Recently, The Bar Code News interviewed Bill McQuain, Director of Business Development for Microsoft Tag. Tag, in case you don’t know, is a 2 dimensional bar code developed by Microsoft Research and is similar in size and function to a QR Code. Microsoft describes it as a high capacity color barcode or HCCB. What are some of the differences and potential benefits of using Tag instead of a QR code? "Both Tag and QR are 2d barcodes, but there are some key differences between Tag and QR code," according to McQuain. "Tag was developed more recently and takes advantages of new phone technologies. Tag was developed with marketing solutions in mind, you can use black and white or color. You can take some of your brand design elements and incorporate them into the Tag itself. There is resiliency built in to the codes themselves that support operation in a broad range of lighting conditions, including out of focus. Tag offers faster and more reliable scanning".
The color in Microsoft Tag is intriguing and is something that QR code enthusiasts are trying to pull off, with only modest success. I've personally tested a number of color QR codes which my Android phone has not been able to resolve, although the people creating them claim to have tested them. Codes which won't scan, or have not been properly vetted, are going to be a disaster for this industry.
Microsoft Tag on the other hand, was designed from the get-go to be color capable, and that is perhaps the most compelling reason to use Tag for your bar code campaign. More consumers will respond to a graphic that they find interesting or stimulating, and certainly Tags can be compelling. Lest we forget, generating consumer response is what this whole niche is about.
Some interesting Tags are displayed below.
When it comes to reporting on scan activity, Microsoft offers the standard options.
Some of the available reports are:
- Daily Scans. The "Individual Tag" report charts the number of scans for an individual Tag within a specified time span.
- Scan Totals. The "Tag Performance (Tags vs. Scans)" report charts the total number of scans for all the active/paused/frozen Tags in a category, over their lifetime, or within a specified period of time.
- Scan Totals by Category. The "Individual Category" report charts the total number of scans for each of the categories within a specified time span.
- Daily Scans (Multiple Tags). The "Comparative Time vs. Scans for Tags" report charts the number of scans per day for multiple Tags in each category.
- Daily Scans (Category Totals). The "Category Performance (Categories vs. Scans)" report charts the sum total of scans per day for all of the Tags in the categories you’ve created.
- Daily Scans (Compare Categories). The "Comparative Time vs. Scans for Categories" report compares the total number of daily scans for each of the categories you select.
(Source - Microsoft Tag Implementation Guide)
How does one actually edit the color image to create something stimulating?
These before and after pictures from the Microsoft Guide will give you some idea.
What about cost? "The basic services will always be free. Create, manage, basic reporting we’ve committed to remaining free." "Over time we will build additional value added services that will be fee based. Customers are seeking a richer reporting model. Premium reporting for a fee. There are a whole list of things that we’ve thought through that we can build on that will be fee-based" said McQuain, which is affirmed in print on the company website. Users can create the codes in color or black and white for free, and of course the Tag reading software is also free. Companies and users can experiment and use the product for nothing, which is a great way to evalute it's potential. Microsoft also hopes to work with resellers and third-party providers who can help companies implement Tag solutions. While a full blown certified partner program is not in the works, the company is very interested in working with resellers.
Microsoft Tag has some unique and interesting benefits for companies with the resources to use them. There is no doubt that in the next few years consumers will be less intrigued with plain vanilla (black and white) codes. Rich color graphics will be needed to capture customer interest and to get them involved and engaged. Microsoft Tag is already out in front with a solution.
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