QR codes have generated a lot of buzz, but are they still a valid tool to use in marketing planning? Many marketers likely wonder what QR codes are and how can they be used to make money. A QR code is a bar code that can be scanned and read by a smartphone. One can be placed on a print ad, on a website, or on a bus shelter ad, etc. People can then load a reader application on their smartphone, which scans the code, prompting the code to perform some sort of predetermined action. For instance, a QR code can link to a mobile website, dial a phone number, load a video…
There have been some very good examples of companies using QR codes in innovative ways to tell a story or interest an audience. But there have also been some cringe-worthy failures, too. As the tactic has moved firmly out of the “new” and into the “mainstream”, it’s no longer enough to simply add one and look innovative by extension. People are more accustomed to seeing – and therefore ignoring – QR codes in ads. QR code campaign needs to work a lot harder to deliver results. If you’re thinking about integrating QR codes into your next campaign, where should you start? Here are some things to think about:
- Don’t ask “what?”, ask “why?” QR codes have been deemed by some as a fad- fads appear quickly and disappear even quicker. Rather than focusing on the “what” of a QR code, a successful campaign should begin by asking “why?” What are your objectives? Is there perhaps a better way to accomplish those goals? This mitigates the risk of using a flash-in-the-pan tactic. And here’s a hint: If the answer to the “why?” question is “because it will make us look cool and trendy?”, then you’ve probably already missed the boat on QR codes. It’s kind of like a company that’s basing its 2012 digital planning on MySpace.
- Speak to the right audience. Reading a QR code requires two things at minimum: A smartphone with data access, and a reader application. This automatically reduces your potential target audience to a specific group. The good news is that this group is growing rapidly, and is highly sought after as a target for many marketers – 63% have a university degree, 71% have a household income of over $50k, and 48% are in that critical 35-54 age segment. The bad news is that this may not be the right audience for your marketing initiative.
- Provide an incentive. Gone are the days when simply placing a code in an ad was enough to intrigue people into scanning it. Codes will be ignored unless there’s a clear incentive to scan. In a survey of QR code early adopters, the top reasons why people said they would scan a code included:
- providing a coupon or discount
- entering a sweepstakes
- accessing additional information
- buying something via mobile payment
- accessing a video
- interacting with a social media channel.
Some of these categories – such as mobile payment – are in their infancy and have enormous growth potential. Others, such as coupons or discounts, become stale very quickly. The key here is that the incentive has to be something the user actually wants badly enough to interrupt what they were doing to load up the reader app and scan the code. The more of an interruption it is, the bigger the incentive needs to be.
- Make it engaging. Focus on the experience. It’s tempting to bring people to a simple mobile-optimized landing page and ask them to convert. Resist that temptation. The QR code is an unspoken promise to “wow” you once you scan it with something really interesting. Whether you make your landing content funny or sad, innovative or cool, it needs to be engaging. If it is too sales-y or boring you risk disappointing your audience or losing them altogether.
- Consider the context. QR codes are intended for mobile devices. Avoid the obvious goofs, such as placing codes on airplanes or subway ads where mobile networks don’t work; don’t require people to complete complicated registration forms on a mobile device. Think about what they’ll be doing when they see your code. Shopping in the grocery store aisle? Give them a QR code on your in-store display to access recipes that they can make with your product. Looking at priceless art in a museum? A QR code can provide access to enhanced information about paintings and sculptures. Look for ways to make the time and space work for you.
- Define the conversion model. You absolutely need to define what a conversion is in the context of this campaign. Having someone scan the code and end up on a landing page isn’t enough. What do you want them to do once they get there? Where’s the return on investment? QR codes are inherently trackable, but that’s useless unless you clearly define what it is that you’re tracking. Make sure that you design each step of the process, from the media placement to the engagement experience, to optimization.
- Measure, measure, measure. Set up your measurement tool to track each step of the funnel. Set up goal tracking in your analytics tool to capture each point and to visualize where the potential drop-off is coming. It’s important to track type-in or direct traffic to the landing page URL since not everyone will scan it with a reader; some people will just go there. (And remember to provide the URL in clear, readable font somewhere on your ad, too.) Regular optimization of your landing experience can help you maximize conversion, even once the QR code has been deployed.
- Have an exit strategy. Your QR code could live on in print or digital format long after your campaign wraps. If you’re running a short-term contest or promotion, it’s important to decide what you’re going to do with the QR code after the promotion closes. Sending visitors to a 404-file-not-found error page is not an effective strategy. Find a way to migrate them – in as few steps as possible – over to something new, preferably while capturing their interest.The QR code is just one in a large bag of tricks that is constantly changing. If you’re thinking about adding one into your next campaign, stop for a moment and think. If you have the strategy clearly defined, then it’s easy to switch out the tactics as they continue to change rapidly – which, in the case of QR codes, they certainly will.