QR Codes: Are Manufacturers Missing an Opportunity? Part 2

Yesterday, Aylie Fifer from Sonnhalter gave us an overview of what QR codes were and how they can be used. Today she’ll talk about the differences between Microsoft tags and Traditional QR codes.

If you want to see how it works, print out this page, download the app and scan the tag with your phone to see where it takes you. Or, if you already are familiar with this, scan the tag off the computer screen.

In our last post, we explained what QR codes are. Today, we want to tell you about the proprietary Microsoft Tags and what advantages they have over the traditional QR codes.

Microsoft Tags: 

A Microsoft Tag IS a QR code – QR code means “Quick response code” and is a 2-dimensional, scan-able code. By definition, a Tag is a QR code.

The MT is a “High Capacity Color Barcode.” What this really means is more information can be packed into the code and can be used in color or black and white. This is what allows users to create an image over the code if wanted.

QR Codes vs. Microsoft Tags:

QR Readers:
You need to download a QR Code reader app to your phone in order to enable this to work and not a lot of people know about it, know how to do it, or want to spend the money on the app. Here are some recommended ones. Please note that not all QR readers will read all QR codes. For instance, Microsoft Tags have a special reader called “Tag Reader” that does not work on generic QR codes or vice-versa.

A lot of the phones that are currently being manufactured are being built with a reader built in. We are going to see this surge over the next 6 months – 1 year, I would guess, but it really is quite simple to download an app. We also will see the acceptable platforms expand. As I mentioned, this is already a huge phenomenon in Japan and is a more developed market for use of QR codes meaning people are more accustomed to seeing and using QR codes over there versus the U.S which is a less mature market at this point in comparison.


The other major difference with most QR codes and Microsoft Tags is the metrics. With most QR codes, you can track traffic by using Google Analytics to track the codes with unique URLs for each Tag. However, Microsoft Tag Manager actually will track the scans of each code. This way, we have one more level of information. With just Google Analytics, we only see how many people went through to the URL. With the added layer of information, we can see if someone scanned and stopped mid-process or had another issue.

Microsoft Tags actually have a lot of reporting available in the free version too. Here is a list of the reports available with the MS Tag Manager:

  • Heat Map
    • Represents where Tags were scanned on an interactive map
    • Daily Scans
      • Charts the number of scans per day for a single Tag
      • Scan Totals
        • Charts the total number of scans for each Tag in a category (over the lifetime of a tag)
        • Scan Totals by Category
          • Charts the total number of scans for each of your categories
          • Daily Scans (Multiple Tags)
            • Charts the number of scans per day for multiple selected tags in a category
            • Daily Scans (Category Totals)
              • Charts the total scans per day for all tags in a category
              • Daily Scans (Compare Categories)
                • Compares the total number of daily scans for different categories

In addition to all the reporting, it also provides the option to set a date limit for the Tags. And, of course, you can change the URL on the fly, an attribute which we find especially helpful.

Even though the Microsoft Tag has only been out for a year, I think it is going to rise to the top not only because of its innate high-capacity to hold information (it was developed to be more robust), but also the added tracking and reporting features and the fact that you can also brand each Tag by overlaying a picture or a logo over the Tag and it will still be readable. I think that once the market gets used to using QR codes in general, this feature will become more appealing to users and publishers/marketers, so I think it is a better long-term option. And because it can hold more information, the Microsoft Tags can be printed much smaller than most QR codes. There are micro QR codes, but a micro QR code only lets you hold 35 characters of data – which really doesn’t allow you to do a whole lot.

The other nice thing is that it has a high tolerance for reading damaged tags. For a lot of the QR codes, if the code is damaged in any way, the phone camera cannot translate the code. When developing the Tags, Microsoft took into consideration the low-quality of most cell phone cameras (blurred shot, lack of autofocus) and adjusted the tolerance for a bad photo or camera so you don’t need an exact scan or a perfect picture like most QR Code scans require.

As far as the readers go – that is my other concern. Not all QR readers work on all QR codes. Most QR generation sites provide you with a listing of acceptable phone platforms. Some of the major ones, in defense of the QR readers, do support the more popular phones like iPhone and Android, and Blackberry. Microsoft Tag Reader supports all the major phone platforms and is rapidly adding new platforms. It is a free download for the Tag Reader versus some of the better QR code readers you have to pay for (usually $1.99 or less, but still…).

While there have been a lot of companies using QR codes, I would argue that there are the same amount using Microsoft Tags. Fox for instance, used them to promote Avatar. Publications like Food & Wine, Details, Conde Nast Traveler, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, Golf Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Lucky Magazine, Self, Seventeen, Traditional Home, and TV Guide have used tags. As well as some big companies and brands such as Campbell’s, Dominos, Dr Pepper, Ford, General Mills, Goodyear, Kraft, Mazda, Mountain Dew, Procter & Gamble, Porsche, Sprint, Toyota and Whole Foods.

At the end of the day, each have their own merits, but at this point in time, to me the better long-term choice seems to be Microsoft Tag because of its innate capabilities. No QR code (as of this moment, I know there are some sites in the works) can offer as much as the Tag can.

If you missed Part 1, click here to view.


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  1. Erik Goldhar

    Hi John,

    Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for the post.

    I would like to comment on the points about MS TAGs being able to be branded and that the MS Tag has more detailed tracking ability.

