Why 2-D Is The Next Big Thing

Microsoft Tag Reader

Mobile bar codes are coming to your showroom.

You’ve seen them on posters, billboards, books, business cards and even this very magazine. Soon enough, you may be seeing them in your own store. They are two-dimensional mobile bar codes that can be read with smartphones, commonly called QR or quick response codes. If you’ve never used them, now’s the time. Gases and welding suppliers are adding mobile bar codes to products, displays and literature. 2-D bar codes can be a selling tool, but only if you know how to use them.

When scanned with a smartphone or other device, 2-D mobile bar codes can do one of several things. The most common of these applications is directing users to a website on their device where they can view additional information pertaining to a product or company. A major benefit of 2-D bar codes is the ability to direct users to a specific Web page that is mobile-friendly and tailored to the application—no hunting through general company websites or typing lengthy and complicated URLs. Other applications for bar codes range from coupons and special offers to text messages and contact information.

The Two Faces of 2-D
There are two major players when it comes to mobile bar codes: QR codes and Microsoft Tag codes. QR codes can be recognized as a series of black squares on a white background. These 2-D barcodes were actually developed by a Toyota subsidiary in 1994 as a way to track automotive parts during the manufacturing process. In recent years they’ve been repurposed as a way of connecting smartphone users to digital content. A newcomer to the market, Microsoft Tag codes are square grids containing an array of triangles. Tag codes are traditionally multi-colored, but can also be monochromatic.

Along with the obvious visual differences, QR codes and Microsoft Tags have a few other distinguishing characteristics. The most notable is that the two require different readers. Microsoft Tags can only be read with a proprietary Microsoft Tag Reader app, which can be downloaded at www.gettag.mobi. QR codes, on the other hand, are an open-source format and can be read with a variety of readers. In all, there are more than 50 free and paid QR scanning apps available across platforms. Some phones, including BlackBerrys, can read QR codes natively without installing a separate application. Despite some differences, QR codes and Microsoft Tags accomplish the same basic goal of connecting users to content on their mobile devices.

 

Bar CodeBar Code

QR Code
QR Code

Microsoft Tag
Microsoft Tag

Characteristics      
Encoding One-dimensional (encodes Two-dimensional (encodes Two-dimensional (encodes
  data horizontally only) data in both directions) data in both directions)
Appearance Series of vertical lines Array of squares Array of Triangles
Color Black and white Black and white Four-color or monochromatic
Data size Up to 20 digits Over 4,000 characters Up to 1,000 characters
Usability      
Hardware Bar code scanner Smartphone; Internet Smartphone; Internet
requirements   connection needed view connection to needed for
    websites all content
App requirements Not designed for smartphones Any QR code reader Microsoft Tag Reader
Function Access basic product Access a website, text, vCard, Access a website, text, app,
  and pricing information phone number, email address, vCard or phone number
    geo location, SMS, WiFi  
    configuration or calendar  
    event  
Information is stored In company database In QR code On Microsoft servers
Ability to update Product information can URLs and text cannot Tag function and data can
  be changed be changed be changed


Equipment Bar Codes
Manufacturers in the gases and welding industry have begun to use 2-D mobile bar codes on products. Lincoln Electric introduced Microsoft Tag codes to several welding machines in April 2011. Bruce Chantry, portfolio manager of welding equipment at Lincoln, oversaw the project. “Smartphones are becoming second nature to people regardless of age or industry. Using handheld devices to deliver information was an obvious next step for us,” says Chantry. The numbers confirm that smartphones are becoming increasingly prevalent. According to Nielsen, smartphones account for 55 percent of mobile phone sales in 2011, up from 34 percent a year earlier.

With the rapid growth of smartphones, Chantry says that Lincoln has the future in mind. “The trends show that smartphones will only continue to grow in popularity. It doesn’t hurt to have a Tag on the machine, even if some customers won’t use them for several years.” While the codes currently adorn the faceplates of a half dozen machines, Lincoln plans to add to that list before the end of the year, and ultimately to include Tag codes on every machine.

Scanning for Sales
Smartphones and other technologies have changed the nature of sales. “Ten years ago, before everybody had cell phones and faxes were more predominant, people accepted that they might have to wait five hours to get an answer,” says Chantry. “Now information is readily available and people expect to get an answer instantly.” Along with speed of information, smartphones give users the resources of the Web almost anywhere.

QR codes and their Microsoft counterpart are slowly becoming a part of the sales process. In recent years, as customers have turned to online research to inform their decision making, smartphones have created a way to conduct research on the fly. Information on the Internet is not always reliable, and mobile bar codes can help focus those communication channels toward accurate, useful information. For example, Lincoln has unique tag codes for each product model that direct users to product comparisons, technical specifications, YouTube videos related to the product, along with support information and product manuals.

During the pre-sale process, a distributor salesperson can take advantage of this information to help make a sale. If a customer wants to know the weight or duty cycle of a machine, the salesperson can scan the tag—with his own smartphone or the customer’s—and access the information in less time than it takes to go back to the desk and get a brochure. Offering to give a demonstration of 2-D bar codes can even give the salesperson an excuse for engaging the customer.

How to Read Mobile Bar Codes
Microsoft Tag Codes
Visit http://www.gettag.mobi/ on your smartphone or on your tablet.
Download and scan away.
QR Codes
BlackBerry
Open App World.
Select “Menu” and then “Scan a bar code.”
Android
Go to the Android Market and search for “QR code reader.”
Download and scan away.
iPhone/iPad/iPod
Go to the App Store and search for “QR code reader.”
Download and scan away.
Want to create your own mobile bar codes? Put them on invoices, postcards and more to draw attention to your website, Facebook page or a special offer. Create a free QR code by searching Google for “QR code generator.” To create a Microsoft Tag, visit tag.microsoft.com.

Chantry says the biggest payoff for mobile barcodes comes after the sale. “I see 2-D bar codes being handy even five years after a machine is purchased. If a person can’t find their manual, they can access it quickly without searching through the support section on the manufacturer’s website.” A perfect example of the practicality of mobile barcodes is if an end-user wants to change the polarity on a wire-feed welder machine. “If the user has the machine set up for flux-core wire and goes and buys a bottle of gas from their distributor, they may want to know what they need to do differently for MIG,” says Chantry. “They can see the procedure right on their smartphone by scanning the tag code.”

Even with all of this information at the end-user’s fingertips, the service the distributor offers the customer is irreplaceable. “There is no substitute for the human interaction that a distributor salesperson has with the customer,” says Chantry. “2-D bar codes are meant to provide supplemental information.” Used properly, mobile bar codes can enhance the speed and utility of the already stellar service that distributors provide.

Surveying the Landscape
Mobile bar codes have been around for several years now, but is the gases and welding industry ready for the technology? “The industry is more ready than people realize,” says Chantry. After all, the welding industry has embraced far more complicated technologies in recent years. “Welding technology has grown exponentially in the last ten years. Welding machines today use computers and networking systems.”

The future of 2-D mobile bar codes in the gases and welding industry is wide open. By working with suppliers, distributors have an opportunity to shape how mobile bar codes are used and what information they provide. The first step is getting familiar with mobile bar codes and how they work. Don’t let your first encounter with mobile bar codes be the moment a customer needs your help. QR codes and Microsoft Tags are coming to your showroom. Learn how to use them and turn them into a value-add for your customers.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association