Though not yet ubiquitous, the odd-looking pattern of squares and dots that make up the Quick Response (QR) code are popping up in more places and on more media with each passing day. Most major advertisers have leveraged this two-dimensional barcode symbol to get a leg up on marketing and sales, but the availability of free, online QR code generators make reaching out to customers with QR technology available to virtually anyone. As always, taking advantage of new technology takes a bit of foresight and planning to most effectively implement it. QR codes are no exception.
QR codes lend themselves to a fairly easy way to identify audience — smart phone users. While QR codes can be read with many standard barcode-scanning devices, few consumers carry portable dedicated scanners. However, the growing popularity of smart phones, and QR code-scanning applications for them, has steadily spread the target audience and, most likely, will continue to propagate among the general cellular market for some time. According to Nielsen, the number of smart phone users has grown to make up about 40% of the cellular market. As the percentage of smart phone users increases, so too will the marketing opportunities through this unique channel.
Unique channel? How can a barcode be “unique,” much less a “channel?”
Well, QR codes are graphically well-suited for scanning by phone cameras. By design, they are highly efficient and capable of being rapidly scanned. Furthermore, a single QR code can store up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters (think the lyrics to Don McLean’s, “American Pie”). Granted, efficiency and impressive storage aren’t necessarily unique qualities in the world of 2D barcodes, but high readability by smart phone cameras is. That’s what turns a simple, static data storage tool into a marketing channel. When your potential customer scans a QR code on his or her TV screen, a billboard, a computer monitor or your external packaging to access more information about your product or service, they create a real-time interface between the real world and the virtual world. This interface provides you with a unique opportunity to push targeted information back, instantly. This process is known among the barcode cognoscenti as hard linking.
As with all new, or at least newly introduced, technologies (after all, Denso Wave introduced QR back in 1994), initially the innovation gets a lot of attention, while it’s still fresh. Right now, people are anxious to use their smart phones in yet another new and exciting way, like opening a web page with detailed information about the product or service tagged with a QR symbol. Companies like Starbucks are using QR codes for credit card-like transactions on the iPhone. Other companies are using static URLs within QR codes and changing the URL content based on different market factors. Ultimately, sustaining consumer interest in this channel will require inventing evermore creative ways to drive meaningful, targeted and personalized marketing content that inspires consumers to keep scanning.
I practice what I preach, too. Here’s a QR code I created online for free that points to my personal woodworking blog. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and got a surge in hits almost immediately.
is the vice president of systems integration for NEPS, LLC of Salem, New Hampshire, a firm that provides solutions for the automation of document-intensive business processes.