    This is not the case. Our company http://clikbrix.com (QR Code and Mobile Web Solution for Realtors and Brokerages) offers the exact same tracking via our QR Code platform that is available with MS Tags. The lack in detailed reporting is a function of the Google QR Code tracking platform and not of QR Code tracking in general. Here is a link to the elements of our tracking platform – http://www.clikbrix.com/track-react-reporting-realtime

    QR Codes can also be branded. We brand 90% of the QR Codes generated from our system. Here is a link – http://www.clikbrix.com/customize-your-qr-code

    To see even more amazing branded QR Codes I would recommend you take a look at a creative agency out of Japan called SET Japan. They are actually the grandfather of branded QR Codes and just completed the Time Magazine series of branded codes. Here is a link to their fantastic work – http://www.setjapan.com/category/qrcode/?lang=en

    Thanks again John!



    • tradesmeninsights

      thanks for your feedback. In terms of branding, some clarification on the article. With the MS Tag, you can overlay a photo for branding purposes that essentially the code is read through. While we know that some QR codes are “brandable”, in our opinion it is not to the extent that the MS Tags are.

      In terms of tracking, we did mention in the article that there are several sites that were under construction at the time of the writing of the article that will offer reporting for QR codes but, at the time of the article, none that were comparable to the MS Tag. And by that we mean that the Microsoft Tag offers a robust menu of FREE tracking – and nothing at this time is comparable to that offering.

      We appreciate your feedback and your insight.

  2. Roger


    In your recent post about Microsoft Tags, there are a few items that were incorrectly stated and are questionable:

    >>There is no such thing as a “traditional” QR Code. A QR (Quick Response) Code, as developed by Denso-Wave, is a QR Code. A Microsoft Tag is a Microsoft Tag, not a QR Code. Both QR Codes and Microsoft Tags, however, are known as matrix codes or two dimensional (2D) codes in that data is encapsulated and read/scanned in the horizontal and vertical planes.
    >>A QR Code reader can only read QR Codes and some readers scan better than others. Many QR Code reader apps are free and two of the better ones are i-nigma and Neo-Reader. A Microsoft Tag reader can only read Microsoft Tags and the Microsoft Tag reader app is free. Not all reader apps can be downloaded to any mobile phone. Typically, upon download, the reader app will auto discover the mobile phone and if it is a compatible phone the app will download, if not then a message is sent saying that the phone is incompatible.
    >>Not sure what is meant by, “…acceptable platforms will expand.” What platforms are being referred to?
    >>In regard to metrics, yes, through Microsoft’s Tag platform, a company is able to access a variety of scan metrics on the Tags that are used. This service is currently free. QR Codes that are generated using a free code generator typically do not offer any kind of scan metrics. To access scan metrics for QR Codes similar to what Microsoft offers, a company has to purchase the code, and metrics, from a third party provider (e.g., ScanLife, JAGTAG, SPARQCode, etc.). Metrics is where the money is to be made in the 2D industry, among other services, not code generation.
    >>QR Codes, like Tags, can be coded in such a way that the scan resolve changes at a point in time. For example, on Monday the code resolves to website page A, on Tuesday the code resolves to website page B, etc.
    >>Both QR Codes and Tags can be branded and customized with an image, logo, lettering, colors. Each code has certain branding limitations.
    >>QR Codes have the ability to still be read/scanned if part of the code symbol is damaged or missing. I am not certain if Tags are designed this way too.
    >>When generating a QR Code you have the ability to set the level of error correction. Setting the level of error correction high or low will help in the reading of the code and scan success rates. There are also some other techniques that can be used to ensure a higher rate of scan success.
    >>With respect to which 2D barcode platform is best, this all depends on the use and application that a company may have in mind for the code. It also depends on whether or not companies want to pay for certain services, as well as feel comfortable in having certain amounts of data known to a third party source like Microsoft.

    Should you or your readers have any questions please contact me.

    Roger Marquis
    2D Barcode Strategy

    • tradesmeninsights

      Thank you for your feedback.
      Yes, QR codes are 2-D Matrix Codes, as are Microsoft Tags. For the sake of less confusion, we identified them as the same principle. We do explain the vertical/horizontal read in the article, which as you know is what drives each. We appreciate your clarification.

      In terms of metrics, at the time of the writing of this article, there were no FREE metric sites to track QR codes. While we understand that this is where the money is to be made, from a marketing standpoint and what we would recommend to customers would be to use a system that offers a robust menu of tracking options for FREE and that is the Microsoft Tag right now. This blog is intended for people that are our clients or are potential clients – Manufacturers from the Construction, Industrial and MRO markets – and it is our opinion that the best option for a client right now is Microsoft Tag.

      In terms of branding, we should probably point out some clarification. Yes, QR codes are brandable but not to the extent that Microsoft Tags are. With the MSTag, you can overlay a photo or logo over the code itself and still have it be readable. With the QR code, the branding is much more limited. But you are correct in that each are “brandable”. Again, it is our opinion that the Microsoft Tag offers more in this area.

      In terms of the scan correction, the MSTag is inherently designed to be read with less error. Even if the code is damaged, it can be read and the Reader also was developed to take into account the low resolution and lower standards of cameras on smartphones. By this we mean that they designed the reader to adjust to the tolerance for a bad photo or scan so an exact photo or scan is not needed to interpret the code. In our experience, with the variety of QR readers out there, and the fact that not all readers read all QR codes, and the tolerance of the readers versus the Tag Reader, is why we have come to the opinion that the Tag is a better experience for the user, and a better overall value for the marketer.

      We appreciate your feedback.

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