The Future of Mobile Smartphones in Marketing

Smartphone sales are rising exponentially. Recent research by Morgan Stanley indicates that mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop Internet usage by 2014 in the UK. As this usage grows, marketing strategies are increasingly targeting the mobile user. Juniper Research forecasts that retailers worldwide will spend $15 billion on mobile marketing in 2012, an increase of 50% on 2011 which was itself over 50% higher than 2010.

In this context we examine the technologies driving this increase and ask how they can be utilised in our industry.

QR Codes

QR is short for “Quick Response”. Originally developed in the motor industry as a means of tracking products in factories, the two-dimensional bar code now has near limitless potential applications and is used widely in many industries, particularly the UK and USA.


QR code generators are widely available online and are often free (  is one of the most popular sites and shows clearly the kind of information which can be linked to a code). The smartphone user simply obtains a QR code reader (these are also widely available and generally free) and can then scan codes and access the linked content.


Basic applications we have seen used with success on the high street include codes posted outside a retailer which link to the retailer’s website, codes on sandwich and salad packaging which link to information on the provenance of the ingredients used and the philosophy of the producer and codes on menus and bills which link to online feedback forms allowing the customer to feedback on the restaurant in question while still sat at their table.

Some savvy museums and art galleries have been quick to realize the potential in QR codes for enhancing user experiences. Galleries such as The Cleveland Museum of Art and museums such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney have placed QR codes next to exhibits to direct visitors to online or audio tours, or to provide more in-depth information about particular pieces.

We have also been impressed with the way some pubs and bars have used this technology to engage their customers. As well as using these codes to direct their customers to their websites and to feedback sites, we have seen them used to send customers to applications such as ‘Secret DJ’ where customers can choose the music to be played in the venue and thus control their environment in a direct way.

The fact that QR codes can be linked to Google map locations should also have applications for our industry. If customers scanned a code on entering a park, for example, which took them to a Google map location of a particular catering outlet in the park they could plan their route through the park around that information, or simply be directed straight to the outlet if required.

A particularly innovative use of QR codes shows one way in which their use could develop. Tesco was faced with a problem in Korea: they wanted to grow but did not have enough stores to compete with their main competitors and were struggling to entice Koreans into their stores. Their innovative solution was to ‘take the store to the customer’. By pasting virtual shops onto the walls of the subway busy commuters were able to shop online by scanning QR codes whilst waiting for trains. The video link here shows how this worked in practice: Tesco Korean Shopping Experience

We wonder if this approach could be used in our industry? Perhaps to pre-order food in a visitor attraction for a specific time later in the day, thus reducing wait times at the counter? Or to pre-order lunch from a photo catalogue in a company’s office?.............. Over to you!

Location-Based Marketing

Location-based marketing is delivering content based on the precise location of the recipient. Imagine entering a park and then receiving a message offering you a meal deal at a restaurant in the park, or coming out of a tube station and receiving an offer to be used at a local café. The technology is available and already in use for this purpose.

Tracking smartphones using their GPS capabilities has been possible for some time and is used in a number of ways from navigating using Google maps to locating lost handsets or sending reminders to a smartphone user when they arrive at or leave a location. Coupled with Wi-Fi this can be used to deliver anything from a voucher to an information video on the place the user has just arrived at.

Smartphone users have to allow this kind of information to be delivered to them, and as such there are issues around privacy as some people feel that use of this kind of information is invasive. There are also more significant costs involved with setting up and using this technology so there are potential pitfalls to its development as a marketing tool.  Carefully used though this could be used to engage with visitors and enhance the customer experience. We are watching for any developments in our industry with interest.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality or AR is the process of taking virtual objects and overlaying them on live camera images. This technology has also been around for some time, although it is only just starting to be applied successfully to mobile devices.

There is currently no dominant mobile App in this area and there is a danger that the proliferation of competing platforms fighting to retain consumer interest past the point of mere novelty may in fact have the opposite effect and cause the technology to flop. Regardless, this is an extremely exciting area of development and one we believe has enormous potential for marketing in our industry.

As AR is a visual technology it is best explained visually. Below we have attached a few videos to show what can be achieved with this technology and what the future potential may be. Mobile Retail AR Technology

Companies can give information about their products to the producers of an AR application so the application is able to recognise them. Customers can then be encouraged to download the AR application to their mobile device (from iTunes for example). The company can then overlay whatever content they wish onto a particular product.

In our industry we could engage customers and visitors in any number of ways, from giving pricing information to showing how a product was made to giving further detail on exhibition pieces.

A lot of the uses of QR codes described earlier could be applied here too, though in a more direct way. Rather than scanning a code to link you to a website which holds the relevant information separately from the object, the programme would recognise the object directly and overlay the required information in a single step.

The London cycle hire scheme was an early adopter of this technology and their ‘bike finder’ application highlights another way in which it can be used. Their App utilises the in-built GPS capability of each smartphone to overlay the locations of cycle docking stations and directions to them on the camera display of the phone.
London Cycle Hire Augmented Reality in London - app for iPhone

This could be applied to a visitor attraction to direct visitors around the site, or used by a multi-site public caterer to help customers find their outlets in an unfamiliar city.

The Future of Augmented Reality

As stated previously, the greatest barrier to this technology taking hold is the fact that there is currently no dominant AR application for smartphones. This makes the cost of developing an App very high. If in future a standard App emerges which companies can simply add their information to, the cost will undoubtedly drop and we would then expect it to become more widely used.

In order to access content, users currently have to download a new AR App in each shop, restaurant or museum they enter into which can be tedious and users could soon tire of the technology if this continues. Again, if a dominant platform emerges, that all companies can develop content for, this will enable better user access too.

The future of AR technology will depend on whether the business case for the technology is established in the early stages through driving additional revenue or significantly enhancing the customer experience. More critically though it will depend on how imaginatively the technology is used; the technology alone is not enough, the content delivered via it must be good enough to keep users engaged.

It may appear that the uses highlighted above are somewhat limited and disjointed. The following video is slightly longer but shows how these various strands may be drawn together and expanded upon in future versions of the technology. If this level of integration can be achieved and a wide enough market developed for the technology we believe that the possibilities really are huge both in our industry and beyond. Imagine being able to design your kitchen whilst standing in the space like the office shown in this video. The Next Stage of Augmented Reality - Articulated Naturality Web.

We are genuinely excited to see how AR will develop in our industry and would love to hear where you have seen the innovative use of these technologies or any ideas you have.


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