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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

QR Codes: Marketing, Communication and Business uses

Ben Acheson QR CodeThe black and white patterned image on the right is a QR code - this one is made with the URL of my website

If you have a phone or other enabled device, you can scan or photograph this image from your computer screen to your device. It will take you to my website.

QR codes (Quick Response codes) are like bar-codes for the web: they can be read instantly by devices including mobile phones with an in-built camera or bar-code scanner (so-called "mobile tagging").

Rather than product data, QR codes deliver text-based messages - which can include an active URL or hyperlink. That means users can choose to receive your message, in seconds, wherever they are. You can take them to your website, or even a specific page on your website or elsewhere on the web.

That's very powerful. It means you can deliver almost unlimited amounts of information to users on demand. That has some interesting implications for marketing and communication in business.

You can generate your own QR codes in seconds too. There are plenty of websites with free QR code generators.

Because QR codes are still novel, it is quite easy to get users to play with them. They're curiousities. They're almost like a secret symbol. The less information you give about the information on offer the better in many cases. Make people hungry for more and they will scan and have your messages delivered to them.

Examples of business and marketing uses for QR codes


Direct mail: why not send direct mail using QR codes? Rather than reading and typing in your URL manually, or searching for your product or information, customers can use your QR code like a real-world hyperlink. Just as they might click a link on your email or web page, they can scan the QR code to access your information.

Interactive outdoor advertising: imagine a huge traditional billboard poster in a busy public place. It is designed to draw people closer. Perhaps it's just your logo, with a gigantic arrow pointing to the bottom corner and perhaps a brief message inviting users to scan a small QR code at an accessible height. You could even display a row of them, one for each persona, product, market segment or industry.

Charities: you could use QR codes instead of collection buckets, to take donors to information about their work - and even a payment page. Rather than have pushy salespeople stopping commuters in the street, why not send out teams of people with QR-code printed t-shirts and baseball caps, asking people to, "scan me!" Let users opt in and donate or buy privately on their smartphone. This sort of new and still radical approach could work equally well for product marketers.

Product information

A store, even a market stall, could use QR codes on its products, to take users straight to a page on a website, with detailed product information - far more than could ever be displayed on the packaging or even in the store environment of most products, such as:

  • Text information about the product
  • Photos
  • Video/audio (for example how to use the product)
  • ingredients
  • Health and safety information
  • Environmental information
  • User generated content including reviews and ratings.
  • (Can you think of anything else?)
  • This could mean product packaging might be produced more cheaply, with less text and images. It certainly means that much more information is available to the customer at the point of sale. (Sellers might even consider providing readers to their customers).
Business information and internal communication
Why not leave QR codes around the office at points where people might want information?
  • Here's how to use the photocopier.
  • Welcome to reception - scan here to find out more about our company.
  • Scan the QR code on sombody's desk to find out their name, role, interests, social and professional networking pages.
These are just a few examples. Creative marketers and communicators will no doubt dream up plenty of other and better applications for QR codes.
I recommend applying them to your marketing campaigns as early as possible - before the novelty wears off. When that happens, they will still have their uses, but without the initial novelty and mistique the response to QR code marketing will be much weaker. As with all marketing trends, businesses should aim to lead the way and move away from the latest fad before it becomes passé.

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