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Why QR codes are killer app for driving sales and brand loyalty

A year ago QR codes were primarily used to complement short-life media such as a newspaper ad. Today?s mobile marketer is taking a more long-term approach to reach a wider audience over an extended period.

We now see QR codes on product packaging of large brands such as Heineken and in the retail environment with retailers such as Gap and Jones New York adopting the technology. Brands finally realize that QR codes give shoppers an immediate connection to additional information that can potentially close a sale.

?The use cases are virtually endless, but Gap has codes in the store to help people decide which jean is the right fit for their body type or Best Buy is using codes to give people product details and user reviews,? said David Javitch, vice president of marketing at Scanbuy, New York.

?A customer already in the store is the closest to making a purchase, so this is a tool that can help them make that decision in one click,? he said.

Mobilizing static media
Marketers can incorporate QR codes to complement traditional marketing efforts.
The codes could link consumers to product demos, videos, the brand?s Facebook or Twitter page, and some are linking directly to mobile commerce sites. 

In Esquire Magazine, Brooks Brothers has a multi-page spread where the reader can scan to purchase any of the items highlighted in the brand?s fall collection.

?QR codes are very close to the ?tipping point,' and the fourth quarter will push us over the top,? Mr. Javitch said. ?We will be releasing some data next week from our ScanLife platform, but one key stat is that we see more scans in a month than we did in all of 2009 combined.? 

That explosive growth is driven by a number of factors. 

Smartphone and mobile application adoption is growing quickly.

Additionally, carriers are doing their part to create awareness. For example, Sprint is preloading the application and Verizon is using codes in marketing.

?Consumers told us three years ago that they will scan if the infrastructure and the codes are there, and that is what we are now seeing,? Mr. Javitch said.

Awareness is up
Greater proliferation and awareness has probably been the key for 2D bar code campaigns over the past year ? with a range of extremely diverse use cases, according to Laura Marriott, Denver-based acting chief marketing officer of NeoMedia Technologies Inc.

There is definitely a trend towards adoption by major global brands and retailers such as Calvin Klein and McDonalds.

Marketers are beginning to take advantage of the ability that QR codes provide to bring engagement and interactivity to marketing and advertising campaigns.

?We are also seeing increased use of QR codes in other areas of enterprise such as logistics as they?re extremely useful mechanisms for track and trace delivery solutions or ticketing,? Ms. Marriott said.

?Mobile ticketing solutions, such as those supplied by NeoMedia, also enable the easy validation of 2D mobile tickets from mobile phone screens ? granting consumers immediate access to events and/or transportation, without having to search for paper tickets,? she said.

By embedding QR codes into product or delivery packaging, suppliers and courier companies can establish easy means of tracking workforce progress or keeping their warehouses up to date on stock information.

QR codes are becoming a necessary element for brands to integrate into their cross-media initiatives whether out of home, online, television or print.

For example, by embedding a mobile bar code on a billboard, brands are able to activate the advertisement and engage the consumer on the go. 

Once they have established the dialogue with the consumer, whether around product information, movie times, trailers or coupons, they can then continue to correspond, based on consumer opt in, and continue to communicate their brand message.

Analytics based on the consumer scan of the code including time of day and location help brands make better purchase decisions around their advertising and ensure optimal utilization and communication of message. 

?Although in their infancy, the potential for brands to leverage mobile bar codes in all of their initiatives is enormous,? Ms. Marriott said. ?I don?t believe we have reached a tipping point for QR codes. 

?Although we have seen a larger number of brands trialing the mobile bar code capability, the tipping point will come from broader consumer awareness and education on how to scan codes and activate and engage with this new functionality,? she said. 

?We are certainly close and brands/agencies are doing a great job of showing the potential for using this hot, new mobile media.?

Anna Kim-Williams, senior global media strategist of the Startup Business Group at Microsoft, Redmond, WA, said that mobile bar codes provide fast access to more information.

Retailers, specifically, can give visitors to their brick and mortar stores immediate access to the same types of in-depth product information they have come to expect online.

?[Tags can be used to] integrate sales channels for a unified experience,? Ms. Kim-Williams said. ?Connect various sales channels, including your brick and mortar stores, online stores, and catalogs to provide a more cohesive experience for shoppers.?

Retailers could also use mobile bar codes to create interactive gift cards. 

With a QR code on a gift card, retail customers can easily check their balance, find the closest store, or view or listen to a message from the gift giver ? and turn those interactions into merchandising opportunities.

QR codes for holiday marketing
A number of retail-related campaigns will be launching this holiday season, per Mr. Javitch.  

Codes offer a great way to drive people into the store, or incite purchase on the mobile device. 

