SEMA News—December 2014

By Joe Dysart

QR Code Marketing

With the Right Demographic, a Potential Boon

These days, 21% of smartphone owners say they’ve scanned a QR code, with 2% saying they scan QR codes at least once a day.
These days, 21% of smartphone owners say they’ve scanned a QR code, with 2% saying they scan QR codes at least once a day.

Businesses with a significant demographic skewed toward “hipper,” generally younger tech users—people who like to stay on the edge of what’s happening digitally—should take a serious look at QR-code marketing. Most of us have come across a QR (quick reach) code in our travels. It’s that framed square of hieroglyphic-like symbols that we flip to in a magazine, which triggers our smartphones to reveal a company website when scanned. Or it’s on that advertisement we see at an airport or train station that, when scanned, conjures up an electronic coupon on our tablets that can be used at a coffee shop, often only steps away.

These days, 21% of smartphone owners say they’ve scanned a QR code, with 2% saying they scan QR codes at least once a day, according to a February 2013 study by Edison Research/Arbitron. Moreover, a September 2013 study by comScore MobiLens/Mobile Marketing Association found that QR codes are especially popular among men. About 63% of QR code users in the United Kingdom are men, according to the study. And, not surprisingly, Millennials—25- to 34-year-olds—were more likely to use QR codes than any other age group, according to the study, with 18- to 24-year-olds coming in second.

One of the major positives with QR codes is that they can be generated for free using special sites on the web, although you generally don’t get sophisticated analytics on how your QR codes are being used, or if they’re effective, with the free service providers.

There are a number of computerized devices that come equipped with software that reads QR codes. Google’s mobile Android system includes a QR-code reader on many of the models that use its software. And Nokia’s phones also have a built-in reader. And while iPhone users need to download a QR-code reader, there are dozens of apps they can install for free to do their QR-code reading.

The downside of QR codes? Some only work with proprietary reading software, which needs to be specially downloaded for that specific QR code. Who has time for that?

QR codes are facing increasing competition from newer technologies that are designed to download content to smartphones at a faster rate. Blippar, for example, enables users to quickly pull info, entertainment, offers and augmented-reality 3D experiences from marketers that plant a Blippar code in newspapers, magazines, products and other printed materials. And Touchcode also offers an invisible electronic code that can be integrated onto printed materials and trigger a smartphone to instantly play audio, video or relevant text content once its scanned.

Yet another app, Layar which has been downloaded 38 million times, according to its maker—also enables a business to code a piece of printed material to instantly generate audio, video and or text scanned by a smartphone. Even so, QR codes have an advantage over many of the newer technologies, given that QR codes were the first to appear on the scene, and QR codes have an advantage over some competitors in that they have a visible presence on a surface. With Touchcode, for example, the scannable code is invisible, presenting its own problems for alerting the viewer that a scanning capability is present on printed material.

Specific, novel applications of QR marketing already in use include:

QR Code Generator is one of a number of free QR-code creation services that are available on the web.
QR Code Generator is one of a number of free QR-code creation services that are available on the web.

Calendar Events: Print a QR code on the back of a ticket or invitation, and the code will automatically add that event to the calendar software on a smartphone.

Business Card Advertising: Print a QR code on the back of a business card and, when scanned, it will bring people to your website, web video or any other digital marketing experience you’ve cooked up for your business.

Auto-Mapping: Add a QR code to any piece of printed material, and it will auto-map directions from where your potential customer is standing directly to your business.

Call Me Now: QR codes can also be programmed to trigger a phone call from your business to the smartphone of the user who is scanning your code. That’s perfect for a business with a special offer and looking to close the deal by phone.

Interesting Places to Print a QR Code: T-Shirt, scarf, blanket, drink bottle, hat, belt buckle, ring, cufflink, keychain, building, mug, wrapped cookie, food bag, human being or temporary tattoo.

Essentially, the way your business decides to leverage QR codes is really limited only by the imagination of your marketing staff. If you plan to give QR code marketing a try, make sure that the website you’re driving people to is optimized for smartphones.

“The only way a customer will read your QR code is with a mobile device,” said Claudio Schapsis, chief georilla officer for Georillas, a location-based marketing firm.

QR Marketing Tools
Also be sure to provide a clear call to action to users once you get them to your website. Ask them to buy something, sign up for something or otherwise get engaged with your business in some way.

“I’ve seen many QR codes that direct you to the homepage of a brand or a business,” Schapsis said. “Once I arrive at the homepage, I’m often not sure what they want me to do. Provide a QR Code only if you plan on immediately giving value or expect to get a quick response from your customer.”

Judd Wheeler, co-founder of the Mobile Tulsa Group, added that you should know why you are using the code.

“QR codes are a tactic,” he said. “There is a greater strategy behind why you are using QR codes. QR codes aren’t the strategy.”

You’ll also want to make your QR code easily accessible, Schapsis said. Put another way, QR code on an advertisement on a subway wall is good. QR code on the side of a moving subway car is bad.

You’ll also want to take great pains to ensure that your QR code works on all major devices.

“Make sure that someone on your team is explicitly identified as the tester,” said Anna Pfeiffer, a marketing strategist at Bronto, a marketing agency. “Then assign someone else the same task. Having some redundancy is never a bad thing when it comes to possibly wasting marketing dollars on a botched campaign.”

Finally, to measure the efficacy of your QR marketing campaign over the long term, be sure to use analytics.

“You can use any type of analytics to measure results,” Schapsis said. “If you use Google Analytics, check its URL Builder. Many QR-code generators offer analytics. Most of them are paid services, and you will need to relay your campaign URL embedded in the QR code to be on a proprietary short code.”

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan

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