Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget.

Thinking of all those who have served or are currently serving around the world, your efforts and your sacrifices have granted us the freedom and security we have today. 

Let us never take our freedom for granted. 

Let us never stop appreciating all they have given for us. 

Let us never forget.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Disappointment stems from expectations

Fairly, or unfairly, people will create expectations based on the information they gather and process.  These brand expectations can be built from a number of difference sources:  consumer research, advertising, brand communication, first impressions and brand interaction to name  a few.  Expectations build the foundation of consumer impressions and ultimately determine whether the experience the consumer has with your brand is  positive or negative.

Is it possible to eliminate disappointment?  No, I don’t think so: it is unrealistic to try and please everyone all of the time and it’s strategically enviable: strategy is just as much about what you choose to do as what you choose not to do.  However, as a brand manager, you want to try and minimize the amount of disappointment consumers could face and promote positive brand experiences.  With expectations being built throughout the buying and consuming process (including awareness, shopping and post-purchase experiences), you need to control what is being communicated about your brand in a number of key areas.  These key areas include what your brand communicates, how it is advertised and what claims are made, how your product ‘works’ and how well you are able to support your customers and your product post-purchase.

And that’s the key: communication.  Misleading advertising, dishonest brand imaging and poor customer support can all lead to expectations not being met.  And missed expectations will lead to disappointment. 

There are many different industries and situations where this can be applied and it is almost certain you have had an experience with at least one of them: buying and servicing a vehicle, dealing with your Phone Company or ISP or dealing with your bank for your accounts or a loan.  One of the most difficult industries (and one that I’ve had a lot of experience with over the last 5 months in particular) is the airline business.  Largely regarded as one of the most difficult industries for creating and managing customer loyalty and retention, it is also one where controlling communication and managing brand experiences is especially critical.

For the past 5 months, I have been flying back and forth between Toronto and Washington DC regularly.  I’ve been flying with the same airline each time with few exceptions, and even at approximately the same time each flight.  Airlines have limited control over their service: you can maintain a safe aircraft, use state-of-the-art equipment with comfortable cabins and employ courteous and friendly flight directors to serve your passengers, but you have no control over the airport operations, the passengers on the plane and outside factors including airport delays or weather issues.  Flights have a scheduled time of departure, but there are so many outside forces influencing the aircraft’s actual departure that it is difficult to know if your flight will depart on time or not.   The difference between an airline that manages its brand well and one that doesn’t?  How  you communicate with your customer and how  you try to manage and meet their expectations.

It is understood that negative experiences are as much as 10 times more likely to be shared with friends and family than positives ones.  For example, when was the last time someone said to you “so I was flying this one time and my flight was on time…”  Thought so.

What does this mean for an airline?  This reinforces the need to communicate with passengers: are you able to warn your passengers about a delay ahead of time (a smart phone application?  An automated e-mail?).  Is there something you can communicate to your passengers to help them manage their expectations? (Can you keep them informed about recent developments?  Explain why they might be delayed? Not knowing something can be the most stressful part of the experience for a passenger when there is some kind of delay in their travels.)  Is there something you can do to make the situation better for your customers? (A snack or beverage allowance for flight delays? Something complimentary that would be outside of normal expectations?).  Airlines have one of the most volatile and uncontrollable market conditions possible, so a marketer has to determine if there is anything the brand can do to help manage expectations and disappointment.

But this is the nature of the beast.  What it comes down to is communicating.  Meeting expectations is a good starting point, but exceeding them is what you want to achieve.  This does not mean you need to set the bar low, it means you need to consistently strive to find a better way meeting your objectives and exceeding expectations.  

Author's Note: A big thank you to Kayla Kneisel for her extra set of eyes and thoughts!  Kayla may be starting her own blog soon so keep an eye out!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't be the 'dead fish'

The handshake can make or break your first impression.

When meeting someone for the first time, more often than not your first interaction with them is a handshake.  It may seem like a small, perhaps insignificant, detail but your handshake can be the difference between a positive first impression and a negative one.  We’ve all had good and bad handshakes: the firm handshake with eye contact versus the ‘dead-fish’.  The cliché isn’t wrong: first impressions cast a mold that once set, is difficult to change.

In marketing, there are few exceptions to this rule.

