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The Lowdown on QR Codes

The Lowdown on QR Codes

QR codes are everywhere, but that doesn't mean people are feverishly scanning them. There is a school of thought suggesting that QR Codes will be a flash in the pan -- that their popularity has been driven more by besotted marketers than consumers who actually like the technology. A lot of consumers ignore QR codes because they are perceived to be a hassle -- and some marketers think they're ugly.

By Erika Morphy CRM Buyer ECT News Network
12/18/12 5:00 AM PT

A year or so ago, digital marketers were head over heels, breathlessly in love with QR codes. Bearing a close resemblance to Rorschach inkblot tests, QR codes quickly became ubiquitous on labels, posters, signs, magazine ads, billboards -- pretty much any ad space a consumer might conceivably want to scan with a smartphone to download more information about a product or service.

"We have seen a huge increase in the rate of scans in the mobile market over the past year in the U.S.," Justin Amendola, VP of global SMB digital strategy at Pitney Bowes, told CRM Buyer.

The reason for QR codes' popularity is not just because smartphones have become so popular and affordable, he said. "QR codes also answer a need for consumers who have become conditioned for instant gratification to get information wherever they are."

Marketers like them because they are the rare campaign tool that integrates two disparate marketing channels and is easily tracked, he continued.

Rules of the QR Code Road

Their popularity doesn't mean that marketers have learned all they need to know about QR codes or the most effective way to use them in a campaign. Many marketers have not learned how to truly leverage this technology, John Lim, CEO of Life in Mobile, told CRM Buyer.

For example, some marketers fail to have their QR code lead to a mobile landing page -- perhaps the most fundamental step of all in a campaign.

"If you do not have a mobilized landing destination, the instant nature of the scan is voided by slow load times, poor formatting and cumbersome browsing," said Lim.

Some marketers err by not telling consumers specifically why they should scan the code, he added.

"A strong call to action, such as 'scan here for an exclusive discount,' is a surefire way to get people to scan your QR code," Lim noted.

In many cases, it is the minor details that can trip up a QR code campaign, he continued -- such as having a long URL, especially considering how easy it is to generate a short URL.

When QR codes are used effectively, the end results can be spectacular, Lim enthused, pointing to a campaign Life in Mobile devised for Forbes magazine to increase subscriptions.

"We placed a unique QR code on 50,000 of their mailers, where each QR code was personalized for the person receiving that mailer," he said. "Once scanned, each QR code brought the individual to a customized mobile landing page that was prefabricated with their information."

The recipient was able to subscribe to Forbes by scanning the QR code on the mailer and pressing the submit button on the prefilled mobile subscription form.

The Downside

There is a school of thought suggesting that QR Codes will be a flash in the pan -- that their popularity has been driven more by besotted marketers than consumers who actually like the technology.

A lot of consumers ignore QR codes because they are perceived to be a hassle, noted Thin Aire partner and CMO Patrick Meyer.

The consumer needs to have an app. Then the scanning requires multiple steps and when the content is finally downloaded, "the user experience is usually lame," he told CRM Buyer.

Plus, some marketers think they are ugly, said Meyer.

New technology such as near field communication is likely to supplant QR codes at some point, he said.

NFC "allows consumers to tap their phone, and experiences pop-up on the newest generation of smartphones and tablets," said Meyer -- experiences like "a video, game, coupon or peer-to-peer sharing of content."

NFC is not mainstream yet, however, and until it is, QR codes will continue to be a strong mobile marketing technology.


Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Md.


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