Breaking the Code
 
November 1st, 2011

QR Codes – those little black & white squares – are a tech-savvy way to deliver product information to customers, here, there and just about everywhere.

By William & Patti Feldman

Here’s a winning equation finding traction in the tile industry (and beyond): Smartphone +2D code scanning = detailed product information on the spot. The small two- or four-tone squares are printed on ads in most every trade magazine (including Tile Dealer), on product packaging, on in-store displays, and on all manner of marketing materials. The most popular 2D codes are QR codes (abbreviated from Quick Response codes) and Microsoft Tags, aka MS Tags.

QR codes are open-source and can be generated by a number of different code generators, while Microsoft Tags are proprietary. There are some differences.

MS Tag provides built-in analytics and enables the barcode targets to be changed on-the-fly without having to recreate the barcode. With QR codes, changing the barcode target requires additional software on the server-side or the “hiring” of a third party provider to manage the server-side software.

Differences aside, the phrase “QR code” is actually becoming the generic term for 2D codes (but not in this article). And you may also hear the technology talked about as “mobile tagging.”

Both the software to generate the codes (QR codes and MS Tags) and the scanning apps to access them are available free over the Internet.

Here’s how it works: Scanning a 2D barcode with the camera of a Web-enabled smartphone running a compatible scanning app launches a link digital data attached to the code. The link can be to a website, a web page with specific product details, installation instructions or promotional offer, a warranty, YouTube how-to or other video, or to other digital content the manufacturer, retailer, or other business wants to share at that time.

Some manufacturers have already launched special mobile websites configured for optimal viewing of the digital information on a smartphone screen.

Smartphone users can even email on the linked data to themselves or others, for later reference or printing.

According to ScanBuy, a leading global provider of mobile barcode solutions, about 25 million people in the U.S. already have barcode scanning capability on their smartphones – all that is needed is a phone with a camera and an Internet connection. Manufacturers and service providers of all types are taking advantage.

Several early adopting tile and grout manufacturers are using QR codes or Microsoft Tags in a variety of ways.

As of mid-October, 2011, Dal-Tile had QR codes on about 800,000 pieces of marketing materials – tile boards that go into displays and out to customers, notes David Warren, digital marketing manager, Dal-Tile Corporation, a manufacturer of tile products.

Currently, Dal-Tile’s two brands, Daltile and American Olean, each use one code per product line. The code links the phone holder to a specific application attached to it for a period of time rather than to the company website. In this way, “the QR code does not ever become extinct. It is always active and up to date in terms of the material we want to present,” explained Warren. “We can change the information the code links to at any time without having to change the website page or code for that line.”

For example, on the American Olean’s Torre Venato line of glazed porcelain, one QR code on the tile board in a display represents the whole line. The tile board displays the tile and all the colors available in the line in the same way all the color options are represented on the website, Warren said. “If someone scans the code on the board displayed at a dealer, that person can view product imagery and more detailed information and order a physical sample of any selected tiles.” So far, Warren noted, feedback from dealers on this is “overwhelmingly positive.”

Between Daltile and American Olean, “about 10,500 of our top dealers have QR-coded tile boards in place,” Warren said.

According to Sean P. Boyle, director, marketing and product management, Laticrete International, a manufacturer of installation systems for ceramic tile and stone, Laticrete has been printing Microsoft tags on its packaging since 2008. “When we added codes to our packaging, we used the opportunity to rearrange some of the elements on our packaging to enable prominent placement of the code in two places, for easy spotting and easy scanning.”

“For consumers walking down an aisle in a retail setting, having the code positioned on the front of the bag maximizes the opportunity for scanning for more information geared to consumers. A different code, with information geared to contractors, is conveniently located on the back of the packaging, near the instructions. This dual placement of codes enables us to route both consumers and contractors to appropriate enhanced information,” he explained. Other Microsoft tags are printed on Laticrete’s sample boards and in print ads.

“Each tag code is really specific as to where we direct the customer to go,” Boyle explained. “Depending upon the product and on the focus of strategy, the code can link to a specific landing page for that product, to a video, or even to a material safety data sheet.” (Laticrete uses its existing website, already configured for reading via smartphones and with specific landing pages for different products, without any modification, as the sources of information linked to the codes.)

For example, for the company’s SpectraLock Pro Premium Grout, Laticrete generated a new page of information to which consumers are directed when they scan the 2D code on the packaging. At that page, consumers can view a video, learn about key features, get warranty information, MSDSs and sell sheets and find installation instructions.

The company can track how many people clicked each, what time they clicked, and how long they stayed – data that can go a long way to ensuring Laticrete is providing information customers find useful, Boyle said. Based on that information and other feedback, Laticrete can change the location of where the code leads, for example switching away from the product data sheet if that proves not especially effective and to a how-to video, to see if that is more effective, he added.

“If we see that a lot of people using the code are looking for more installation instructions, maybe that tells us we need to add more details to the instructions on the packages. We analyze the data every month to see how many snaps are happening, what products and where they’re going where people are looking to read.”

Early on, Boyle reserved about 200 unique codes so new codes are ready whenever he wants to create a new link. Laticrete is currently using about 80 codes, which appear on the great majority of its marketing tools. Laticrete’s use of codes has been extremely successful and very well received by end users, split about evenly between contractors and consumers, Boyle noted.

For contractors, the codes offer a lot of information right on the spot which the physical limitations of the packaging do not allow. For example, if the package is already on the jobsite, a contractor can scan the code and immediately have the ability to download the material datasheet, product instructions, and even Laticrete’s Green Guard certificate, Boyle said.

The benefits to retail

Some retailers are very excited about the possibilities created by mobile codes and in some cases encourage manufacturers to use them because they give customers in the store the ability to get product information themselves that can help with the purchasing decision. And, he added, “If a member of the sales staff scans the code, the information can augment his or her knowledge of the product and help with the sale.”

Crossville, a manufacturer of porcelain stone tile, introduced its new Q2R app in January 2011. The app works with QR codes and is available on any smartphone. The “Quick to Request, Quick to Respond” app is used to  scan QR (Quick Response) codes on all Crossville sample materials, allowing users to immediately get product details, request samples in real time or share links to products through social networks.

Q2R by Crossville allows anyone selecting tile products to create personal portfolios of favorite products right on their smartphones. When users create their individual Q2R accounts, they will be able to revisit their portfolios online anytime for easy viewing of product lists and more.

Crossville Q2R was created as part of Crossville, Inc.‘s Sustainable Samples program, an approach to tile product sampling that lets interior designers, architects and specifiers get all the information they need immediately and quickly request “only the samples they really want just by using the smartphone app,” noted the company.

To get a free QR reader for your phone, you can go to www.mobile-barcodes.com and click on QR Code Readers or just search for “QR reader” + the make and model of your phone. To get a free MS Tag reader, go to www.tag.microsoft.com. To download a free 2D code generator (to create 2D codes for use in your own ads and marketing materials), search for QR code generator or MS tag generator.

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For Further Information

American Olean

www.americanolean.com

Crossville

www.crossvilleinc.com

Daltile

www.dal-tile.com

Laticrete

www.laticrete.com

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