Let’s look at one of the most basic and simple marketing models we’ve all learned: AIDA.  Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.  On the face of it, it’s a simple model that helps to guide marketers through the stages of consumer interest.  Traditionally, and correctly I might add, marketers have spent the 50 years trying to carve out their 4-P’s in order to grab attention, drive interest, create desire and encourage action.  It’s part of the way marketers do their job, but I feel that things are starting to change.  The change isn’t a revolution, but rather a small modification to the existing model. 

In today’s marketing world, you need to control more than your 4-P’s, you need to control your C’s.
-          It’s not about Place, it’s about Convenience.
-          It’s not about your Price, it’s about the Cost.
-          It’s not about designing your Product, it’s about meeting Customer Needs
-          It’s not about Promotion, it’s about Communication
-          And finally, you need to have all these things and then create a Connection.

Creating and controlling a brand hinges on being able to control your consumer’s brand experience.  This involves all of these C’s: how is the product designed to meet customer needs?  How is it more conveniently designed or available?  Where is it found?  But increasingly, brand experiences are being built in the consumer’s mind even before they have ever touched or tangibly interacted with your product or service.  Consumers are having their first impressions of your brand even before they cross the threshold of your store, and this is why two elements, communication and connection, are fast becoming the most important tools for branding in particular.  With technology becoming faster, more available and its use more prevalent, consumers are looking to the internet and the social networks for their information.  This means that the seed of experience is being sown without it coming from the marketer directly.

I want to expand the AIDA model, more specifically the Attention/Awareness part.  Within Attention, I feel we can create a flow of stages: Awareness -> Experience -> Response.  Based on this first impression with the brand, the consumer will become aware of the brand’s existence, experience and soak in brand information and perceptions and then have a response to those stimuli.  These stages happen almost simultaneously, as these initial perceptions are quickly processed and rebuilt into emotional and rational responses, all before the consumer ever enters the Interest stage of the AIDA model.  A positive response will result from a positive first impression: a relationship is created with the consumer and it is more likely to initiate the movement towards interest.  A negative response will result from a negative first impression: no relationship is created, your brand and your communications will be seen as noise, tuned out and the consumer is more likely to move on.

Once the seeds have been sown, the interest a consumer has in your brand (a product of the relationship created by the brand’s first impression) can be influenced.  However, if there was no relationship created by that impression, you’re going to have to work ten times as hard for any given shift and turn your branding into buying.

Does this mean that marketers are losing control of their brand’s first experience in the mind of the consumer?  Absolutely not, controlling your brand experience is still possible and even more important than ever before.  There are two pieces to the puzzle: 1) you need to ensure your first brand experience is available to the consumer by putting your brand where the consumers are and 2) you need to nurture those relationships.   Forums, consumer reviews, corporate websites and social media have become among the most important tools for creating and enriching brand experiences and as marketers, we need to focus on controlling and monitoring these sources.   Having a presence on the internet is crucial, but being on the internet and having social media doesn’t mean having a mouthpiece for spewing information.  It’s about putting yourself out there, but just as importantly seeing what others are saying about you and responding to consumer questions and concerns.  The beauty of social media is that it encourages two-way communication and allows marketers to speak directly with consumers and engage  them in a conversation.  It’s no longer ‘word of mouth’, it’s ‘word of click’.  You need to monitor the internet for how consumers feel about your product and what kind of experiences they’re having to better craft your brand messaging and respond to any negative impressions.  Respond to the negative just as much (if not more!) than the positive: make sure your best foot is forward and that you’re communicating the information you want to put out there and if you’re not, keep your ear to the ground, listen and respond.

There is a caveat to all of this, but it is a caveat that applies to any decision making process a marketer needs to follow: what does success look like?  Social media is a tool in the tool belt, not a magical elixir.  Simply being on the internet does not mean you are improving your brand experience.  Having a Twitter account does not mean anything unless you know where it fits in your overall strategy for supporting your brand.  As with making any decision, before you go anywhere, you need to ask yourself:

1)      What does success look like?  - What is it exactly that I am trying to accomplish?  Where am I trying to take our brand?  Where do we want to be and when do we need to get there?
2)      How will I know when I am there? – How can you measure your success?  Number of likes on Facebook?  Twitter followers?  These are not good metrics.  Better metrics include an increase in sales due to consumer involvement, or the conversion from prospective to owners from brand involvement.  How many people did you bring into your car dealership through your brand experience?  How many of your consumers are interacting with your brand online?  How many people are becoming brand advocates for your brand?  How much of an influence are these brand advocates having on the neutral consumer?  What pieces of data can you collect to know if you were successful or not?  Are your results going to be measurable?  This is often the most difficult part of the decision process.
3)      What resources do I have at my disposal? – How much time, how many people and how much money are available to support this goal?  Be realistic: it takes a lot of people a lot of time to keep a finger on the pulse of the market, to react and respond and consistently support the brand.

