There cannot be many places in the world that are not familiar with bar codes.
The ubiquitous bar code adorns everything from driving licences, tax returns and credit card statements to potato chips, auto spares and life-saving blood packs. Today the world turns on bar code technology. Without it the carefully choreographed dance of just-in-time manufacture, warehouse management, distribution, inventory control and stock replenishment would unravel.
Bar code Pedigree
Bar codes have been around since the 1950s. Datalogic Scanning made history with the first retail bar code scan in 1974. Since then bar code technology has played a central role in the growth of the large grocery retail chains that now dominate the sector, and influence so many of our shopping habits, behaviours and expectations.
Bar code Benefits
Beyond retail, bar code technology, or automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) operates in spheres as diverse as banking and finance to healthcare, entertainment and security. Bar code systems enable you to capture data much faster than humanly possible, and with almost zero risk of error. Immediate access to reliable real-time data means greater control, increased efficiency, lower costs and better informed decision making.
The Power of Branding
In a world of fast, furious, on-demand, multi-channel, media saturated mayhem, the humble, often overlooked, bar code can add genuine brand value.
A brand is far more than just a flashy label or clever slogan. Its the embodiment and projection of an organisations vision, values, core proposition, position in the marketplace and customer promise. Brands are now the landmarks that help us navigate and interpret an increasingly confusing world. From the TV shows we watch and charities we support to lifestyles we adopt or abandon, brands guide far more than just our purchase decisions.
Bar codes add brand value because they help organisations consistently deliver their brand promises, and often enable them to surpass customer expectations. Consistency plus the ability to surprise and delight customers are virtues shared by all the worlds truly great brands. Conversely nothing drives customers away faster than companies and institutions that frequently over promise and under deliver.
Bar code as Differentiator
Technology plays an ever-increasing role in how companies and brands indentify, segment, recruit, interact, serve, retain or lose customers. Its also technology that progressively drives up customer expectations, and invests them with greater power and control. Bar code technology can play a vital role in gaining customer preference. Bar codes can help differentiate a company from its competitors by dramatically improving customer service and satisfaction levels. Bar codes can eliminate slow, costly, error-prone manual processes, streamlining the way a company does business, making it more responsive and insightful.
Over the years the costs of adopting bar code solutions have also tumbled. Today most small and medium size enterprises (SME) can easily afford bar code solutions that allow them to better manage inventory levels, accurately capture and recall customer information, improve accountancy and invoicing, track valuable assets, monitor time and attendance.
For any brand, gaining customer preference is the Holy Grail. The cost of customer recruitment remains stubbornly high regardless of the explosion in media channels and marketing tools available. Whatever the size or nature of enterprise, bar code technology can help a brand attain a measure of loyalty from its customers. Brand loyalty can be critically important as existing customers tend to place more orders, and cost less to service. Existing, satisfied customers also buy more, and are often willing to pay a price premium. Of course, every customer a brand retains is also a customer denied to the competition. Highly satisfied customers will often generate referred business, becoming a brand advocate, which further reduces the costs of customer acquisition.
As well as being able to offer consistently high levels of customer service, bar code technologies can enable organizations to rapidly gain valuable customer insights. Data captured can be analyzed to identify trends, reveal customer behaviours, and measure the effectiveness of sales and marketing activities. Data analysis might also suggest opportunities for improvement, new product development and augmentation. The ability to surprise and delight customers; anticipating their needs rather than responding to them is a crucial element to building sustainable brand value.
The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC) quotes frightening figures for bogus automotive parts, aircraft parts and medicines. In fact, the IACC web site says that 10% of all drugs sold in the USA are counterfeit. Besides the obvious risks to public safety, counterfeit drugs and bogus parts pose a severe economic threat to legitimate brands. A single catastrophic accident caused by a fake spare part or drug could see consumer brand confidence collapse and share prices plummet.
Bar code technology is currently helping in the fight against counterfeit drugs and fake spare parts. Capable of retaining over a thousand alpha-numeric characters in a single bar code, 2D (two dimensional) codes offer a range of additional benefits to their 1D linear bar code cousins. In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, unique, securely encrypted serialized 2D codes can be applied directly to packaging by the manufacturer. These can be checked and verified at every point throughout the supply chain from warehouse to dispensing pharmacy.
Marketing and Advertising Innovation
As well as helping protect brands from piracy, bar codes are now being employed by marketers and advertisers to actively promote new products and services via mobile phones and the Internet. The UKs SHOP SCAN SAVE initiative allows anyone to join by simply sending a text message. The sender receives a membership bar code by return, which they store in their mobile phone. Members receive regular text messages promoting products and price promotions. To redeem an offer they simply present their membership bar code on their mobile phone at any checkout of a participating store.
The addition of 2D bar codes on traditional billboards, direct mail and print advertising allows consumers with the latest camera phone technology to instantly link to product specific landing pages, watch online video, and even make impulse purchases by simply taking a picture. Although still in its infancy this form of mobile marketing, advertising and sales promises to bring a whole new dimension to the way brands and consumers interact. As these technologies become more widespread consumers will be able to check the identity of branded products to ensure they are genuine.
Adding Brand Value Today, and Tomorrow
Today bar code technologies ensure greater accuracy, efficiency, and control of business processes, including asset tracking, inventory management, item picking, shipping, delivery and invoicing. The results are reduced costs, greater control, improved decision making, and increased customer satisfaction. Whatever the size and nature of an enterprise, bar code technologies can add genuine brand value.
Bar codes help differentiate brands, products and services in the marketplace; ensure consistent delivery of brand promises; and retain the loyalty and advocacy of hard won customers. As new mobile marketing techniques and technologies become more prevalent, bar codes look certain to play a critical role in delivering a more personalised, immediate, rewarding brand experience for us all.