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Augmented reality trumps QR codes for print-to-mobile engagement

With the number of print-to-mobile activations growing for marketers, advancements in scale and engagement with image recognition is catching the eye of both publishers and advertisers.

One of the publishers that has been most active in the print-to-mobile space is Meredith Corp., and the company has run more than 200 activations. The publisher has tested a number of different technologies for its brands, but augmented reality is likely to stick with the company based on some of the engagement that Meredith is seeing.

?We're pursuing augmented reality now,? said Doug Crichton, director of mobile engagement at Meredith, Des Moines, IA.

?Digital watermarks unduly complicated our editorial production processes, and QR codes/Microsoft Tags weren't moving the needle,? he said. ?So far, augmented reality is driving more reader engagement than QRs/Tags did.?

Augmented publishing
Earlier this year, Meredith rolled out a branded augmented reality application for its four parents network titles: Parents, American Baby, FamilyFun and Ser Padres (see story).

More recently, Meredith integrated the Blippar app into the September issue of More magazine to celebrate the magazine?s 15th anniversary. Readers that downloaded the Blippar app could access 55 pages of digital content, and 15 advertisers including Procter & Gamble?s Pantene and Fidelity leveraged the technology within static ads.

Blippar will also be used in the December issue of Better Homes and Gardens, and the company is looking at rolling out the technology to other titles quickly.

Augmented reality has been used for both editorial and advertising, per Mr. Crichton.

The key to getting readers to interact with augmented reality though is to use the technology frequently throughout the issue.

When it comes to areas of the magazine that consumers are using augmented reality with, contests, slide shows and quizzes are some of the biggest draws for readers because the sections offer an upfront value and live within the app so consumers can access content in the future.

Meredith is also in the process of launching a magazine for its site, and with more than 50 percent of traffic already coming to the site via mobile, the publisher is looking for ways to integrate print-to-mobile technology for the brand.

Watermarking pages
At the same time that publishers such as Meredith are going after augmented reality, other big publishers are trying different forms of mobile technology to spur engagement with readers.

For example, Time Inc.?s lifestyle group is using digital watermarks in several publications.

Most recently, Time Inc.?s MyRecipes loaded a new cook book with mobile calls-to-action as a way for consumers to save recipe information that can then be taken to grocery stores (see story).

Similar to augmented reality, the draw of digital watermarks is that they do not cover up the art and images on pages, which Time Inc. cited as important since the publisher?s content relies on big pictures of recipes.

As publishers increasingly step up their print-to-mobile efforts, it is becoming easier for publishers to promote mobile content to readers, according to Matthew Szerencse, market development manager at Digimarc, Beaverton, OR.

However, the biggest challenge for publishers is picking a type of print-to-mobile technology, particularly as image recognition becomes more scalable for publishers.

?With so many mobile activation companies, it's difficult for publishers to understand all of the different
players in the market,? Mr. Szerencse said. ?I know this is especially problematic with image recognition platforms.?

Therefore, publishers need to take a three-pronged approach when deciding which type of print-to-mobile activation to roll out, per Mr. Szerencse.

First, publishers need to define a goal with a budget. This means that publishers need to know exactly how many print-to-mobile activations will be included in an issue and how the mobile-enabled content will be split between editorial and advertising.

The next step is figuring out what kind of experience the publisher wants to give readers, and the final part is determining whether the content will live in a branded or universal app.

Driving traffic
Marketers have been debating about the effectiveness of QR codes for years.

Despite the comparisons that have made between mobile bar codes and image recognition, there is still a place for QR codes if a marketer?s goal is to drive traffic.

QR codes let consumers immediately know that there is a mobile component to a piece of print, and the technology can be used to quickly generate leads and information that marketers can use to build an ongoing relationship with readers.

Depending on the business objective, marketers should also consider using different forms of print-to-mobile technology at the same time.

For example, P&G?s CoverGirl recently used a combination of QR codes and augmented reality for similar initiatives on pages within Condé Nast?s September issues of Allure and Vogue (see story).

?The only new challenge is that there are more technology options to deliver compelling content from print to mobile,? said David Javitch, vice president of product at Scanbuy, New York.

?We advise our clients to focus on the objective and deliver really relevant content,? he said. ?Do that first, and then decide how it should be delivered to the consumer.?

Lack of standards
As more print-to-mobile activations become available, the need to have a standard type of technology is a growing concern for marketers.

Although less-commonly used by publishers nowadays, a SMS call-to-action can still be a quick and easy way for brands to connect with readers.

Near-field communications is still relatively new in the United States, but also holds the same kind of promise for marketers that want to make the scanning experience as simple as possible.

?By standardization I mean a set of technologies that are used commonly across all phones and are built into the phone itself and don't require downloading an app,? said Ritesh Bhavnani, chairman of Snipp Interactive, Washington.

?The best thing about NFC was the notion that you could just hold your phone next to the chip, and it would automatically trigger the activation,? he said. ?It would be great if we could do the same for QR codes or augmented reality instead of having to open the phone, locate and then launch an app.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York