With more consumers interacting with your brand for the first time electronically, you need to make sure you make the right impression.  Get practicing your handshake.

*** Author’s Note:  Happy Easter!  I had an excellent weekend home with family, and that is always time well spent.  I’ve finally managed to get all of these ideas to paper, after many flights of scribbling, diagramming and polishing.  It’s amazing how many ideas can hit you at thirty thousand feet!  Thanks to another great marketer Kayla Kneisel for her keen eyes and help.  I hope everyone had a great weekend and I apologize for the delay!***

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marketing in the Age of Skepticism

There is no need to shout.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Toronto Auto Show at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto.  Unlike most of the well-known auto shows around the world, the Toronto show does not feature many concept cars and (as far as I know) has not been the launching pad of any brand-new models or designs.  Sure, there are always a few clever concepts sprinkled around the enormous floor space but more often than not, manufacturers bring their standard models to show.  Arguably, as a result (or perhaps more by design) the Toronto show is better suited to individuals shopping around for their next vehicle rather than to drool over spectacular supercars with galactic speeds and prices.

It’s interesting that the show is still as successful as it is.  Ten years ago, it was difficult to imagine the options for consumers on the internet today: you can see manufacturer models, price lists, options, specifications, ‘Build and Price’ a vehicle, get financing quotes and even get in touch with the dealer nearest you.  With all this information at the consumer’s finger tips, you would be forgiven from thinking that auto shows like the one in Toronto would suffer from smaller audiences.  Maybe it is the fun of going (I regularly attend although I have no plans on purchasing a vehicle any time soon), maybe it is because there is nothing like seeing and feeling a car in the flesh.  Bottom line is, people still go.

However, the consumers attending the Auto Show are not the same consumers as ten years ago.  They are coming armed with more information and more knowledge than before.  At this point in time, consumers are more aware, knowledgeable and skeptical of marketing than ever.   Increasingly, consumers understand what makes a car safer, perform better, be more comfortable can see through marketing attempts to lead them away from these characteristics.  It’s no longer enough to advertize or claim a product attribute because consumers will know when you’re telling the truth and when you’re lying.  Consumers want to hear the truth from you because they’ve done their research.  Many of those shopping for new cars will already know about engine size, trim levels and accessories, and they want to know if you are bringing you’re A-Game.  And this presents a problem for marketers: how do you cater to the skeptical?

There was a time when manufacturers could wow us with “more”: more power, more chrome and more prestige.  A company could put a car up on the podium with a pretty model and the sales would presumably follow.  But I don’t think this is the case any longer.

What works:

Providing relevant information and useful figures is one of the most important things you can do at a show like this.  Consumers are more interested in safety, performance, fuel economy and reliability than ever, so communicate your product's benefits.  There are a multitude of marketing decisions that need to be made before putting your product on sale, including brand perceptions, desired attributes and product development and design, and I won’t elaborate on those crucial strategic decisions here.  Creating the right product is the most important marketing decision in the product development chain for creating the right product, for the right people at the right time.  Assuming you’ve made the right decisions and you’ve designed your product to compete in those areas seen as critical by consumers, communicate that.  Be straight forward and clear with consumers because they will identify fluffy easily and tune you out.  Many consumers will know their stuff with regards to technology and pricing, so treat them accordingly.  

What does not work: ‘Sex’ and ‘Glitz’ no longer sell cars.  

Vehicles are no longer seen as a predominantly ‘male’ decision, so putting a glamour model beside your car is not going to sell cars in the way it could before.   The buying decision for vehicles is more high involvement, with a focus on details, and is made increasingly by couples and women as much as it is by men alone.  In addition, consumers are more interested in the ‘steak’ and not just the ‘sizzle’.  Laser shows, flashing lights and loud music are not effective, at least for the majority of car brands and buyers.  Moreover, it looks and feels dishonest.  A North American manufacturer (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are!) used dancers, acrobats and stunt artists on their grandstand, who danced, jumped and ran around vehicles as they came up onto the stage.  I was amused and maybe even a little insulted that this company believed that I would stand there slack-jawed as people jumped all around a car to loud music and feel the desire to learn more about their cars.  Even more confusing was the contrast between old and new marketing: far away from the grandstand sat a number of compact cars called the ‘Cruze’ (hint hint), a brand new model to North America.  While the gymnasts flew through the air while somersaulting over models that have been produced for years, many more people were mingling with the new Cruze vehicles.  

