Leveraging QR codes

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LBS and QR codes leave an impression on the mobile marketing landscape
LBS and QR codes leave an impression on the mobile marketing landscape

Providing useful, accurate and the most up-to-date product information, as well as company location, especially becomes critical at the all important point-of-purchase. Marketers cannot afford to miss an opportunity in these areas.

Challenges remain

It is tempting to want to develop a QR code for everything, though the risk is redundant information and straining resources.

Blue Chip Marketing's Van Heirseele says while QR codes are free, the budget needed to build the different landing pages (i.e., a sweepstakes), produce the content (i.e, videos) and the time needed to maintain the sites, remain a big challenge.

Heine agrees, “Every time you create a code, you then have the obligation to support and keep it relevant.”

Marketers also have to think about the entire user experience — taking into consideration factors such as placement, context and location—when thinking about using QR codes and location-based efforts. Digitas' Chen says the goal of the technologies is to provide additional information and extend engagement so consumers go deeper with a brand. However, marketers must pick their moments. For example, encouraging consumers to snap codes while driving is not the best time to engage them with a brand.

“One of the reasons why magazines work well is because consumers are in that browsing, leisure time,” Chen says. [Snapping a code] is not a giant or different behavior to take in that moment.”

An important challenge is that some consumers do not know what a QR code is or how to activate them. Additionally, brands do not always clearly communicate what consumers will get if they snap a code and whether the content will be valuable. Therefore, marketers have to be clear and upfront on the ad or signage itself about what consumers can expect.

To educate customers, both JCPenney and Macy's created YouTube videos explaining how to interact with the codes. They also offered incentives for snapping codes or signing in through LBS partners, like Foursquare or Shopkick.

Macy's shoppers were also entered into shopping spree sweepstakes when they snapped codes, and offered Shopkick's participants special offers and discounts if they signed in.

Sometimes the problem is as simple as the technology not working properly. For instance, GPS maps don't always provide the correct user location. And, having LBS on your phone drains the battery more quickly, so consumers are reluctant to use it all the time.

Q&A: Brian McClary, social & emerging media analyst, Ford Motor Co.

Location-based technology and QR codes are in heavy rotation at the Ford Motor Company.

Click to read full Q&A.

Similarly, while smartphones in other parts of the world, like Asia, automatically have QR code scanners built in, U.S. phones do not, so users first have to download one of several apps. Additionally, users have to exit out of whatever program they are currently in on their phones, locate the scanning app and wait for it to load before they can snap a code. This may further dissuade users from snapping codes because it may be too much of a hassle for them.

“The app download is a barrier in itself,” Van Heirseele says.

Digitas's Chen believes it is the responsibility of the hardware and software manufacturers to improve upon the technologies.

Furthermore, Brian McClary, social and emerging media analyst at the Ford Motor Co., says Ford used LBS with Foursquare during a car show to reward the first 20 people who signed in with a poster. However, they experienced a connectivity issue because there were too many people using the same signal, preventing people from checking in. McClary says they remedied the situation by allowing people to check in through Twitter.

All these things combined make up the user experience. Several marketers caution if the initial experience is bad, users are less likely to give the technology a second chance. Therefore, all marketers have a responsibility to make the QR code and LBS a good experience each and every time, especially the first time.

Make or break year

While some marketers anticipate using LBS technology more and in more creative ways, QR codes may be a harder sell going forward. The codes have been around for a few years, and new technologies are quickly emerging that will be direct competitors.

“This is the make or break year for QR codes,” Van Heirseele says. “Retailers are asking for them and we will supply them, but if we don't see people adapting to them and interacting with them, something else will come along to take their place.”

Chen, who also believes QR codes may only be around for another 12 to 18 months, says image recognition is getting better, to the point that users will be able to snap a photo of the product itself and search for more information that way, rather than having to use a QR code.

Also, as people begin to expect companies to have mobile-optimized browsers, Chen says they will also get more accustomed to typing URLs into their mobile browsers, which could make QR codes less relevant.

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