All traditional media from newspaper ads to catalogs should include codes to help make the purchasing decision easier.

For the holidays specifically, marketers can use QR codes to connect consumers with store locators, holiday store hours or to get people sign up for exclusive offers. 

?We have seen a few basic best practices that really drive results,? Mr. Javitch said. ?Place codes on traditional media that will be relevant to an on-the-go consumer.

?Print, direct mail and point of sale are performing best,? he said. ?Take a strategic approach so the code seamlessly links from the traditional placement to something of real value, like an offer or user reviews ? and don?t forget to make the content mobile formatted.

?And finally, it?s still important to include a simple call to action next to the code which tells someone what they will find by scanning, and how to get a code scanning app if they don?t have one already.?

Ms. Marriott provided some best practices around the use of QR codes for holiday marketing:

Integrate mobile bar codes into existing digital and traditional media
2D mobile codes are most successful when they are an integral part of the overall campaign ? included in both digital and traditional communication channels as a significant element.

Focus on consumer education
Given their relatively recent entry into the market, consumer education also needs to paramount in the campaign, with clear instructions on how to scan 2D codes and what kind of information will be received as a result ? otherwise consumers may be hesitant to participate.

Ensure consumer privacy
Ensure that the consumer?s experience and privacy of interaction is safeguarded in all instances.

Ensure code integration is effective and appropriate for medium
2D codes should also be printed in black and white, and if utilizing on a media that has a reflective element, adapted appropriately for the medium.

Ensure campaigns are fully tested
Test and test again to ensure that the code works accurately and efficiently. Indeed, any content or service that is triggered by scanning a mobile bar code should be tested to ensure that it works, that it is optimized for mobile and delivers on the value promised to the consumer. This is absolutely fundamental to the consumer experience and interaction with your campaign.

Utilize global, open standards, not proprietary technologies or codes
The deployment of proprietary solutions should also be avoided as it can limit consumer access or market penetration, which will clearly impact on results. The use of mobile bar code solutions that are based on open standards is therefore vital.

Define your expected results
Prior to launching the campaign, ensure you have an understanding of success metrics for the campaign and how to measure them so that you and your brand are able to confirm and assure success.

Have fun!
Mobile bar codes provide an easy means for the consumer to interact with your brand. Have fun and get creative in the campaigns that you deploy to ensure efficiency and high response rates for all participants.

"There are a variety of ways Microsoft Tag can be incorporated into holiday mobile initiatives whether through contests, coupons or information about holiday sales," Ms. Kim-Williams said.

"Marketers can also provide additional product information and help consumers make purchasing decisions through Tags posted at POS or on store shelves," she said. 

Use cases
Last month Verizon Wireless placed QR codes throughout a multichannel campaign to promote its Droid devices and the Warner Bros. film "Inception" that included print ads, in-store displays, direct mail, Web sites and iPad ads.

The campaign achieved 175,000 bar code scans (see story).

Heineken has placed 2D bar codes on all packaging for Heineken and Heineken Light, including six-packs, 12-packs and cases, across the United States for the summer season. Consumers who participate in the sweepstakes scanning a 2D bar code can win a free application or music downloads, t-shirts and Fender guitars (see story).

Warner Home Video Canada placed 2D bar codes on pizza boxes to promote new DVD and Blu-ray releases (see story).

Simmons Bedding Co. has rolled out an in-store QR tagging application to simplify the buying process for consumers as they shop for mattresses and bedding at JCPenney stores (see story).

Jones New York launched a smart store design in its Macy?s Herald Square location to enhance the shopping experience by letting consumers interact with apparel using their smartphones.

The store design uses Microsoft Tags to direct consumers through the shopping experience, from selecting a suit to styling it. It is targeted at time-starved women who are balancing work and family while trying to find time for themselves (see story).

Ms. Kim-Williams suggests "Tag-rich" environments. If an end user sees multiple bar codes in their environment, they are way more likely to interact than if they see one or two.

Experiences optimized for mobile are key.

On occasion, companies try to take the easy way out and not optimize the content for mobile. This is not a wise decision.

End users have a low tolerance for bad user experience on their mobile device. Simply linking to a PC Web site is one of the quickest ways to ensure failure, per Ms. Kim-Williams. 

Mixing it up is also key.

Bar codes is interesting because they can be can linked to a broad range of experiences. 

Marketers can mix it up and link to mobile Web sites, video, slide shows, contests and promotions.

The phrase, "content is king," plays an important role in the practice of QR codes.

"I know this is an old saying, but it still holds true with 2D bar coding," Ms. Kim-Williams said. "You have to provide end users with compelling content at the end of a scan. 

"If the content isn't seen as valuable to the scanner, there is a high likelihood they won't come back for more," she said.