Those funny looking QR codes popping up all over the place are a new tool to help you market your business.
Coded Messages An explanation of QR codes and how to use them intelligently By Laura Bradley
You’ve seen them on signs, in restaurants and on the pages of magazines. Those funny looking QR codes with the black squiggly lines are popping up all over the place. They represent a new, high-tech tool to help you market your business. But that assumes you are using them in a savvy way. When it comes to QR codes, it’s all about seeing past the vehicle and focusing on your goals.
QR stands for “quick response.” And when deciding to incorporate the codes into your marketing strategy, it is important to first understand exactly what they are and what they can do.
Most importantly, you need to understand that a QR code is targeted at consumers who have the ability to scan it with a mobile phone. Once scanned, the address embedded in the code can be accessed and the consumer is immediately directed to a specific site. Additionally, QR codes can prompt phones to make use of their other features, such as texting and email. Ultimately, a QR code functions as a prompt, and most lead directly to the Web.
Frank Berte, senior principal for Destin Interactive, suggests businesses “think of it as a data point where you’re either going to get the person’s information, give the person some specific information or direct them to where they can get more information.” He points out that businesses must be conscious of how QR codes are being used, specifically on which devices they are being accessed. “The pitfall … is that it is made essentially for a mobile space. You’re not going to go on a computer and go to where a barcode sends you.”
QR codes should send users to sites optimized for access on mobile phones to ensure the consumer has a positive experience. Sites should be designed for and tested on smartphones. Information should not be exhaustive. Flash animation, which iPhones and iPads cannot read, should not be used.
It’s also important to think of the QR code as a component to a larger goal.
“Behind the technology is a strategy. Just because you put a black and white squiggly mark on a piece of paper does not mean it’s going to be a successful campaign,” points out Mike Winn, digital marketing manager for RB Oppenheim Associates and chief digital officer for Digital Opps, the firm’s digital marketing branch.
In reality, he says, it is the thought behind the code that will determine its value. This planning should come down to the traditional communication strategies. “Who’s your audience? What is your target message? What are you going to do to really try to communicate that message and really make an impact on their behavior?”
For those of you shaking your heads, consider the added benefits of QR codes over conventional URLs. First, the embedded address is stored in the app for later use, allowing consumers to scan and save for later what they might be too busy to examine at the time. It is also important to realize the powerful analytics to be gained.
“Not only can you see where they are accessing the site from, you can see if they go to your QR code and immediately close it. Or if they go to it and they click a few links, depending on what you’re linking them to,” explains Kristen Burke, an account executive for RB Oppenheim Associates. She also points out the potential for using the analytics to understand who is accessing the site — and for what services — in order to tailor marketing to the real-life audience.
Like any marketing tool, QR codes have their limits and their pitfalls. It is imperative to remember the nature of QR codes in employing them for marketing. Rick Oppenheim, chief executive officer and senior counselor at the firm, reminds businesses, “In order for a QR code to be used effectively to market your organization and bring people to your site, you better make sure that your site is optimized for the device that’s being used to access it.”
Additionally, QR codes are not as useful for conveying large amounts of information. The screens on devices using QR codes are far from what businesses are accustomed to in designing their websites. “Physically, it’s a very limited space,” Berte admits. “You don’t want a QR code (that leads) to some kind of Excel spreadsheet … that’s just god-awful long because it’s just going to lose people; it’s just going to frustrate people.”
It is still hard to see what consumers really think of these codes, and there is a lingering sense of skepticism. But proponents say that while there is always resistance to new technologies, once the value is created by producers, once resistant consumers find the way this technology can make their lives easier, they too will be using QR codes. It is only a matter of time.
For companies looking at whether to use the new technology, it could become a question of priorities — and what they want the consumer to remember. “I can see some companies not wanting to use QR codes because maybe they do want people to know their URL by heart. They might want that kind of reach,” says Megan Prawdzik, vice president of marketing and communications for the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.
To enhance the gift-buying and giving experience, JCPenney added a QR extension to its “Who’s Your Santa” campaign for 2011. Christmas gifts purchased at the department store were given a unique QR code “Santa Tag.” The gift buyer could then scan the code and follow the prompt to record a voice message for the person receiving the gift. The QR code came on an adhesive gift tag for placement on the present. The recipient could then scan the code and listen to the personalized message, with the added option to send back a thank you text.
The Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce is also using the code in its outreach to develop the Technology Campus, a joint venture in partnership with Escambia County, the City of Pensacola and the Pensacola-Escambia Development Commission. The Technology Campus is designed to lure innovative, technology-driven companies that will provide high wage jobs for the community.
“It’s in the downtown of Pensacola, and it is actually land that is available to build. It is basically targeting technology-based industries, and so obviously … you want to be on the forefront of that, so we have a QR code on the sign that as people drive by, they stop by, they want to see what it’s all about, they can just use a QR code through that sign,” explains Prawdzik.
Whether you’re a corporate giant like JCPenney, a Chamber of Commerce or a small local business, QR codes can be very useful if you use them in a smart, innovative way. Just like any marketing tool before it, Berte points out, “It’s all about the content.”