Is the QR code a tool for marketing or a toy for marketers?
First, what exactly is a QR code? Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota in Japan, created the original QR code (pictured) as a way to track parts in vehicle manufacturing. Similar to bar codes, QR codes can store data that can be read by a scanner. What makes them better than the familiar bar code, however, is that a QR code can store up to several hundred times more data in a smaller space.
The chatter lately, though, has surrounded the QR code’s use in marketing.
To be clear: QR codes are not a form of marketing. A QR code is simply another tool for engaging consumers as a component of an overall marketing strategy.
Now that marketers have discovered them, QR codes are being used in ads and on business cards, websites, packaging … you name it. They are storing web addresses, contact information, product features, raw data, etc. The most popular marketing use for QR codes is to help consumers link to websites or share their personal contact information with a company.
Am I the only one thinking, “So what?”
QR codes aren’t making my life (me, Joe Consumer) easier. Sure, being at a meet-up and having the option to scan a QR code instead of taking a business card is convenient, but I’m not so sure I want to give up the experience of the actual card exchange. (And how will I dodge stalkers and people I don’t want to have my info? “I’m sorry, I must have lost my QR code” doesn’t have the same ring as, “Oh, sorry, I’m out of business cards.”)
If using a QR code doesn’t save me time, effort or money or create a fun experience, then I can’t see a reason why I would care to engage.
So why the clamor to implement QR codes in marketing? Sure, the public needs yet one more way to get discounted products, free experiences and other ways to devalue your product/brand (sarcasm intended). To quote a good friend, Vince Freeman:
“Tactics without strategy are useless.”
So my question is directed to the digital marketers of the world:
How are you using QR technology to create value for your organization instead of using it merely as a vehicle for product depreciation?
Incentives such as discounts and free stuff can be ways to train consumers to utilize QR codes. Beyond that, here are my thoughts on how you can leverage QR codes to your benefit:
- Track effectiveness of tangible marketing collateral: Assign a unique identifier to each piece of collateral you release so you can measure relative impact. Do you have brochures or fliers in various locations? How about posters, print ads, TV and movie spots, video game product placements? What about billboards?
- Identify your audience: What if you loaded a QR scanner into your company’s mobile app? Use the app to identify people scanning your codes to better track their habits so you can adjust your marketing tactics.
- Complete the sale FASTER: Now that you are using QR codes to identify your audience and validate your marketing, push the consumer into the sales process. Turn the tangible world into a virtual mall: Use a QR code to process food delivery/take-out orders in less time. Advertise a Prada handbag and sell it on the spot.
The QR code’s true power lies in its ability to bridge the gap between tangible and digital. But it’s not really the QR code that’s exciting, it’s what the tool represents – a new era in marketing. An era where we can identify our audience’s habits and interests, then make more than just our best guesses by drawing educated deductions from harvested data. An era when we marketers can measure the value of ads not by estimated impressions, but by actual engagement and identification.
What if …
A professional sports team identified all its mobile app users, then built a QR reader into the app. Then, a fan like me might come across an ad for a special on team can koozies. I’d scan the ad to get the special, the team would ship my purchase to my home, and voilà – the transaction is automated because my contact info is already in the team’s secure database. DONE! And I’m still on my couch.
If I didn’t want to purchase at that particular moment, the team could create and email (or mail) a rain check to me, which could prompt other purchases the next time I go to a game.
So, do I think QR codes are the future? NO.
Do I think QR codes are getting us there? YES.
What about you?