Kids are a great barometer of marketing effectiveness. Whether you're advertising toys or toothbrushes, if kids find it engaging then it will probably work on your target market.
For about three months last year, my two kids aged eight and six would excitedly spot QR (quick response) codes in magazines and in the mall, and ask me to scan it, as if it would lead to some hidden interactive treasure. But more often than not, the digital experience turned out to be highly disappointing; sometimes the code didn't work, but mostly the experience was just boring and a struggle to view on my phone.
So they stopped asking. There was no payoff.
(If you've never scanned a QR code before, you owe it to yourself to try it. If you have an iPhone, try this free app called "Scan" and get scanning!)
While recent studies suggest that only 6 percent of mobile users have ever scanned a QR code, in 2012 we're going to see an explosion of them in print and ambient media as an obligatory inclusion.
There are three significant shifts that are driving QR code usage:
1. Smartphone penetration is on the rise. With more than 50 percent of new phones being sold in Asia being smartphones, the capability to scan QR codes will be in consumers' hands.
2. Advances in optical recognition make it easier. Instead of starting a special app and framing the code in the viewfinder, phones with Windows Phone 7.5 automatically recognize QR codes in the viewer when using Bing Visual search and open the link.
3. Self-fulfilling prophecy. More visibility means more awareness, and more marketers including QR codes. Over time, consumers will learn that the black square patterns are actually useful.
So What's the Big Deal?
QR codes can provide a simple "bridge" between the analogue world and the digital world, pulling the consumer deeper into your content on their mobile device.
It's a direct response mechanism, which adds value to your print and ambient media spend. A highly motivated consumer sees a print ad in a magazine, and to get more information, a coupon, or see a demo, they can scan the QR code right there and then. The opportunity arises to capture additional details such as email or becoming a fan so that dialogue can begin.
QR Codes Are Great for Complex URLS
Nowadays, a URL such as coke.com is much faster to type in using an onscreen keyboard than activating a scanning app, framing the code and waiting for the recognition and link.
But not every link is short and easy to type in. For example, what if the destination page is several subfolders deep? E.g., mycampaign.com/eng/marketing/promo/ or the link is a YouTube video like this compared to scanning the following code (it's the trailer for the "Avengers" movie launching in 2012):
In the case of Tesco Korea, QR codes on posters were used in the subway to allow waiting commuters to quickly add items to their online carts, where the URL would be otherwise arduous to type in.
In these cases with a complex URL, a QR code is ideal.
QR Code Pre-Flight Checklist
If you're planning to start using QR codes, you need to make sure you've checked off the following five elements:
1. Test the code: Sounds obvious, but make sure the code works across various devices and scanning apps.
2. Mobile-optimized experience: The QR code is most likely to be scanned on a phone, so the landing experience needs to be tailored for the small screen size factor. Dropping a consumer onto a Flash-heavy corporate home page designed for a desktop is a complete waste.
3. The payoff: "Coupons" and "more information" were the top categories according to a report from E-marketer. The payoff needs to be either valuable or engaging, or you're setting the consumer up for disappointment.
4. Is there a signal? If you're going to use QR codes, ensure they are placed where there is a mobile Internet signal, whether 3G/4G or Wi-Fi. For example, many subways or event locations have limited Internet access.
5. Tracking: QR codes are a direct response mechanism, so you need to be tracking to the point of identifying which ad, location, or offer generated the best response. It's digital marketing 101, but you'd be surprised how common many campaigns just dump the user on a home page without any campaign identifier.
Do these five things well, and you'll be in the top 2 percent of QR code campaigns!
What About NFC?
NFC (near field communications) is a complementary technology that makes your phone a virtual passport and wallet. However, it needs to be used with a NFC reader on location, which you're not going to find in any print media, the natural territory for QR codes. While there is a lot of marketing buzz around NFC, we won't expect to see mainstream traction for 24 months. QR codes are for today.
The End of the Beginning
The use of QR codes has been well overrated till now, but the shift from niche to mainstream adoption is clearly in 2012. If you want to see measurable responses from your print campaigns, you can start using QR codes today and drive them to engaging branded mobile experiences so that your consumers - and my kids - have something worth spending time with!
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Daniel Lee is one of the few digital professionals whose experience spans over 12 years in the digital industry in both the agency side and client side with Telstra Corporation. He recently joined Euro RSCG Singapore after management and digital strategy roles with Ogilvy, JWT, Walkers Advertising, and pure play digital agency Terabyte. He has worked across multiple industries with international clients such as American Express, Nestlé, Purina, BP, and Ford and regional Australasian clients such as AMP Financial Services, Sanitarium, and Macquarie Bank. Before social media was "the in thing" he had launched Australasia's largest new mothers portal for SCA Hygiene, and worked on Diet Coke's first content driven fan platform in 2003. He is also is an active online reviewer and serves as a moderator on a community forum. In his spare time, he enjoys martial arts, derivatives trading, and spending time with his young family.