Why?  Apart from the fact that the Cruze is a brand new model, I think it’s because the marketing approach to the Cruze was entirely different.  It was about details that consumers care about: airbags, fuel economy, build quality, price, handling…  Here is a car built from the ground up to beat the toughest competition on every level and they understood that consumers are more interested in the ‘steak’ than the ‘sizzle’.  Straightforward product truths are what we want and trying to hide behind glitz and noise will turn potential customers away.

Volkswagen has been the king of automobile marketing for years now, and it’s easy to see why when you know one of their biggest rules when it comes to marketing: “Don’t shout.  Consumers will listen to you, especially if you’re talking sense”.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wal-Mart: Is anything different?

I'm going to begin this post with a confession.  I do not like Wal-Mart.

There are some arguably good points from a consumer point of view: chances are there is a Wal-Mart in your town or city, and if not, more than likely there is one in a city nearby.  They have low prices (frequently lower than competitors) and a wide variety of brands and products available on their shelves.  I know relatives who go to Wal-Mart specifically for one item knowing they will find it at the lowest price.  This, despite the fact they’d probably rather spend those 15 minutes in a walk-in freezer than in the store’s aisles.  And don’t worry about not finding what you are looking for because the aisles are identically situated in every store it seems.  No matter what Wal-Mart you go to, the total experience is consistent: same store format, same signs, same layout.  

Equally, there are some things I don't like about Wal-Mart.  Everyone knows about how Wal-Mart squeezes their suppliers, pitting them against each other in a war to provide Wal-Mart with the lowest price.  When you have the kind of purchasing power Wal-Mart has, you can do this.  Good business or poor ethics?  It is a tough call, but either way it does not incline me to want to shop there (no matter how low a price they might advertise).  Also, I don't like the consistency of the stores.   The samey-blandness of it all is numbing.  Wal-Mart is not alone in standardizing their stores (look at any big box or electronics giant to see the same type of work) but they somehow feel more numbing than the others.  

However, the biggest problem I have with Wal-Mart is the way it makes me feel.  The way a consumer interacts with your brand, and the experience they have during that interaction, define the way your brand will be perceived and evaluated.  And Wal-Mart makes me feel 'dumbed down'.  The greeters, the over-sized sale stickers and even the way the store is set up... the experience is enough to make me want to leave, preferably as soon as possible.  Sometimes, it feels as though you're being treated like a child and this demeaning tone makes me think twice about even going inside.

Over the last little while, Wal-Mart has been displaying efforts to change their brand: they have a new logo, having gotten rid of that grating, condescending and often bouncing smiley-face.  Their adverts depict young professionals living fun and exciting lives.  They are trying to paint themselves as a friendlier, nicer and 'greener' Wal-mart.  With the news of 40 superstores headed for north of the border, I wanted to know if the re-brand was a success.

In my opinion, it was not.

The stores are the same.  Sure, the signs have changed and the font might be different but the store still feels exactly the same.  The products they sell are the same products they used to sell.  Everything that turned me off the Wal-Mart brand is still there for everyone to see, and my experience walking into the store still left me wishing it would end, and fast: the greeters, the signs, the layout, the blandness and the distinct feeling of 'dumbing down'. Even their business practices do not appear to have changed: NACS reports that Wal-Mart still abides by the same supplier philosophy as before: "Anybody who can deliver opening price point [goods] for us will become a vendor -- anybody who can't, can leave".  I was only in the store for about 15 minutes, but it only took me a fraction of that to realize that this was still the old Wal-Mart we know and questionably love.

I feel that what Wal-Mart has done is a cardinal sin in branding: changing a brand is more than changing your letterhead.  It is not about changing the font of your name or the colour schemes of your signs in the brave hope that the rest of the branding issues will change themselves.  This has lead me two a couple of conclusions: 1) The Re-Brand has failed because they didn’t address the changes that need to take place for a re-brand or 2) They thought that a cuter, cuddlier and friendlier name font and advertizing would be enough to complete the transformation into the brand they wanted to become.

Bottom line then is clear; they both end up in the same result.

