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Imagine printing an outdoor sign, P-O-P display, or product package that creates an interactive experience for those who view it and delivers additional content on demand—content that is portable and easy to share with friends. Mobile tagging is a technology platform that can give these and many other types of printed graphics a voice and facilitate meaningful dialog between information-hungry consumers and retailers, manufacturers, customer-service operations, and more.

Imagine printing an outdoor sign, P-O-P display, or product package that creates an interactive experience for those who view it and delivers additional content on demand—content that is portable and easy to share with friends. Mobile tagging is a technology platform that can give these and many other types of printed graphics a voice and facilitate meaningful dialog between information-hungry consumers and retailers, manufacturers, customer-service operations, and more.

Screen Printing recently discussed this technology with Stephen Shannon, chief marketing officer and president of enterprise media services for InnoMark Communications; and Dave Cottman, director of premedia and digital printing for InnoMark’s Concept Imaging Group Division.

What is a mobile tag, and why did you select the Microsoft Tag format instead of the many others in use?

Dave Cottman The Microsoft Tag is a type of two-dimensional bar code—a high-color-contrast bar code (HCCB), basically. The reason we selected this over the QR-Code and others is because you can take the size from 0.75 in. all the way up to 120 in., and because you can take a shot of it with your cell-phone camera and it can be out of focus and still actually work and activate the interactive part of the bar code. With the QR-Code, it’s all based on pixel data. If you have blurriness with a QR-Code, a lot of times the QR-Code will not read. There are many cell phones, smart phones, that use camera systems that aren’t up to spec.

For example, we prototyped on static cling. The static cling through glass would not read properly with the QR-Code. With the HCCB, it read every time. You can also be at a slight angle with the tag and it reads. Besides that, QR-Codes and others are black and white. You cannot colorize those. With the Microsoft Tag, you can colorize it and you can brand it to fit the brand’s needs, so you can have logos and create color schemes (Figure 1). It makes packaging materials and signage a lot more attractive to the consumer. Also, being able to take that up to 120 in., a passenger—not the driver in the car, mind you—can actually take a picture of that tag and interact electronically with a billboard.

The other reason is the back-end—the reporting—and what you can achieve from the Microsoft Tag vs. the QR-Code side. Microsoft has taken it a lot further to where you don’t have to build your own mechanisms to capture the data. They’ve built into the tag and their system the ability to capture data instantly. You can make a heat map—a diagram by ZIP code of how many locations were hit on a tag—and then from that point it gives you a lot more marketing data. Imagine sticking a tag inside a product and then finding out where that product is very visible and who is looking at being interactive in that area. It helps you learn which areas are tech savvy.

How do you integrate mobile tagging into the applications you produce as a print provider?

Steve Shannon We don’t pride ourselves on being a printer; we’re a retail-merchandise specialist. We like to add flair to everything we do, and we involve innovation to help the brands with which we work to evolve their merchandising concepts to the next level or take advantage of multidimensional marketing campaigns. We use an Inca Onset S20 to print onto materials up to 2 in. thick—small and large onto almost anything to which ink will adhere. We also use it to print truly variable information, where every other sheet comes off the press with different subject matter. We see a fantastic application for that with pinpointed marketing strategies for the retail environment, and they can be more specific, more targeted with their messages.

We have hundreds of campaigns in development, and you have to remember with mobile tagging being a relatively new product being integrated into retail, it is an evolving technology. What it really does is this: It marries print to the interactive world. It’s the bridge, and understanding what to do once you’ve got that bridge—where to go with that new message you can deliver—that’s the challenge because it opens up a whole new paradigm. You have to prepare for that evolution and have the right infrastructure to link to and get the message across. Mobile tags add value to everything in print.

Dave Cottman We did a piece for IAMS for their PreBiotics dog and cat food that went to veterinarians and breeders (Figure 2). It was printed directly onto a top sheet that was then laminated to a corrugated one. It folds into a display. The mobile tag is on there, and it directs you to a YouTube video that talks about the pet food, how it works for pets, and so on. We also put a tag on it about how the application works, which they loved. That run involved the production of 3500 pieces.

Right now, mobile tags represent a small percentage of what we put on our Inca Onset S20—probably less than 10%. But mobile tagging is just now starting to take off. We see this type of application consuming more press time as it catches on.

What promise does mobile tagging hold for signage, displays, and retail-oriented applications?

