SmartyTags making QR codes accessible, useable for wide new audience

Consumer businesses, nonprofit organizations, advertisers and startups of all types are integrating Quick Response, or QR codes into their marketing campaigns. The two-dimensional codes - the little mottled squares appearing on ads and signage throughout the Tristate - allow users to connect instantly with customized information by scanning the code with app-equipped smartphones. This new tool is flexible, and opens the door for a world of new marketing and information-sharing ideas. Now, tapping the full potential of these quirky graphic boxes is within reach of almost anyone, thanks to a Cincinnati-based startup.

SmartyTags allows users to generate original QR codes, track their use and manage how they fit into marketing and communication campaigns. Company co-founder J.B. Kropp said the four-month-old startup is basically a management system for the codes.

"No ones built a platform with the marketplace in mind," he said, explaining that, until now, QR code generators have been very tech-oriented. SmartyTags, he said, approaches code generation and management from a marketing standpoint: a user can generate a code and perform simple tracking functions without any technical background.

Kropp, who helped found The Brandery, a marketing venture accelerator, in 2010, said he's been increasingly interested in QR codes' potential, thanks to a background launching marketing-oriented startups.

"I thought to myself, 'wow, no one's built this tool,'" he said of his decision to pursue the concept that became SmartyTags with two partners in late 2010.

Apparently Kropp and his partners aren't the only ones interested in leveraging this technology. The Cincinnati Zoo provided a test case for the startup when it used QR codes in its displays, giving visitors a way to connect with special videos and information. From its first day, the project generated hundreds of user hits, giving the zoo a wealth of data on when, where and how users are exploring its exhibits.

Kropp said several hundred users - individuals, organizations and businesses - register to create and manage QR codes through SmartyTags each month, and that he's been enthusiastically approached by the US Postal Service, which is interested in leveraging the technology.

"It's the only way to connect digitally through the mail," he said. "It's a game-changer for them."

With less than a half-year under its belt, SmartyTags is still in its initial stages. But Kropp is optimistic about where the startup - and the technology - are going.

"I think we're in the early stages of QR code adoption," he said. "We're hoping our platform is the standard platform for creating codes and gathering data."

Writer: Matt Cunningham
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