You don't change the wallpaper because you're bored of it, or because you want to change things up.  Branding is about crafting an experience for the consumer: what do they think of you, how do they experience your services, what do you mean to them.  It is your company's or product's personality and goes deeper than the colour of the curtains.  Re-branding is part of an overall transformation of your brand strategy, and includes so much more than a logo.  So far as I can tell, Wal-Mart's re-branding has not been intertwined with any new positioning or marketing strategy and their new campaigns have left me with one final experience: disappointment.

***Author’s Note***

Special thanks to Kayla Kneisel for her reviewing help on this posting.  I am going to be trying to get some of her thoughts and ideas here in the form of some guest postings.  She’s a brilliant marketer and I look forward to reading some of her viewpoints!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Future of Celebrity Endorsements... Is there one?

Are celebrity endorsements dead for 2011?

I wouldn't be surprised.

We all know the power of celebrities and reference groups when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions.  Whether we like it or not, people are influenced by those who they respect, look up to or want to emulate.  I know I am guilty as charged: anyone my age probably remembers wanting one of those silly three-ski sleds, more than likely because Brett Hull was all over their advertisements.  What does Brett Hull have to do with sleds?  Not much, but did it increase sales?  You bet it did.

So clearly there is a case to be made that celebrity endorsements are a great tool for influencing buying decisions.  But there is no such thing as a 'free lunch', and using celebrity star power has it's drawbacks.  It's all about losing control and risk.

Using a celebrity can be beneficial: associating yourself with a successful celebrity means associating your brand with a successful brand.  Finding fit between your brand and that of a celebrity is key.  However, when you decide to use a celebrity to be the face of your product (or in many cases the face of your entire company), you are losing control over some or all of your brand.  The strength, integrity and success of your brand is now intertwined with a brand over which you have zero control.  This loss of control doesn't necessarily mean you're in trouble, but it could if you do not properly assess the risk you're undertaking.  What is the risk that our celebrity will go out and do something stupid?  Get involved in something embarrassing, illegal... etc?

In it's most basic form:  what is the risk we're gonna end up with mud on our faces?  Even the most squeaky clean celebrities have been found fallible (we need only look at Tiger Woods for proof). 

Marketers certainly understand these costs and risks, and yet celebrity endorsements have still made recent successes.  So why do I think the days of the Brett Hull's and Tiger's are over?  Information.  We as consumers have access to more information and news than ever before.  This has led to an increasingly skeptical consumer base; we're skeptical about claims on performance, price and features.  I have discussed this before, but I haven't discussed how consumers are more knowledgeable and skeptical of their celebrities.  I was stunned how quickly the news of a Cadillac hitting a hydrant rocketed around the world, and how quickly an immaculate brand built over years was destroyed in just days.  Stunned how some inappropriate text messages from an NFL superstar became national news.  Even the smallest conflict or issue can explode into a massive smear against someone, growing exponentially and doing irreversible damage to both the individual and the companies they represent.  No one can claim to control the animal that is the Internet, and it's ability to magnify and spread any information.

In today's growing world of cell phone cameras, smart-phones and internet, celebrities are more under the spotlight now then they have ever been.  Given the current amount of information, the speed with which it travels and then saturates an area, how can a marketer take a risk on a celebrity? You'd have to be prepared to take on not only the lost of control and individual risk, but the additional risk of celebrity attention and study.  I'm not say that as of tomorrow, celebrity endorsements will end.  But I am saying that as companies because more risk-adverse and brand-aware, and as the risk of using celebrities increases with it, we'll see a decline in the use of celebrity endorsements.

I don't think we'll see many more "Be a Tiger" slogans in the future, as celebrity endorsement is going to become an "out-of-bounds" for marketers.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ringing in the New Year

It's amazing to see just how much of the consumer mobile phone market is dominated by the smart phone.  It should come as no surprise that as smart-enabled devices become more available, better serviced and (importantly) less expensive, that more and more people would have them.  A number of years ago, phones like the Blackberry were owned by few: the fortunate, corporate executives and my Dad.  Now, almost every single member of my family has one of some vintage.  We had enough of them that Blackberries alone covered the entire table at the door of the family get-together.  In the past couple months, I caved in and upgraded my mobile device to a Blackerry and I haven't looked backward since.  I am glued to my Bold the same way Christmas stuffing glued to my stomach.  The shift is clear: smart phones are no longer reserved for business-types or the lucky, but are now a tool for a wide-variety of users.  Everyone from high-school (dare I say middle?) to the retired have some kind of smart phone, and use them frequently to update, post, share, like, tweet, comment, poke and upload.

