Part 1 of this 2-part article (“Why use connected packaging and print”) was published previously here.

What are the options for scanning?
  • QR codes

With the spreading of smartphones, QR codes became very popular in marketing and advertising about six years ago. But then it all seemed to come to a grinding halt, at least in the Western world. Why? One of the main reasons is that the experience people got when scanning a QR code was disappointing. The pay-offs were illegible (for example, a desktop site on a mobile screen), not relevant (for example, link to the company’s home page instead of detailed product information), out-of-date, hard-to-download (outdoor internet connection was poor in those days), etc. And marketers quickly decided that QR codes were ugly and that the public didn’t want them. Big caveat is that in Asia, especially in China, Korea and Japan, QR codes are still popular. This probably has to do with the fact that typing in a URL in their languages is a lot harder than when using the western alphabet. So QR codes are dead. Or are they?

Cadbury QR code

Cadbury “scan for joy” campaign, running since 2011

Anybody who has been to a trade show knows that these places are littered with QR codes. Cadbury has been running their “scan for joy” campaign for years now. And KitKat started a YouTube campaign promoting QR codes on the front of their packaging in spring 2016. Many more complex products (DIY, building trade) carry QR codes to help users. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in the US is working on their SmartLabel initiative, planning to add QR codes to packaging, which will deliver standardised expanded information about the product in hand.


  • barcodes (EAN, UPC and other “1D” codes)

These are already present on most retail products. Amazon, Ocado, John Lewis, the NHS Sugar Smart app, they all use the barcodes to deliver extra information to consumers. Retail brands use it to give price and stock information, specialist apps like Sugar Smart give focused information. Dedicated QR & barcode scanning apps use databases to give standardised non-branded information about many retail products, though most are currently restricted to US products.


NHS Sugar smart app

NHS Sugar Smart app


  • digitally watermarked images (Digimarc barcodes)

Not a name that easily trips off the tongue, but digital watermarks have been around for about 20 years. Developed by Digimarc in the US and currently promoted as a quicker way to pass products over the till, invisible digital watermarks are a great way to connect packaging without compromising the aesthetics of a brand.


  • image recognition

Apps like Blippar and Aurasma analyse the media to literally recognise a particular image and deliver an augmented reality experience on the smartphone. It is “probabilistic”, as opposed to the “deterministic” technology that underlies Digimarc barcodes. But it also means it can deliver a pay-off of the same brand icon irrespective of where it is – on a label, a magazine ad, a bill board.


  • physical triggers

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), NFC (Near Field Communication), Bluetooth beacons are all technologies for wireless communications. They require physical triggers in or on the product, which can be identified by a reader and connected to a pay-off (“what you see when you scan the trigger”). They each have their own advantages and applications.

Ideally you would use a single platform that can recognise many or all of these triggers. For example, the app is able to scan both barcodes and QR codes. Linkz is a platform that can use all the triggers listed above.


What do you get in return?

Direct-to-customer communication, that is all very nice – lots of ways to engage with your audience via printed materials, lots of extra value you could offer them. But what do youthe brand, get? This depends on the technology platform used, but most of them offer that all-important insight one way or another: understanding your customers’ behaviour and preferences. Some scanning options, like ordinary QR codes, will offer limited insights as by and large you can only measure what traffic you get to the pay-off (usually a website).

Other options, like Linkz, will give you detailed analytics of what was scanned, where and when and by which unique handset. As an example – a small, upcoming novelty drinks company used Linkz to activate its packaging. On the can it had a small call-to-action inviting people to scan and participate in a competition. This was a great way to encourage scanning and resulted in useful insights into the times and days their customers bought their product. They didn’t need to stand outside shops to interview customers, they could see it clearly in the data.

Linking your physical product or collateral to digital pay offs also means you can connect your social media campaigns with your products. You can measure which areas or stores are best at running certain campaigns, or what kind of triggers work best in what situation.

Linkz analytics dashboard

Linkz analytics options

How do you manage all this?

With so many different things to scan and with so many possible pay offs it is even more important to manage this channel closely and efficiently. It has to be quick and easy to update campaigns. If needed, you want pay offs to be changeable by the hour, like when you are running a social media campaign to encourage people to buy your product. All technologies mentioned above come with management platforms, some more developed than others. The best way is to choose platforms that allow you to test what works for your customers and that lets you compare campaigns that use different triggers. Now is the time to get involved with consumer scanning and learn how to operate in this field.


What to do?

You can see why connected packaging and print is taking off: being present along the whole customer journey requires usage of all media channels. Consumers increasingly want to control engagement with brands[1]. Brands need easy implementation and control over what the consumer sees related to their products. Start connecting your packaging and print now.

[1] note the increase in use of adblocking software. It is becoming the norm to interact with customers when they want to.