Should You Use a QR Code?

July 27th, 2011 | Guest Contributor | 104 Comments

is your QR code campaign made to stick?Guest post by Mikinzie Stuart

QR codes may be old news to digital marketers, but lately I’ve increasingly noticed that this hot little two-dimensional bar code is going mainstream.

From giant billboards in Times Square to tiny boxes of Sun-Maid raisins, these little buggers are popping up everywhere. In fact, I counted at least seven advertisements with QR codes in May’s issue of Elle Magazine.

But here’s the thing: QR codes are only cool to other marketing-minded people.

Like Keith Trivitt said on PRBC, marketers realize the opportunity QR codes have to turn their offline marketing into a more engaging and interactive experience.

And boy, are they giddy about it.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of reasons to fawn over QR codes.

They’re cool. They’re cheap. They’re easy to use (*cough* when scanned successfully). But the hard reality marketers need to face is that although Smartphone sales are rapidly increasing, less than half of the population owns a Smartphone. And even if they do own a Smartphone, that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand how to scan a QR code or maybe more importantly, why they should scan it.

So should you use a QR code in your next marketing initiative?

That really depends on your audience. Unless it’s the right approach for the people you’re trying to reach and something of value to your customers, it’s just a black and white square taking up space on your marketing materials.

Unfortunately, my first brand experience with QR last fall was a huge let down.

It was a direct mailer from MAC cosmetics featuring a new line of makeup. I scanned the code and waited to see where it would take me. Perhaps a coupon for a free sample, or a discount code?

Instead, I was taken to the non-mobile friendly MAC website. As you can imagine, I was pretty disappointed and immediately closed the browser.

So the main point is this: don’t let the flashy, shiny thing – whether it’s a QR code or whatever hits the marketing circuit next – distract you from asking the questions you should ask before every marketing campaign.

Why are you doing it?

Consider the end business goal: is it to get an increase in click-throughs or get a hit in Mashable or another heavily trafficked tech site for using a QR code on your cereal box?

Figure out what you’re trying to accomplish before you start deciding on the tools you’re going to use.

Who are you trying to reach?

Who is your ideal target for this specific effort? Is it a broad base of consumers or just a select niche? Is your customer a tech-savvy, Smartphone-swinging hipster geek or an SMS-dependent mallrat?

Whether you use QR, SMS or a mix of both (or even neither) will depend heavily on the people you’re trying to reach. Here’s a tip: do your research.

What’s in it for them?

There’s one question you’ve got to ask yourself and it’s not, “Do you feel lucky?”

Do some soul searching about the item you’re linking the QR code to and ask, “Is this really something of value and interest to my audience?” Offers like coupons, exclusive videos, “Easter eggs,” etc.

Whatever it is you’re linking the QR code to, it needs to be something of value or it will end up leaving a sour taste in their mouths. Tell me to “like” a brand on Facebook in order to get a free burrito from your chain restaurant; I’m there, no questions asked.

This is the same type of reaction you want when asking consumers to scan a QR code.

Have you considered every detail?

Probably some of the biggest QR fails I’ve seen have been in New York City. For instance, QR codes on advertisements in subways stations where there’s not an Internet connection. Or, more recently, a giant QR code on a billboard in Time Square that was impossible to scan.

You only have a fleeting moment to grab the consumer’s attention. Things like connectivity issues or trouble scanning the code will derail your efforts completely if you don’t think all the details through.

If you answered all of these questions and QR seems to be the right fit for your campaign, by all means, go for it. But if you’re going to do it, you better do it right.

Some of the best QR codes I’ve seen give instructions on how to use it or what they will get once they’ve scanned the code. One QR use even suggested a specific app read the QR code (in case you’re wondering which app, it was Redlaser).

Don’t assume that everyone thinks like a marketer; they don’t. You need to educate in order for them to even consider taking action.

What’s the best or worst use of QR codes you’ve seen?

Image: Robin M. Ashford via Flickr, CC 2.0

Mikinzie StuartMikinzie Stuart works at Peppercom specializing in digital communications for B2B and B2C clients. When she’s not tweeting from @Mikinzie about PR/marketing, social media and kittens, she manages her personal blog, PR Geek Speak.

email
Print Friendly
Opt In Image

"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

93 comments
nbmartin3
nbmartin3

Great points @Mikinzie The part that sticks out most to me is your let down with Mac. Leading to a non mobile-optimized sight is the quickest way to hike up your bounce rate as an advertiser. Like you mentioned, offers such as coupons or a contest can be very effective. It sounds like Mac was actually targeting the right audience, but delivered the wrong experience. The Allure campaign for Microsoft Tag generated almost half a million scans which is pretty compelling for any marketer. You can check out more about the campaign here if you're interested: http://tag.microsoft.com/tag-in-action/success-story/t/Allure_Campaign_Achieves_Record_Results.aspx

The value of being able to use your smartphone to get more information on something while in the moment of interest is high in almost any context. While that value can be delivered by 2D barcodes, or possibly other triggers (NFC, image rec, voice) if it isn't done right it will hurt more than help (as you pointed out).

