InterTrend Communications directors John Lin and Ryan Ku have spent the last five years following marketing trends across Asia to support the U.S. Asian-American market. Now they want to influence research and development at high-tech companies.
The goal: Bringing QR code, also known as Quick Response code, to the United States for clients such as AT&T, Charles Schwab, Fox Cable Networks, JCPenney, Nestle, Toyota and Verizon, among others.
Asia has acted as an incubator for pop-culture consumer trends worldwide, which has fascinated the U.S. business community, according to Lin. "We are seeing a decline of desktop sales as mobile phones add services on advanced 3G networks," he says. "We're also seeing the dominance of mobile aggregator, and how that's become the lynchpin in Asia."
Lin and Ku are banking on success based on what they call "otaku," which means "someone who becomes fanatically obsessed with one thing, such as fashion"--similar to the way "Hello Kitty became the original importation of Japanese pop culture."
Similarly, the QR code could influence the way people access information from physical objects. For example, the camera on the phone snaps a picture or scans the UPC-like bar code on any real-world object, such as billboards and magazine ads, to pull in marketing information or advertisements. Hold a phone up to a movie poster and get a trailer, movie times or tickets. The software in the phone can automatically trigger a response that opens a link to a Web site or dials a phone number.
Continental Airlines kicked off a U.S. trial using paperless boarding passes with QR code in early December. The bar code, issued to air travelers at Houston's Intercontinental Airport, is being used to verify passengers at the gate.
There also have been reports that thousands of News Group Newspaper newsstands in England will begin scanning customers' discount vouchers by mobile phone using QR code as a payment system, following a trial at 160 retailers in Kent.
Lin says handset maker Nokia has done a good job of creating cell phones for the Japanese market that can read QR codes, but it could take years before the technology catches up in the United States.
"American marketers haven't quite cracked the code on how to best leverage mobile platforms," he says. "We're still seeing hesitation and resistance because they don't want the phone to become another avenue for spam."
Getting tech companies to buy into the technology and build services or convince consumers they won't wake up one morning with mobile mailboxes filled with spam aren't the biggest challenges. Lin says "marketing is built on the nuances of culture, and we're never entirely convinced that trends in Tokyo will work in the United States."