Podcast Audio | Posted by Phil Leigh on April 21, 2011
Collecting contact information has always been a necessary, but laborious, activity. It’s necessary because businesses need customers and customers are normally obtained from prospects. Although smartphone applications like Bump attempt to automate the process, they require both parties exchanging information to use the same app. Even then the apps don’t always work reliably, or fit a user’s preferred contacts software program.
Thus, gathering business cards is likely to remain a popular custom. Smartphone apps like Business Card Reader can automate data entry, but are only truly useful when the contacts programs in portable devices coincide with those in a business’s central computers. Moreover, once card information is entered, recipients have little incentive to keep the card.
Another way to automate the procedure and motivate business card recipients to save them is to empower cards to impart information payloads to devices with “silicon eyes” such as smartphones and tablet computers. One approach is to include a QR code – like the one illustrated — on the face of the card. Our example can be read by using a free iPhone app named QRReader. Instead of providing contact information per se, such codes might load a specific url into the portable device display screen.
The destination webpage might thereby offer a number of “push buttons”. For example, one button might load a familiar v-card for Microsoft Outlook. Another might prompt a promotional or instructional YouTube video. Readers desiring to experiment with QR codes of their own can use this code generator.
Yet unsightliness is an obvious QR code problem. Many professionals like lawyers, accountants, and bankers, are unlikely to use them on business cards. Furthermore, the codes have limited flexibility because they communicate a unique information payload. For example, a QR symbol that displays a fixed url, is forever bound to the same url.
Digital watermarks provide a more graceful and flexible approach. Such marks may be added to a digital file to convey additional information or features. Sometimes marks are obvious and sometimes imperceptible. An imperceptible watermark is un-noticeable to human eyes. Presently they are most commonly used in forensic or tracking applications. For example, virtually all television audio in the United States contains watermarks for use by Nielsen in audience measurement. However, watermarks can just as easily be added to pictographic files, as to audio or video ones. In this manner they can be useful on business cards.
Just as devices with “silicon eyes” like smartphones and tablet computers can read QR codes with the aid of an app, they can also use an app to read digital watermarks. For example, illustrated below is an enlarged photograph pictured on the reverse side of business cards used by a company named Digimarc. Not surprisingly, Digimarc is a digital watermarking specialist. Those desiring to read the watermark can download the Digimarc Discover App for either the iPhone or Android smartphone.
Reverse Side of Digmarc Business Card
Digital watermarking provides interactivity to Digimarc business cards along with two advantages over QR codes. First, and most obviously, it eliminates the unattractive “ink-blot” code. Second, the watermark provides a unique identity that can be “pointed to” different url’s whenever desired. Consider the following example.
Inside Digital Media business cards could be embedded with an imperceptible, but unique, watermark. Upon giving the cards to new prospects I could tell the recipients that keeping the cards will grant holders access to discounts on our future market research reports. The holder need merely scan the watermark sporadically in the future to learn which discounts apply at the time. “Payoffs” applicable to the watermarks change as new url’s – corresponding to new research report releases — are substituted for previous ones.
Just as the QR generator noted earlier enables readers to experiment with their own QR codes, Digimarc built an Online Services Portal website where readers can practice embedding watermarks into their own photographs. Although the process is more involved than creating QR codes, Digimarc provides a nine-minute instructional video for beginners. Given a little time on the learning curve, readers will soon be constructing their own digitally watermarked photographs. By printing such images onto their business cards the cards will transform from inert paper-and-ink into electronic keys granting privileged website access that can be changed whenever advantageous.