TheTimHayden
TheTimHayden

Mikinizie, excellent post. I agree that there is so much work required to be successful with QR codes...just as much as Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter. If marketers don't understand that there is an "upstream" educational/promotional responsibility that must meet consumers with "downstream" worthwhile and relevant content...those marketing attempts FAIL.

We are making the turn in awareness and use, however. It is not only "marketers" who think QR codes are cool, but mainstream consumers who have been blessed with top-down education from folks such as Target and Best Buy (although I think BB fails at the in-store experience...a conversation with more time needed). The act of scanning a barcode isn't natural yet, and it surely will be popular as we type less on our touchscreen handhelds and tablets.

What's worse is the lack of converting those "mobile moments" into additional conversation, interest or purchase. Integrating a mobile click with another online or offline effort has never been easier than it is with QR codes.

dbreakenridge
dbreakenridge

@mikinzie I hope so too. Let me know if your ever headed down the Parkway :) Would love to see you.

MikeSmithDev
MikeSmithDev

Nice rundown. To answer your question - I used 3 examples from mail sitting around my house to showcase bad/good use in related post http://bit.ly/qrfail

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@mikinzie You got it. Good topic. Think I might write about QR tonight, so expect some trackbackage :).

Whitney Punchak
Whitney Punchak

A QR code on a mailer...seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me. Aside from direct marketing, I've actually found them really useful at conferences. Most people attending have smart phones and it's a quick, easy way to provide handouts.

I enjoyed your post, good points. Thanks!

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

Good points, @Mikinzie . You provide a very comprehensive view of the issue and your warning to avoid shiny tool syndrome should be heeded by all marketers.

Some of the best conversations I've had about QR codes recently have been with @thetimhayden , @swonderlin and my colleague @erickmac . All three have talked about the need for QR codes to have a call to action that is valuable to the consumer. But more importantly, all three have talked about integrating mobile engagement opportunities into QR code placement. What I mean by that is, maybe along with the QR code, you have a mobile url and a text opportunity. Erick always quotes research that 80% of mobile users text, 9% have successfully scanned a code. Provide multiple options making it easy for all users to play. And catch peoples' attention by the sexiness of the code even if they don't actually scan it.

Good stuff. Cheers!

JMbickford
JMbickford

Whatever it is you’re linking the QR code to, it needs to be something of value or it will end up leaving a sour taste in their mouths. Tell me to “like” a brand on Facebook in order to get a free burrito from your chain restaurant; I’m there, no questions asked.

This is the same type of reaction you want when asking consumers to scan a QR code.

is there anyway to link the QR code to a Facebook application so to customer would not have to log into facebook using the web browser on his/her smartphone?

SalesProf
SalesProf

@salesprof Best use of QR codes I've run across is by Home Depot. We bought some plants in the spring and by summer were wondering why they were not growing as we hoped, we scanned the QR code on the planter and were connected to planting tips and ideas. After moving the plant to a semi shady area instead of the sun, we recovered our plant and are enjoying. Every owners manual should be connected to a QR code on the product.

KDillabough
KDillabough

Whether it's a QR code, an elephant marching through town with placards on its sides or any other channel of communication, you summed it up when you said it: "really depends on your audience. Unless it's the right approach for the people you're trying to reach and something of value to your customers" why would we use it at all? It ALWAYS depends on the audience: beauty...and meaning...are in the eyes and ears of the receiver. THEIR perception is indeed reality. Great post Mikinzie:) Cheers! Kaarina

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@TheTimHayden Thanks, Tim. I think we're on the same page here, just using different routes to get to the same conclusion. You make a great point (a point I only briefly mentioned) that a QR code is just a tool, same as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare; but still requires the same detailed thought process to be successful. I agree that QR codes are rising in consumer awareness (check out the Kellog's campaign I mentioned to @JGoldsborough ; numbers were higher for QR scans than SMS) and didn't mean to make it seem like I was discouraging their use; I wasn't. I just wanted to point out that the same thing you said before: just ecause it's a new tool doesn't mean you don't have to do your research and plan with every related detail in mind. And if you're going to use a new tool for your campaign, like a QR code, you better do it right. Brands like the ones you mentioned, and one mentioned below (Home Depot) are doing it right by educating their audiences and creating a positive and valuable experience. Thanks for stopping by and giving us your insight!

