QR codes: Are they worth the investment?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

Susan Kelly, VP at Xerox, and Frank O'Brien, founder of Conversation, debate the pros and cons of quick response codes

YES

Susan Kelly
VP of enterprise marketing services at Xerox, more than 19 years of marketing experience 

Marketers who are weighing whether or not to turn to quick response codes should consider the following points. Since smartphone sales are expected to outpace those of feature phones as early as next year, the sheer volume of customer opportunity indicates that code technology is worth the investment. 

Smart barcodes give marketers the ability to increase measurement in printed communication and display advertisement, two channels traditionally difficult to measure. They also allow for an increase in customer data collection, crucial for advancing business and marketing strategy. 

Two-dimensional smart barcodes offer the opportunity to engage and connect with the consumer, who is already paying attention to the brand. 

By providing additional content in a new way, the marketer is making progress toward the number one goal: providing awareness and driving a specific conversion or call to action. 

Another reason QR codes are quickly becoming a valuable customer touch point for savvy marketers is that they can transform a one-dimensional direct mail piece into multimedia, online content with only the scan of a barcode. However, in order for them to be worth the investment, marketers need to stay true to the basic principles of marketing. People will only engage and interact with the content if it is relevant to them. 

To get a customer interested enough to navigate through a smart bar code, the brand's initial communication needs to appeal to his or her interests and preferences. The content on the site must be significant and targeted enough for the person to engage, interact and commit to the desired call to action. This means marketers need to make an investment in their audience for their codes to succeed, and collect information to customize the material to reflect an understanding of the individual. 

In a world of highly customized variable data, matching the correct barcode to the correct content can be a challenge. Choosing reliable, smart software that populates values without additional database fields can eliminate errors and ensure delivery of each message to its intended recipient. 

NO

Frank O'Brien
Founder, Conversation, a decade of experience in marketing and advertising industries 

Quick response codes are not worth the immediate impact a company would see on investment. Sure, publicity for being at the forefront of embracing “new technology” would be worth it, but the limitations of this form of emerging technology outweigh the promise of delivery. 

The number of users who can interact with a smart barcode is limited to those who have the latest scanners, smartphones and camera phones. Furthermore, those consumers would also need the correct reader software to scan the image, a capable phone plan and an application to process the codes. These extra steps are not only costly, but time-consuming and cumbersome. 

Understanding these restrictions, consumers might not see any incentive to upgrade their phones for such functionality. To many consumers, a clumsy smart barcode might seem to offer nothing more than what they can already achieve via alternate methods of mobile communication, such as texting a promotion code or directly visiting a company's mobile site. 

Quick response codes hold a lot of promise. However, the technology could fall flat. Nowadays, newer, cleaner, flashier and quicker technology is popping up daily. Companies are wise to be cautious and smart with their investment dollars when it comes to early adoption. However, a great lower-risk approach to test the return on interactive barcodes is through incorporating the technology in isolated opportunities, such as promotions, mobile tours and special events. From these, companies can assess the true advantages and disadvantages of using smart barcodes to accomplish their marketing and customer engagement goals. 

Overall, in stock terms — put a hold on them. See how the market matures, then embrace them if they can be deemed valuable. Other than showing that a company is at the forefront of code implementation, are there any long-term goals or purposes for a company to put such coding to use now, especially when the user base is so limited? There will be many other technologies that offer immediate payoff before code adoption is fully embraced by consumers. Companies should put their investment dollars into technologies with limited risk and established value instead of those that have not matured.

Direct Marketing News' Decision

More American consumers will use smartphones than feature phones by the end of 2011, according to statistics from The Nielsen Co. That means millions more consumers will have access to free barcode scanning applications by the end of this year. Marketers should take advantage of that growth.

HAVE YOUR SAY. E-mail your topic to frank.washkuch@dmnews.com or comment on this story online at dmnews.com/glovesoff.

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