Scanbuy's New CEO Talks Mobile Bar Codes
Mobile bar codes are piquing the interest of the wireless industry, including the mobile operators and former president of The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Mike Wehrs. He joined 2D mobile bar code vendor Scanbuy this week as interim CEO to push an idea as simple as the name -- scan it, buy it -- to mainstream mobile phone users.
Wehrs sees mobile phones as the perfect vehicle to execute bar-code-enabled purchases, marketing, and interactivity, and believes that, technologically, phones are there and, culturally, consumers are coming around as well.
"Codes are the easiest vehicle there is to get people to interact with the media out there," Wehrs says. "It's just as fast on a Website to click on the code and take it with you on your mobile device. Those things are fundamentally enabling."
Scanbuy has been providing big brands across the globe with mobile bar code campaigns for a while now, but the technology -- already big in Asia -- is just beginning to take off in the US. The company uses the mobile phone's camera to link the physical world to the digital world and connect users to more information, videos, promotions, coupons, or other ways to interact with brands.
The company -- funded by Motorola Ventures , among others -- requires a multi-bar-code reader application and interoperable Code Management Platform, but can work across smartphones through a downloadable app or on feature phones through partnerships to embed the technology. (See Sony Ericsson Adds Scanbuy Codes.)
Bar codes are not as advanced as short-range mobile payment tech, near-field communications, but there's an element of mCommerce here as well. With a 2D bar code, brands can register users, comparative shop, make purchases, or complete ticketing exchanges at places like airports or public transport.
Scanbuy was also one of the vendors behind Esquire magazine's bar-code issue, which let readers purchase retail items they saw in the magazine or find out more information on ads in the issue.
"We can take what is traditional media and make it interactive with something that doesn’t require someone to type in or remember a URL," Wehrs says. "You transition to a digital campaign. It bridges the world of digital and print very nicely."
The brands, in return, get a direct connection with individual consumers that can be tracked and monetized, the piece of the equation that Wehrs will be homing in on.
Wehrs replaces Jonathan Bulkeley, who has been CEO since 2006, but resigned to pursue other interests. Wehrs comes to Scanbuy after a long history in the telecom industry, including stints at Nuance Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NUAN), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE). Most recently he served as president and CEO of the MMA, where he helped establish best practices for the burgeoning mobile marketing industry.
It's not just the industry associations and vendors that see the potential though. Both mCommerce and mobile marketing are trends that have captured the attention of the traditionally slow-moving wireless operators. In the past month, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Wireless , and T-Mobile US Inc. have joined forces to evangelize mobile payments, and AT&T has introduced its own mobile bar code service on BlackBerry and Android devices. (See Mo'bile Money, Mo' Problems, AT&T Offers Mobile Barcode Apps, and Mobile Marketers: Just Do Something.)
Shop-specific apps like ShopSavvy, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Shopper, and dedicated vendors like NeoMedia Technologies, which inked a deal with media company Buongiorno this week, are also looking for a piece of the action.
For now, there's plenty to go around. Wehrs knows from his stint at the MMA that the rate of spending on mobile marketing has more than doubled in 2010 and continues to increase at 2.5 times the overall spend in the industry. It's still not a large number compared to other types of ad and marketing programs, he says, but its growth is starting to become significant.
"There's not a major brand out there that's not doing something in incorporating mobile ads and marketing," Wehr says. "It's past the inflection point."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile