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The Symbology of Mobile Marketing

Lucy Langdon
Monday, Nov 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM

The definition of a symbol is something that represents something else by “association, resemblance or convention.” In a traditional sense, symbols are often used to represent something invisible or abstract. For example, all religions use symbols to represent their deity—such as the Christian cross or the Jewish star.


In this digital age, symbols are similarly important as a means of communication; they work to represent information that wouldn’t otherwise fit within the limitations of our digital devices. This post will explore the use of symbols in the digital world, looking at how they have changed over the last decade and considering what might happen for symbology and mobile marketing in the future.


Symbols Today: Mobile Marketing


In the grand scheme of things, mobile marketing is an incredibly new avenue of this particular industry. You can see just how quickly it is still growing in this infographic on the growth of mobile marketing and Tagging—mobile internet use is predicted to overtake desktop internet use by 2014.


mobile internet chart image

With more and more of the world doing more and more of their socializing, shopping and surfing using the medium of mobile, marketers are finding new ways to engage via smartphones. One of the newest and fastest growing of these is 2D barcodes such as Microsoft Tags or QR Codes.

These scannable barcodes are the today’s version of the ultimate symbol. Instantly recognizable and replicable, while endlessly flexible, these small squares can be used to represent far more than their random black-and-white or colored shapes first appear.


2D barcodes like these also represent a change in the nature of marketing symbols. Gone are the days of soapbox marketing, where a brand’s symbol is statically displayed in an effort to “raise brand awareness.” Instead, Tags are all about giving their audience the agency and the opportunity to interact. As stated in a recent study from ScanLife, the top reasons to scan barcodes are: price comparisons (81%), product reviews (63%) and to receive special offers (63%)—all very interactive behaviors that place the consumer in the driving seat.


Symbols over the Last 10 Years


So where has this change in the nature of symbols in marketing come from?


Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the birth and development of web 2.0. Today, an interactive and participatory web is something we all take for granted. However, thinking back, there are countless behaviors (and associated symbols) that we, as an online generation, have learned to recognize and react to.


Symbols for newly created online behaviors have become commonplace: a magnifying glass to symbolize a search; a tiny envelope to symbolize email; a chain to symbolize a hyperlink.


mobile symbols image


However, more interesting is when brand and behavior merge. Just like with traditional marketing, the logos of top brands are deeply symbolic; however, online, this symbol represents more than the warm feeling of brand awareness. Take a certain small blue bird we all know and love; while a clear symbol for the mega-brand Twitter, this little creature is also a symbol for a certain type of behavior focused around sharing, collaboration and connectivity. The same is true of Facebook.


On our phones—portable devices that we literally take everywhere—the penetration of these kinds of symbols and their associated behaviors goes even deeper and becomes even more subconscious.


What’s in Store for Symbology and Mobile Marketing


The next 10 years of mobile marketing will see fully interactive symbols such as Tags become universally recognized and understood. To this end, smartphones will come with scanning software pre-installed and there will be a high level of “barcode-fluency” among the general population.


Just as the Twitter and Facebook logos have come to represent certain behaviors above and beyond their actual brand, so the presence of a Tag will prescribe how an audience views the associated product or service. In this way, the scannable barcode will come to represent more than the just the information it links to; it will also symbolize a product or service that is ready and open to interact as transparently as possible with its market audience.


How do you think mobile has affected symbology? Let us know with your comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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