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@MikeSmithDev Thanks for sharing your post, Mike. Those are definitely three of the major perpetrators and things marketers need to think about before using a QR code.

TheTimHayden
TheTimHayden

@Whitney Punchak a mailer, a poster, a napkin...it often those extremely static touch points that are most successful in engaging a mobile user. The phone goes to the mailbox more often than the mail going back to the computer...barcodes, SMS or mobile-URLs are excellent additions to direct and out-of-home marketing.

MikeSmithDev
MikeSmithDev

@Whitney Punchak We are trying a mailer and conference insert in a current campaign (stay tuned for results!) I'm OK the mailer idea (if it provides value that you can't in print)... can even put the code on the outside of the envelope and hope for a scan before it is tossed! I don't really open mail any more...

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@Whitney Punchak I can understand putting a QR code on something like a direct mailer to get something tangible in their hands (it takes effort to throw those things out, right? lol), but what baffled me was that it linked to a non-mobile site when the creators of the QR code KNEW people would be using their phones to scan it! Haven't seen QR codes at conferences yet except for one I recently attended; they put the QR code on the downloadable PDF booklet that was a program for the conference (and on the physical booklets handed out at the conference), but when I scanned the code, it was linked to the same URL where you DL-ed the PDF in the first place! As I mentioned, if you're going to do it at all, do it right :)

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@JGoldsborough Thanks, Justin. And I agree, @thetimhayden @swonderlin @erickmac have all given you sound advice. In order for a QR initiative to be successful, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person using it: what's in it for them? @SalesProf mentioned that Home Depot included QR codes on planters that linked to planting tips and ultimately saved his plants. Also, an integrated approach is always the best one when trying to reach a broad market. Kellog's cereal is a great example of this with their recent mobile campaign, where they printed QR and SMS codes on the back of cereal boxes which linked to a mobile friendly site with fun videos. The interesting part here is that they had more people scanning the QR code than using SMS. Like I said, it all just depends on who you're trying to reach :)

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@JMbickford That's a good question. My first instinct would be to say that there isn't a way to do this with a Facebook app (they have all sorts of weird policies, and I think it would affect the privacy policy, among others), but you may want to ask someone with a little more mobile marketing expertise. Thanks for reading!

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@stellafly I haven't but thanks for sending my way! Been dying to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Of Montreal. Will check out.

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@SalesProf Sounds like Home Depot got it right! Good for them.. and your plants! :) Interesting suggestion about putting QR codes on user manuals; can definitely see them linking to helpful videos/ demonstrations and additional resources.

Mikinzie
Mikinzie

@KDillabough Thanks, Kaarina! Truer words were never spoken: it always depends on the audience. Otherwise, why bother in the first place?!

chuckhemann
chuckhemann

@mikinzie who says you wont? :P QR is useful if there's an original brand experience behind the scan.

collentine
collentine

@shonali I'm happy to also contribute a guest post later if you're interested in more thoughts on QR campaigns?

LynxToTweet
LynxToTweet

@Mikinzie@TheTimHayden@JGoldsborough Enjoyed the article...QR codes are near and dear to my heart and you're right...at this early stage, you really have to know your audience. If poor marketing doesn't give them a bad name, I think you'll see them becoming a more and more effective tool. It doesn't surprise me that they easily beat SMS in the Kellogg example. iPads and phones with on-screen keyboards are annoying to use...especially when you can click a button and scan...and not have to type anything. Time will tell, but I think scanning has good potential. Its still a little early in the US.

Whitney Punchak
Whitney Punchak

@MikeSmithDev@Mikinzie So true! If it deserves to be done, it deserves to be done well. Unfortunately I think Mac missed a step. But I'm still sceptical about putting them on a mailer. Having them on the outside of an enveloped may help, but it seems out of place. A person who pays attention to mailers will likely not own or avidly use a smart phone.

MikeSmithDev
MikeSmithDev

@Whitney Punchak will do. I'll be detailing out the whole strategy and stats (print methods vs social vs email) afterward (next few weeks). ps. our mailer was a post card... so no envelope issue :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] post originally appeared on Shonali’s blog, Waxing Unlyrical. Check it out for some interesting discussions in the [...]

  2. [...] strategic purposes. And the technology between the code and its destination should be aligned. The Waxing Lyrical blog gives us a few tips for effectively using QR codes [...]

  3. [...] strategic purposes. And the technology between the code and its destination should be aligned. The Waxing Lyrical blog gives us a few tips for effectively using QR codes [...]

map