By Keith Trivitt | @KeithTrivitt | Director, Marketing and Communications
Of all the hot marketing trends that have emerged in the past year, perhaps none has garnered more attention — and scorn — than Quick Response Codes (QR Codes). Alternately viewed by brands and marketers as the “next big thing” or a silly and unnecessary gimmick meant to demonstrate brands’ coolness in the digital age, QR Codes have plenty of fans and detractors.
Stepping away from the debate for a moment, it’s worth asking: Are QR Codes undervalued?
That is the question Digiday posed to brand marketers last week in an informative analysis of the state of QR Codes. After laying the groundwork with some interesting stats on QR Codes’ use by brands and their ROI (see below for details), reporter Giselle Abramovich offers examples from three well-known global brands — Coca-Cola, Taco Bell and HP — that have seen success from using QR Codes.
Before diving into those case studies, let’s look at the stats.
According to Digiday, and based data from Scanbuy, a company that provides QR Codes to brands and reports back-end analytics on their use, more than 13 million QR Codes were processed in the first quarter of 2012, a 157-percent increase from 2011. Of the QR Codes it delivers, Scanbuy reports that the most popular QR Code marketing campaigns are delivering video, app downloads and product details. And, not surprisingly, marketers are going gaga over QR Codes; 96 percent plan to use them in 2012.
With stats that strong, what’s not to love about QR Codes? Quite a lot, actually.
Part of the consternation stems from the technology behind QR Codes. Long used in Europe and Asia, where consumers are highly adept at using their mobile phones for regular Internet use and mobile purchases, U.S. marketers are faced with a multitude of providers, none of which use the same platform. The possibilities that QR Codes offer marketers are numerous, but in order to reap those benefits, the U.S. market will have to develop some sort of consensus platform for 2D barcodes. At the moment, the lack of one consistent platform is confusing to consumers, which muddles the overall value of QR Codes.
There is also the issue of the content behind QR Codes. Much has been made of QR Codes finding their way on bizarre items, including Band-Aids and cookies. Worse are QR Codes that link to poorly designed mobile websites or irrelevant content. Simply put: if a brand is going to the trouble of putting a digital presence on a non-digital platform, it needs to ensure the content it links to is highly engaging and easy to use. Otherwise, consumers are going to click and leave. What’s the value in that?
Where does that leave the three big brands listed above that are cited in the Digiday article? Interestingly, each offers a compelling reason why QR Codes may be undervalued and why brands should increase their adoption of them, rather than turn their backs. Furthermore, each brand found success using QR Codes placed on physical packaging, rather than on digital content, such as a Web TV show .
Case in point: Coca-Cola placed QR Codes on packaging that linked consumers to downloadable content about its “Snowball Effect” campaign. Tied to a physical promotion at 7-Eleven stores around the U.S., Coke placed QR Codes on 7-Eleven branded cups, linking iPhone users to exclusive content about the campaign.
“The results we have seen are extremely impressive,” Paco Rodríguez, digital manager at Coca-Cola, told Digiday. “Thanks to QR Codes, we are able to constantly surprise our consumers with new content, strengthen our position in the mobile space and understand what interests our consumers.”
While the “surprise” element of QR Codes may evaporate as consumers become more comfortable seeing the funky little square boxes on their favorite soft drink, the value to brands is likely to increase — if marketers get the approach correct. Targeted QR Code campaigns, placed on physical packaging, and tied to compelling digital content or promotions, is the way to go in the QR Code game.