BMO gives Wall Street Journal readers 2D barcodes

BMO Capital Markets introduced last week two-dimensional barcodes in select advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, the idea being that smart phone users can obtain more information about the ad on their devices by capturing an image of the barcode.

Mobile device users, whether BlackBerry, iPhone or other smart phone, can download a free application that, when the 2D barcode is photographed, will activate the device’s browser and link to a page on BMO’s site.

The investment and corporate banking arm of BMO Financial Group runs an advertisement every Friday in The Wall Street Journal’s Money & Investment section. The first ad to incorporate the 2D barcode highlighted the firm’s ninth annual Focus on Healthcare Conference, which took place in New York City the same week.

Rick Kuwayti, head of marketing for BMO Capital Markets, said mobile device users can be directly linked to the conference page and view Webcasts from the 75 companies that presented at the event. “Instead of having to remember a really long Web address, you can just look at this barcode, scan it, and it will automatically direct the browser in your mobile device to the Web site,” said Kuwayti.

“I think it’s a waste of a 2D barcode given what 2D barcodes are created for and what they are capable of in general,” said Tim Hickernell.

While interested viewers of the advertisement can still take the “old-fashioned” route of visiting the conference Web site on their PC, this approach is meant to cater to those mobile workers always on the go, said Kuwayti. “It’s another way of reaching out to our clients,” he said.

Kuwayti is not troubled by the mobile device’s small form factor as perhaps being an impediment to viewing things like Webcasts because professionals in the financial services sector are familiar with operating on smart phones like the BlackBerry.

The barcode concept is a familiar one, having got its start in one dimension about a decade ago in advertising, but the program was hindered by the fact that imaging devices were not so ubiquitous, said Tim Hickernell, lead analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

“Now, with everyone walking around with an imaging device, we are starting to see more and more opportunities to leverage that camera for various things,” said Hickernell.

But while BMO’s use of 2D barcode technology is great for providing immediate access to information, Hickernell said 2D barcode technology could be put to better use. “I think it’s a waste of a 2D barcode given what 2D barcodes are created for and what they are capable of in general,” he said.

The technology, he said, is frequently used for enterprise workflows where there is a lot of back and forth between paper and electronic formats, and where field and meta data can be encoded in a 2D barcode.

But as for marketing campaigns such as BMO’s, Hickernell said he’s seen other marketing applications just as successful that employed an SMS short code. “It wouldn’t be any different if they just listed a specific short code for the campaign and sent as part of a text message body their e-mail address,” he said.

In fact, he added, the SMS short code approach is cheaper and presents less of a hurdle to adoption. “That would be a far (lower) barrier to entry than forcing someone to download an application, which to me is a total barrier to entry to engage your customers or prospects into a marketing campaign,” said Hickernell.

However, if the software that users must download onto their mobile devices presented other opportunities for use, then that would ease adoption, said Hickernell. One good use, he said, is if users could capture crisp enough images of business cards and translate them into text.

BMO does not yet have statistics on usage since introducing the barcodes last week. If the initiative is deemed successful, moving forward, BMO will use the technology selectively, said Kuwayti.

There is a lot of potential for this type of technology, said Kuwayti, especially considering BMO’s clients encompass corporations, institutional investors and governments. “I think there is probably, for this technology in general, a much larger retail application,” he said.

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