You might have seen them without knowing what they are: little black and white boxes with squiggles and lines in the corner of a magazine advertisement, on a band’s poster in a coffee shop, or even on a T-shirt.
Those things, called “QR codes” or “quick response codes,” are part of a whole new way of connecting with consumers via their smartphones.
“QR Codes have been around for quite some time in other parts of the world, but they are catching on in the States for a few reasons,” Patrick Donnelly, a mobile solutions architect for 2ergo.com, told the E-Commerce Times. “The first reason is that consumers are finally embracing smartphones in their everyday experiences. This tipping point with technology made it possible for brands to embrace mobile phones as a tool to reach consumers.”
Learning to Do QR
Marketers must first create a QR code, which can be generated by simply entering a URL at a variety of sites, such as BeQRious and Delivr. That code can then be printed in an ad, placed on a website, distributed in a brochure, or even offered as a temporary tattoo.
To read QR codes, a consumer must first install a QR code reader app on a smartphone or other mobile device. Many of these apps, such as Qrafter and RedLaser, are free.
Then the phone can be pointed at the code, which is scanned with the device’s camera. Instantly, the code then leads the consumer to the encoded URL, which can be any kind of online content: a mobile website, social media site, online video, or other marketing material.
“QR codes have few limits,” Nick Jerome, a marketing service manager with Fastsigns, told the E-Commerce Times. “A restaurant might use QR codes on their menu to unlock a special coupon, magazines can bring an article to life with a QR code that links to a video with extra article content, an organization might use them to promote an upcoming event such as a golf tournament, or a business might utilize several QR codes to host a scavenger hunt at a tradeshow.”
Jerome explains that just as important as the code itself is the marketing that surrounds and promotes it.
“The key is to actively market the code on signs, graphics, and print advertising with a call to action,” said Jerome.
Making It Mobile
Another key to QR code success is to link to a mobile-friendly site. After all, a consumer accessing a full-blown, tiny-print website on a smartphone may immediately click away.
“QR Codes on marketing material can be effective in many different ways,” Gus Velissarios, founder of mobiConsultant.com, told the E-Commerce Times. “The problem is that when utilizing them, to utilize them to perform in a mobile environment. For example, if I were to create a QR code to render to my YouTube link, not all smartphones render YouTube videos the same way, so I would create a landing page for my video that is available in various formats that can be viewed via mobile such as 3gp, mp4, and flv.”
It’s all about incentive, explained Velissarios. If customers have a reason to scan the code, visit the link, and see what it’s all about, they will. The QR code itself is useless without good marketing material to back it up.
“Do not just jump on the bandwagon because your competition is doing it,” said Velissarios. “Find out what your competition is utilizing for and create a better incentive for your customer to want to scan your code to visit your offer page. And to be one step ahead of the competition, make sure that your message renders to a mobile website.”
The Evolution of QR Codes
QR codes are undergoing a quiet evolution; as more people figure out how to use them, more businesses incorporate them into their marketing plans, new technologies develop, and the codes themselves become more interactive.
“I believe QR codes will keep evolving with technology,” explained Velissarios. “I believe more and more brands and local markets will continue to utilize them for many years to come. The more fun and interactive they become, the greater the usage.”
If they’re not fun to use, QR codes might actually end up driving consumers away. So it’s important that companies use them to offer real value to their customers and clients.
“QR code reader applications and mobile phone technology are improving and, in turn, making it easier to use QR codes,” explained Jerome. “As QR code use increases, companies need to ensure mobile marketing campaigns are streamlined and worthwhile for the end-user. Sending users to non-mobile websites and landing pages and leaving out the call to action can drive users away from using QR codes in the future.”
Even the look of QR codes might be changing, making them less anonymous collections of black-and-white lines and boxes and more logos or even works of graphic art.
“There a handful of QR code designers that are making these otherwise binary codes into pieces of art that are scannable,” said Donnelly. “Creating branded barcodes with colors, logos, and objects create a more human feel that creates a good first impression for the codes themselves.”