opportunities. This also means that mobile marketing calls to action that link from physical media can be infinitely richer and properly measured for effectiveness.

Another advantage in terms of the physical media execution is that watermarks do not compromise creative or editorial integrities and can be seamlessly woven with multiple executions in the same image or across the same page. SS

Are there any usability issues with QR Codes and how can marketers/brands overcome them?
Any print to digital technologies that involve smartphones are limited by telephone technology, requiring mobile reception to function effectively. The technology involved in the scanning of QR codes is also still emerging and user experience may vary from phone to phone. However, key to the success of these devices, and common to all marketing communication, is the need to remember the user experience. There is little point putting a QR code on a piece of creative if the experience leaves the consumer thinking ‘so what?’ The creative journey needs to be considered and a common mistake is the driving to websites that have not been mobile-enabled. MD

Are there any usability issues with digital watermarks and how can marketers/brands overcome them?
All triggers need to be embedded in physical media according to guidelines which need to be adhered to. A data connection needs to be available to interact immediately, I strongly recommend clear icon signposting with effective calls to action using copy designed to clearly educate and inform about how to interact and, most importantly, what added value experience is on offer. The consumer experience and journey is therefore also critical for driving response rates. SS

Where to next for QR codes?
QR codes are already appearing in more and more places, on an ever-expanding range of media. Awareness of them is growing among the consumer population to the point the novelty factor will be starting to wear off, requiring even more consideration of the consumer experience.

The biggest challenge QR codes face is a technological one in my opinion to achieve consistency of experience regardless of your phone or your scanning software. More and more phones are being produced with QR readers already included, meaning the requirement to download specific apps will reduce and this again will reduce another barrier to entry. In the future, I predict the presence of a mobile call to action on a direct response creative will be every bit as commonplace as the telephone number and web address are today. MD

Where to next for digital watermarks?
In publishing we can envisage a world where the newspaper or magazine becomes an effective marketplace to sell products directly from the page. In direct mail the opportunity exists to create direct and measurable m-commerce channels directly to a letterbox.

For brands, retailers and media owners effectively exploring mobile sales channels, voucher redemptions, CRM and data capture, opportunities plus the ability to fully control the consumer journey can only be completely realised using watermark triggers. This will lead to the continued proliferation of watermarks across all kinds of physical media. SS

Rise of smartphones a boost for QR Codes and digital watermarks
Mobile marketing and advertising is booming as smartphone ownership soars, especially here in the UK. The UK has the highest percentage of smartphone owners (45%) while the US comes second with 38%. What’s more, it takes a consumer a month to go from first PC search to purchase, while with mobile search it’s an hour, according to Microsoft.

So you can be sure that brands will increasingly look to cash on the rise of the mobile and m-commerce through mobile response codes such as QR codes and digital watermarks. Good news for mobile and print as print to mobile integration continues to grow.

Click here to download a copy of the Digital Space guide to the various print to mobile interactive technologies, including image recognition and augmented reality.

Mark Davies, managing director, TNT Post and Simon Samuels, CEO Media, Digital Space

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