There is no communications experience more powerful than when a moment of high interest transitions into a direct engagement. That is why the promise of QR codes, as a way to turn one-way channels into two-way digital experiences (and views, purchases, downloads, CRM opt-ins, or other KPIs), has been an enticing one for brands and agencies alike.
But we've seen some curious examples that seem to use a scan-able code as the means of engagement itself. This leaves users to figure out the next action for themselves or more often walk away scratching their heads. What we know is that QR codes don't "create the engagement" any more than the "like" button "creates the like." Instead, communications has to do the job of informing and engaging the audience, and highlighting the intended journey. At that point, the QR code becomes a great utility to lessen the "distance" between interested users and the next action in the engagement process. By communicating the whole engagement that has been created we can achieve greater efficiency, convenience, and ultimately shared values.
Early on in the QR code cycle it might have been enough to say that something interesting was behind the QR code, such as in this racy content from Calvin Klein. While this might have had a great effect on the users who did scan with their phones, the halo PR effect also provided some recognition for the program. More recently, we ran a program with RedLaser and Atlantic Records' music artist Lupe Fiasco that offered fans the opportunity to pre-order his album "Lasers" by scanning a QR code projected on the side of a building in both New York's Union Square and Hollywood, Calif. More than 25 percent of traffic to Lupe Fiasco's album pre-order website was driven by the QR code powered by RedLaser.
From a technology standpoint, QR codes are a transitional bridge between printing URLs and a time, in the not-too-distant future, when we won't need a code at all. Instead, images and objects will be recognizable by scanners and search engines. In the meantime, mobile scanning, both the usage and technology, is still in its infancy. Marketers are quickly losing the option of not participating in mobile scanning. This leaves brands with two options: participate in how they're represented, or leave it to the internet to decide.
Whether you're running a program that features QR codes, or you just want to have a few guidelines for the future when mobile scanning really takes off, keep the following in mind:
Let your audience know what they're in for
Remember that you are asking them to leave their current "mode" and enter a digital engagement with your content using their phone as the conduit. Let them know what is on the other side so they can make an informed decision about taking the action.
Advance the engagement
There probably shouldn't be a single movie poster without a QR code on it leading to a trailer. Consumers can then transition to a search results page for "show times and tickets near here." On the other hand, there shouldn't be a single OOH or print unit that has a QR code if it only leads to a commercial. Wherever users are scanning, you have to assume that your unit engaged the audience enough to get them to scan, and that they are interested in more information or potentially even a purchase. If all you offer them is more marketing material, you won't be happy with the impression you leave them with.
Drive to a mobile-optimized page
This may seem obvious to the point of being pedantic, but I am amazed at how often this is left undone. If you have access to an interested person who pulled out their phone and transitioned into a digital experience, the very least you can do is make sure that your brand or product looks amazing on their phone. Don't recycle old content not optimized for the phone. Consumers are savvy enough to know when pages don't look right, and they won't be happy with your brand for disrespecting them in this way.
When used right, QR codes can be a great way to relevantly deepen a brand's engagement with consumers. Like all marketing communications though, without a broader story and optimization for the medium, QR codes can leave consumers even more certain that a given brand simply doesn't get them.
John Berg is managing partner at Swirl Integrated Marketing.
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"Black horizontal smartphone with QR code" image via Shutterstock.