I really enjoyed reading the Why Marketers Shouldn’t Waste Their Time With QR Codes article. It tells the story of a giant rat that made it and a CueCat that didn’t. The analogy between QR codes and CueCats, both trying to translate codes into advertiser websites, versus the rat and the flier that makes an impact works.
To recall the CueCat was a device mailed to hundreds of thousands magazines and newspaper subscribers, in 2000. You were supposed to connect it to your PC and install new software for reading the codes with the CueCat. Whenever a newspaper with CueCats code was in you were supposed to take it to the computer and scan it to reach the advertiser website. The assumption was that it is more difficult to type a URL in a computer, than to use the CueCat (and keep it there on your table) for scanning codes for ads.
It is easy to see why QR codes are not CueCats. First you do not have to own a special device for scanning a QR code, the device is your mobile and it is with you anyway. Second, you don’t have to take the newspaper/code to your computer for reaching the content, nor do you have to take your computer to a code – the computer is your mobile and it is with you anyway. Reading the code is available to you anytime you want, it is a trivial process – almost transparent.
New technologies tend to be misused and overused in their early days. An excellent example of such a wrong usage is the Calvin Klein campaign mentioned in the article. Giant signs, unlike QR codes, are a matured art; advertisers know how to make them work. Put there a huge image that talks to your senses and its hugeness will grab your focus. You are detached for a moment from the street and something happens to you. You connect this sensation to the brand even unconsciously and bingo – mission accomplished. Now take that huge sign and put there a QR code – it doesn’t speak to your senses, it is cold and dumb. It is however a call to action, so you take your mobile phone and click the code but then you get a video on your mobile tiny screen, you have to watch it and you do, when you are in the street! The whole magic of hugeness, focus and brand association is gone; you are left with a strange sensation that you have been deceived. Your natural curiosity was used, you downloaded a whole video (on your expense), you wasted minutes from your time – and to what purpose?
Usually ads are pushed into our content without us asking for it. We have not been given the choice to do something for getting them; on the contrary most people will gladly take action to avoid them. Playing upon our natural curiosity advertisers are using QR codes to get us involved in the process of getting the ads.
When advertisers use their coverage power to do that again and again people end with equating QR codes to adds, which is totally bad both for the advertiser, the user and QR codes as an emerging technology.
The New Opportunity
QR codes are the new link. Unlike conventional URLs limited to websites – QR codes connect real world objects to the virtual/digital realm. All you have to do is put a QR code on an object, by that the object becomes clickable and connected to the virtual world. The borders between the real world as we know it and the virtual are becoming transparent.
This is new and the potential in this new situation is enormous.
QR codes offer marketers whole new opportunities. Ads -the main tool used to introduce brands to users – are limited to specific media platforms. That includes TV, newspapers, magazines, websites and street ads. The first automatic reaction of advertisers was to use the new link as a new channel for pushing ads. This will not work, users will end by hating QR codes and marketers will miss the new born opportunities.
Marketers should consider the QR as a special “button”, which once pressed allows the marketer to start a dialogue with an interested customer. Unlike conventional pushed ads where most of the crowd is not really interested in the content, there is an opportunity to display something completely different. There is no need to show the potential customer a movie intended to get him or her to the store if the code was scanned from within the store.
Here is a list of relevant things that marketers can do in this new situation.
1. Provide the user with more technical info regarding the product.
2. Suggest coupons or deals that may convince the clients to buy, perhaps loyalty club membership.
3. Provide opinions and reviews from other consumers about this product.
4. Provide a quick link to social networks so the client can share the experience.
5. Put the client on your mail list and inform him when price drops.
6. Suggest alternatives better suited to the client needs.
All of these things are valuable for the customer and will create a positive brand image, much more than video ads. Note you are not sending your message cross platform, you are having a dialogue with a customer, he may give you his details, his wish list, his ideas – all that from simple eye contact with a product – this was not possible ever before!
Here is a list of things that marketers can do after the sale, when the user clicks the product at home.
1. Provide the ability to review the product.
2. Quick link to support – may be even an incoming phone call.
3. Videos on how to use or build the product (very helpful for build-it-yourself product).
4. Provide a quick link to social networks so he recommend or tell about the new purchase.
5. Provide a possibility to order a new one in case it is a consumable product.
6. Expiry date reminder – again for consumable product.
7. Quick identification and service for defected product lines- (like the famous Toyota gas pedal).
8. Calories counters and possible allergies risks.
Note that all of the listed items add to the positive brand image. Some of them even create new value for the product while others are new channels for social marketing. All this happens, again through a simple interaction with the product. This was not possible ever before.
Marketers that will use this opportunity will win a clear advantage over their competitors.
QR codes are kings when the customer is already interested. Think of the rat example in the article; the QR code should be on the flier you get after being impressed by the huge rat on the sign. Imagine that it would take you to a video about a rat colony, showing you where they live and what they eat. This will connect to the rat impression you got from the huge sign and have a potential to transmit the message even more effectively.
But wait! The marketers and QR codes relations do not end here. Marketers have other aspects to deal with, not always connected to consumers.
1. Tracking of goods from factory to market. QR codes are an excellent tracking device. You can get real life information on when and what has been delivered, transportation times and delivery locations.
2. Tracking machinery parts, learning about the life cycle of the product how many hands it changed and how many years it functions are very easy done with QR codes. In fact this is the reason why Denso created QR codes in the first place.
3. Authenticity – QR code are an excellent mean for merchants to check authenticity of the product as well as for the end consumer. This is an important tool for marketers to fight forgery and equally important one for users to assure quality.
4. Improved factory lines – by reading a barcode on a part the machine can decide which action to take on it. This enables putting mixed parts on same line.
Of course it does not end here. QR codes can be used in traditional media as well, creating a whole new range of business models. After all media providers are also marketers.
1. Buy from TV ads – order Pizza for instance.
2. Vote for ads, rate them, get the audience involved, tell the advertisers to remove the bad ones.
3. Buy newspaper articles into your device with micropayment, by putting a barcode near major articles.
4. Buy non ads TV programs into your device using micropayment by putting a QR code on screen for that.
Service providers are marketers as well. There is a whole range of service improvements that QR codes enable. The list is too long to be included here.
I do not mention in this post other QR codes ways of usage not connected to marketers.
All this being said, there are still ways for advertising through QR codes, one of them occurred lately – advertising your protest cause.
Protest signs are not huge and usually contain a written slogan or a picture. However these signs can be more effective by drawing QR codes on them and connecting them to videos, photos or whole paragraphs. Your sign then gets new life – you have much more room to convey your message. Here is an impressive example, well executed. Worth seeing the video, it adds a new dimension to the protest signs and conveys the message really effectively. Thanks to Roger for including this in his blog.
Taking a wrongly used example of a new technology and concluding from it that this technology should die is too fast and too easy. Millions of clicks per month and an exponentially growing usage curve cannot be wrong. Mistaking the bad usage of a new tool with the tool effectiveness is a well known pattern, just as overusing /misusing new technology is. It is only when used correctly the true power of new technologies shines.