Sunday, October 2, 2011

What is the deal with QR codes?

QR code example
Lately I've been seeing these little square digital-looking blobs everywhere. QR (stands for Quick Response) codes are turning up in airports, on supermarket shelves, even on people's business cards and letterhead. My husband (an IT geek) has one on his resume, just for fun.

QR codes originated in the automotive industry. Japanese automakers started using them in manufacturing environments because they could be scanned quickly and hold more information than a 'regular' barcode can. Typical barcodes contain only numbers, while QR codes can include alphanumeric characters and non-roman characters (like Kanji).

We marketing folks (especially direct marketers) get all excited when new technology promises better data, tracking, reach - or presents some kind of new access to an audience. QR code enthusiasts are trying to do this. Unfortunately, much of the implementation falls short. Right now, QR code usage is in its infancy. Marketers are putting them out there, hoping that the cool "decoder ring" effect will bring more people to their product or brand. Since QR codes aren't 'human readable', they are counting on people having smart phones and an app that reads the codes.

It's kind of like putting something in your advertising that's written in a foreign language. If you passed by a billboard in O'hare Airport and there was an otherwise normal looking ad for Tide detergent with one line of text in, say, Klingon language. You'd be curious about that. You might even try to figure out how to translate it. But at the moment you saw it, that text was meaningless (unless of course you speak Klingon). As always, when I analyze marketing efforts, it all comes back to targeting and the consumer. So when DOES it make sense to try a QR code?

1. Your best customers and prospects are very tech savvy.
These are the people that are going to get excited about seeing a code and may actually scan it. If geeks are your best customers, QR codes might be a fun option (or possibly Klingon, too).

2. Your company image or brand is technology oriented.
As a 'keeping up with the Joneses' marketing effort, you might want to put a few codes out there. They cost virtually nothing, and for now, are pretty cool looking. But make sure you read #3.

3. You have something really cool to deliver.
It ought to be worth the consumer's while to scan your code. Include a call to action (i.e. "Scan here to get 20% off your next purchase.") Direct them (via weblink) to special content, a coupon, offer code, or some information that's not available elsewhere. They have taken the time to interact with you, so you need to thank them!

Most importantly, remember that whatever interaction you have with this customer or prospect is likely going to be on their PHONE. So keep it simple and easy to access. Image-heavy sites, huge forms to fill out, or other content that's difficult to see on a small screen will only frustrate your responders.

Want to try it out? If you're curious about how QR codes work, here's an online barcode generator that you can use to create a code like the one at the top of this post. Just type in the data you want to encode and click "generate barcode" to see it on screen.

And here's one more for those of you who are extra cool.  :)