QR (quick response) codes have opened up a new avenue for marketers to increase and measure engagement with consumers. With so many uses and tangible benefits, it's no wonder QR codes are becoming more popular each year.
First developed in Japan as a means to track vehicles during manufacturing, these two-dimensional barcodes are now being embraced by a variety of industries. In fact, a recent study on ClickZ.com shows that QR popularity and use has skyrocketed. Between June 2011 and June 2012, consumer QR code scanning rose by 400 percent. June 2012 also saw an average of 120 scans per minute and 4 million first-timers scanning QR codes.
Decoding the trends
In order to measure the impact of QR codes, a recent QR codes use survey by Pitney Bowes asked consumers in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany about their experiences with QR codes.
Results revealed that approximately 15 percent of respondents had used QR codes before. It also showed that QR code use in the U.S. is far ahead of Europe, with almost 20 percent of American consumers engaging in code scanning. With more than 100 million U.S. smartphone users, that means that about 20 million people have now used a QR code. Forrester Research predicts that this number will continue to grow rapidly worldwide and that 1 billion consumers will have smartphones by 2016.
So who's using QR codes? According to the study, QR codes have been used by 27 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds. There is also high usage amongst 25- to 34-year-olds in each country -- a highly desirable consumer age demographic where people are settling into careers and earning higher salaries.
Cracking the code
With all this growth, it's little wonder that marketers are looking seriously at tools that can tap into this massive marketing potential. But what's the best way to use these codes? Placement of QR codes is limitless, but that doesn't mean they should be placed anywhere and everywhere. Clear patterns are already emerging around the most effective implementation.
Surveys show that, on average, most QR code capture comes from print applications. The Pitney Bowes QR codes use survey shows that magazines encourage the highest levels of QR code interaction (15 percent), closely followed by posters and mail (both 13 percent).
This is likely because QR codes successfully bridge the gap between physical and digital media, taking users from a static print advertisement directly to the web and its many possibilities. This digital engagement also allows for quick and easy measurement of advertising success.
In fact, many QR code applications include tracking and analytics capabilities that provide marketers with a vast array of rich information about the progress and capabilities of their campaigns.
As QR codes become more popular, businesses are learning to optimize and measure their success more effectively. They're learning to target the customer segments most likely to have smartphones and using information about their age, purchasing habits, and preferred means of communication to create better, more effective marketing campaigns.
Similarly, location intelligence software enables businesses to identify prime areas to situate QR codes, so that codes and campaigns are targeting the right audience.
The code of conduct
Let's look at a creative example. During the 2011 holiday season, JC Penney gave customers QR code gift tags. The customer could snap the code, record a gifting message, and then enclose the code with the present. The recipient would then snap the code and hear the personal message.
QR code campaigns don't need to be overly extravagant to be effective -- they just need to present offers too compelling to be ignored. Whether you're promoting a coupon, contest, interesting content, a product demo, or exclusive information, your campaign needs to provide an offer that's relevant or valuable to your customer. Simply pointing to your company website isn't enough! You must also offer customers a mobile-friendly browsing experience. This helps them easily claim the offer or review the marketing information you promised.
Here are some other tips for using QR codes:
- Not everyone is familiar with using a QR code so include brief directions nearby on how to scan it.
- Use codes to provide customer support.
- Improve sales by printing QR codes on your product labels with information to help customers with their buying decision.
- Try cross-selling products by adding codes to labels that host information about your business's other products.
- Attract new customers by enticing passers-by to scan a QR code discount displayed in your window.
- Capture customer email addresses in the process, so that you can grow your marketing database with qualified leads.
- Always link your codes to web pages optimized for smartphones, so your offers show clearly on mobile browsers.
- Create time-sensitive promotions to drive customer traffic during traditionally slow sales periods.
- Keep in mind that you can change and adjust the link behind the QR code even after the piece that it's on has been published.
The potential for further adoption of QR codes is enormous. The sheer number of smartphone users across the globe provides businesses with a growing audience demanding mobile content and purchasing products and services while on the move. Businesses that act now will get ahead of the emerging QR code trend for a competitive advantage, better customer experiences, and highly measurable results.
For more information about QR codes and other advice on small business marketing, go to www.pb.com/smb.
"Scanning QR code with mobile smart phone" image via Shutterstock.