QR Codes Gaining Momentum As New Engagement Channel

Have you noticed those strange little boxes containing hundreds of little black dots filling the corner of advertisements? Almost as if someone took a traditional bar code, chopped it into a million little pieces, and put it back into the same spot? Welcome to the strange new world of Quick Response (QR) codes. These two-dimensional bar codes are making waves as advertisers seek new ways to make traditional print and billboard advertising more engaging – and find new channels to deliver a custom experience to users on the go.

QR Codes Come in All Shapes and Sizes

  • A life-size QR code was displayed on one of the walls of Madison Square Garden as part of a campaign for a new dinosaur exhibit. Scanning the code took you to the campaign microsite and allowed you to register your biggest “dinosaur roar.” The wow factor – a life-size dinosaur was embedded in the QR code.
  • Realtors are getting into the game as well – embedding QR codes on “For Sale” signs and buildings. With the scan of a QR code, potential buyers can get videos, pricing, and floorplans delivered right to their smartphone without having to know the address or search on the web.
  • Retailers are one of the highest adopters of QR technologies. Ralph Lauren stores are putting QR codes next to products in their windows to allow shoppers to scan the image and buy the products online when their stores are closed. Louis Vuitton is taking the QR code a bit further, collaborating with designer Takashi Murakami to create colorful QR codes with its branded character embedded in the code.


Where Are QR Codes Headed?

Right now, QR codes are still in their infancy. Users are just figuring out how and why to use them – and not all mobile phones are equipped with cameras or QR readers. The technology is still in its infancy as well, with most QR codes unable to track scanning volume and most codes directing users to one fixed URL. However, according to comScore, 65.8 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones during the three months ending in January 2011. Verizon expects smartphones to account for 50 percent of all its customers this year. With mobile adoption finally reaching its potential, QR codes have a massive audience reach.

The real question is not whether QR codes are a viable marketing option, but how can sophisticated marketers use QR codes to enhance targeting programs?

A few scenarios highlight the potential:

  • A customer scans a QR code on a product. Knowing where the user is coming from physically and what product they have, you may be able to offer more effective cross-selling suggestions, and give them more relevant product support than if they just searched for the product on your site. You may even want to consider sending them an instant coupon for the product.
  • A person waiting for the bus scans the QR code for a new album. In addition to allowing them to sample a song, you may let them know the three closest places selling the album. You may even be able to tell them which of their friends on Facebook have downloaded the same song.

QR codes hold so much potential because they provide instant gratification for users – without having to brand custom URLs or websites. If marketers can make the experience compelling, QR codes may open a whole new channel for direct, personalized messaging.

Related reading