A couple years ago now, my good friend Shaminda introduced me to an up-and-coming marketing tool: the barcode.  It was an application called ScanLife and using your smart phone camera, you could take a picture of a barcode and be instantly directed to web content linked to that barcode.  At the time, I thought this was an incredible tool and to be clear, I still think it is.  The ability to give a consumer all the details and information you want, without using what precious traditional advertising space you have for it, is great.  Even better than using the internet as a supplemental source of information is to use it as a primary source of interaction and information.  For example, Expedia includes a barcode on your itinerary so you can quickly scan your own itinerary to find out if your flights are on time.  Companies are using barcodes as a way of herding consumers towards competitions and ballot forms.  Barcodes are transforming the way marketers can reach consumers, but also how they can interact with consumers.

I am the #1 fan of barcodes.  BUT, I feel there are one too many companies jumping on the bandwagon than perhaps should.  So here is a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of good uses and questionable uses of barcodes:

Good uses
  1. More information - You've got a sign/billboard/poster and there are some details you want the consumer to know about.  For example, you're a university and your poster is about a program you're trying to get some interest in.  However, you clearly can't put a prospectus on your poster.  Here's a good place to give a barcode, linking a consumer to the website where a full prospectus is housed.  Another example: you've got a video game or movie you want to advertise, including a trailer.  On traditional, non-television screen media, this is impossible.  However, if you put a barcode-link to the trailer on the internet, you're able to stream this media to the consumer.  In this application, the barcode is essentially an internet link that's more convenient and nothing more. 
  2. Interactive information - See my Expedia experience for a solid example.  Here's another great example of this: increasingly, wines are coming with barcodes on their label to direct consumers to a website providing them with food-pairing suggestions for their wine.  Some food products are doing similar things, providing barcodes to recipe or serving ideas.  Brilliant.
  3. Contests/Sweepstakes - You've got a promotional contest and you want to direct consumers to the entry page.  Consumers are then going to follow your barcode knowing exactly what they are going to and why.  Good focus for using a barcode.
Questionable uses

  1. Too much more information - Don't treat a barcode as an extension of your advertising.  Your message should be clear and concise enough to convey your message without needing a barcode.  By all means, barcode-away for supplemental or extra information, but keep your key message on the traditional media.
  2. Don't repeat - The purpose of the barcode, in my view, is to supply additional information which without the barcode, would not be possible.  Some companies, worryingly, are simply using a barcode to direct consumers to another version of the same advert.  Consumers are using your barcode seeking new information, not stuff they've already seen.  If you're seen as just noise, or just using a barcode because you can, consumers will know it and tune you out.
  3. Location, Location, Location - Be smart about where you are using your barcodes.  Billboard sign in a downtown or urban area is brilliant.  This includes everything from big-building top signs to posters in bus-shelters.  However, putting a barcode on a subway train may not be so good.  Firstly, being a subway, passengers are going to be spending 99% of their time underground and lack the reception to follow your barcode link.  Secondly, assuming you have reception, taking a picture of a barcode is nearly impossible because you're too busy a) hanging on b) carrying something c) bundled up or d) too crowded to pull out your phone.  Thirdly, assuming you have reception, not doing a) through d) and don't feel silly taking a picture of something just above someone else's head, have you ever tried to take a clear, blur-free image of something with in a moving vehicle?  Subway: bad idea. Another questionable location are the sides of the road on highways.  Drivers have enough to worry about and enough distractions without wanting to try and take a clear picture of a barcode at 100km/h.  That, and it being illegal in many places to have your phone in your hand.  My last example of a bad place to put a barcode is on the internet.  Why?  Why make someone pull out their phone, select the correct application, take a picture and then force them to view your content on a 2 inch screen?  Unless you're directing someone to a mobile-only media, just use a link.  Please.
There is one last use what I am not so sure on: mystery media.  I think that this use is more of a double-edged sword than the others.  Using a barcode on its own could lead to interest due to the mystery of what the barcode is linking too.  This curiosity could lead to some traffic, but it can go the other way too.  Newspapers, such as Metro, seem to like using a barcode to replace putting a story into their newspaper.  I am assuming that these stories are less important than the ones included in actual print, but they still wanted to try and include them in their paper.  I am not so sure this works: I have yet to see someone take a picture of a newspaper barcode to read more of the newspaper and secondly, if it's a fourth-string news story, why would I want to read it anyway?

Barcodes are great, but please use them responsibly.  And stop taking pictures of just above my head, it's awkward and I don't like it.