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Overlooked uses for QR codes

Jeff Weidauer
Overlooked uses for QR codes Jeff Weidauer

Internet measurement service Nielsen recently predicted that smartphones will be the dominant device by the end of 2011. In the wake of the announcement, the marketing community was abuzz with the possibilities. As is so often the case with single statistics like this, the details are even more compelling.

Marketers are mostly interested in engaging with a higher-income, better-educated consumer. And the fact is, smartphones are already the preferred device with this demographic, whether business people or full-time parents. These valuable consumers are using a mobile device for far more than calls and texting. They are searching the mobile web for product information and pricing comparisons, and it's starting to happen more frequently right at the shelf edge in retail stores.

Another important point here is that consumers -- more accurately, shoppers -- are driving the mobile web and connectivity. To date, there is no strong influence from retail putting any wind in these sails. There is a vacuum in this space that will soon be filled; the question that remains is who will get there first?

The future of marketing can be summed up in one word: targeted. As connectivity increases via personal devices like mobile phones, iPads, and the like, the back-end analytics that can be derived from this connectivity will increase exponentially. Today, QR codes -- also known as 2D barcodes -- are driving this connection by providing a quick and painless portal to additional information and offers. Mobile coupons have gotten a lot of attention lately, but that's just using today's technology to deliver last century's media. QR codes, on the other hand, truly leverage the real benefits of mobile and the connectivity it provides, by enabling a link to something that is both targeted and local, and has relevance to the shopper. Simply dumping an "e-coupon" into a mobile device completely misses the point. A new study from Latitude showed that shoppers are looking for more mobile tools to help them shop. Fifty-six percent of respondents wanted more product information, including food origins and food safety info, available on a mobile device.

Here are some examples on how a marketer could use QR codes beyond delivering a coupon:

  • Imagine a shopper using a retailer's branded mobile application on her iPhone while in the store. She sees a QR code on a display for bread in the bakery. Scanning the code connects her iPhone to a site with information on making bread bowls. Also on the site are links to a recipe for clam chowder. She can send this to her email to reference later.

  • A QR code on a soft drink display could enter a shopper into a loyalty continuity program, accessing her loyalty account and tracking purchases of specific products.

  • QR codes at the shelf edge under gluten-free products could give more information about the steps the manufacturer takes to ensure that its products truly are gluten free. This could include a video tour of the processing center or lifestyle suggestions to complement the gluten-free purchase.

While QR codes can be used to provide additional information throughout the shopping trip, there are some rules to keep in mind. First and most important, the content delivered to the shopper through the scanning of the code must be relevant to her and the item. Videos should be short (15 seconds or less), and offers should be compelling and easy to use. Tying into a loyalty account is the best way to do this. The last thing a shopper wants to do is hand her phone to the cashier to scan some barcode on the screen.

Additionally, QR codes should be used judiciously. Only those items or offers that require, or will be improved, by additional content should have an associated QR code. Putting codes on everything is overkill and unnecessary, and it also reduces their impact.

The real shift will take place when we learn to use this medium to deliver more than coupons; once we let go of the old-model mindset, the possibilities are virtually endless. Currently, most mobile strategies consist of either coupons or a shopping list module. QR codes are an excellent next step, but they must lead to content that will bring the shopper back for more. As marketers, it's our business and our responsibility to rethink how we connect with the consumer. Mobile and QR codes allow one-to-one connectivity that is relevant, engaging, and motivating for the shopper. Making the most of mobile requires a new way of thinking and a willingness to take risks, but the opportunities for success have never been greater.

Jeff Weidauer is vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Robert Davis

2010, October 25

Jeff - good idea to point out that there's a lot more to QR codes than couponing. A trip to BestBuy will show that they're rolled out QR codes on the shelf tag for many items in the store – scanning them pulls up product specs and consumer reviews. Worth noting - the same content is also available via an SMS or by calling an 877 number. Penetration of smartphones and QR code reading apps is still too low to count on it as the only means of reaching the mobile consumer.