Steve Shannon According to Forrester’s Interactive Advertising Models, expenditures on interactive marketing will reach $55 billion by 2014. You think about how you can engage interactive models with mobile and retail to enhance a real-time customer shopping experience on the go. The best way to do that is visually. When you do that visually, you integrate that into signage, into displays, and other categories.

When I think about integration and what is the retail-store vision of the future, I think that first of all retailers are moving to a self-service format. That’s a cultural change for consumers, but you think about the number of consumers who have, or are getting, smart phones—and the evolution of smart phones. People want information in real time, on the go, and want self-service. What the change means is convenience and value. If they get what they want when they want it, then they’ll be much more in tune to make a purchase on demand. The tech infrastructure of major retailers in the U.S., Canada, and South America has changed as well. Most are integrating wireless Internet into their stores. They have free WiFi. People are demanding the mobile-tech integration because global social activity is rapidly on the rise.

How can we leverage what we do in merchandising solutions to this growing market and grow our business? What kind of marriage needs to take place? Look at display advertising. In 2009 the market was worth more than $7 billion. According to Forrester’s, it will be more than $16 billion in 2014. Mobile Internet connects people to the social world, real time. They are heavily engaged with these devices, so why don’t you take those devices to another dimension to connect retailers to the social world while offering shoppers convenience on the fly? That’s where we’re taking it to help our customers become more successful with the brands they represent.

When I first look at it, I see outside of the store. You park the car. There might be a tag there that takes you to a store map instantly. You can download it to your phone before you go in the store. I see inside the store at the aisle or the shelf. I look at signage—aisle signage, products in the store, the shelves, the checkout for more information on other products.

I see usage at home as well. Think of the applications for retail. If you want to know what’s on sale today at the grocery store, you just hit the tag on a refrigerator magnet and all of the sales items come up from that link. All the grocery store does is change that link. It enhances the retail shopping experience, gives people what they want on the fly with information, and they can run with it. These are the types of things that have huge value for retail.

We’re all living in a mobile world, so how do you leverage that, take advantage of it, and then build a business model around it that uses print as the origination point? We draw on it to protect and evolve our own business. We like it because it’s good for consumers. It makes life easier and more meaningful with tools that are easily engaged. For retailers, it’s good for business. It helps them create sales because their customers get what they want when they need it in their shopping experiences. Mobile tagging increases customer satisfaction and loyalty to brands, and it adds value to the physical product. If you can get detailed information about a specific product very quickly, it adds value. That’s where you leverage tags into mobile-retail applications.

Q&A with Microsoft

Answers provided by Anna Kim-Williams, public relations manager, Microsoft Startup Business Group.

What are some up-and-coming end-use applications for the technology?
Microsoft Tag sparks the imagination of the marketer. You can enjoy a movie trailer or mobile TV and video clips, exhibit details, or exclusive discounts—or get a map with directions automatically downloaded to your cell phone. You can even put a tag on your business card and someone can automatically get your details into their contacts on their phone just by scanning your tag. You won’t have to type out long URLs or send short codes any more. Check out for different ways you can use Microsoft Tag.

What are some other benefits?
Microsoft Tag allows you to create all kinds of content and easily change the content dynamically. Content is delivered through the browser automatically when the user reads the Tag. The Tag Reader is available on most smart phones. A detailed list is available on We are only starting to scratch the surface of what Microsoft Tag can do. There are numerous creative ways and scenarios where Tag can be used.

How flexible is the Microsoft Tag?
Tags can be created in color, black and white, or even personalized and can transform offline marketing media—print advertising, billboards, packaging, and merchandising in stores or on LCD displays, for example—into live links for accessing information and entertainment online. Tags can be included on all kinds of material: paper handouts, vCards, T-shirts, magnets, online, and even dog tags.

At what stage is Microsoft Tag’s development?
Microsoft Tag entered its beta phase on January 7, 2009. It’s still in beta and will be updated based on usage data, customer feedback, and other insights as necessary.

Tagging in Three Steps

1) Download the free Tag Reader application at and install the app on your mobile device.
2) Launch the app and aim your mobile device’s built-in camera at the high-color-contrast bar code (the mobile tag).
3) Capture an image of the mobile tag, then allow a moment for tag decoding. The resource associated with the tag, such as a Website URL, will then load on your mobile device.

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