Putting the 'Response' in Quick Response

Posted by Melissa Cahoon

In our last post, we discussed mainstream America's limitations and steep learning curve with quick response (QR) codes. Now, we take a look at the active QR market, and some QR successes and failures.

While many Americans are wholly unfamiliar with QR codes, there is some promise. Among those who frequently scan QR codes it is interesting that the highest percentage of scanners are not in the youngest age groups. In June of last year, 37 percent of those who had scanned QR codes were between the ages of 25 and 34. The next closest age group is 35 to 44, comprising 20 percent of those who had scanned a code. Eighteen to 24-year-olds make up 17 percent of the group. Men are more likely to scan a QR code than women, but their lead is shrinking.

RepEquity QR Code Post 2

As the use of QR codes becomes more common, best practices for QR marketing are needed. In addition to lack of default QR readers, placement of QR codes can also be a barrier to engagement. When selecting a location for a code, marketers should consider the time it takes someone to grab their smartphone from their pocket, purse or briefcase, start their QR reader, and scan the code. Bad locations for QR codes should seem obvious: moving buses, trains, cars, and trucks; billboards on the side of the road (in the absence of pedestrian traffic); on websites; and anywhere that's out of reach (too high or too low).

Good placement of QR codes involves a little more creativity. Marketers should put themselves in the shoes of an on-the-go person in their target market. Where are they going? How fast are they moving, or are they standing in one spot? Are they likely to slow down long enough to notice the ad, let alone scan the QR code? What is their mindset?

A great place for QR codes is where people are waiting or congregating, like a bus shelter or subway platform (although underground locations can pose a connectivity problem). Other placements to consider are newspapers, magazines, and catalogs; consumers generally spend a significant amount of time engaging with these types of publications.

Once marketers have decided where to locate their QR codes, serious conversation and thought should go into the design of the ad or announcement. Even if an ad is located in a great area where people are spending a lot of time and are interested in their surroundings, bad design can turn them away or even worse, not catch their attention at all. QR codes that measure less than one inch square are likely to be overlooked and may not be scannable by QR readers currently on the market. A QR code can be nullified if a piece of artwork or text is placed on top of the code.

Ads with good design incorporate QR codes prominently and make it so that a passerby can't miss the advertisements. The most important part of the ad is a clear call to action. With so many Americans being unfamiliar with QR codes, the call to action is especially important for unfamiliar or first-time users.

David Bone, our Director of User Experience Design, says 'snap' is his favorite call to action accompanying QR codes. Matt Hageman, RepEquity's Associate Design Director, prefers 'scan,' a term that indicates the user must do something more than just 'snap' a picture of the code. An ad without a call to action runs the risk of giving away too much information and leaving passersby wondering why they need to scan the QR code. Research conducted by Nellymoser, a mobile marketing and technology company, indicated that by Q4 of 2011, over 70 percent of QR codes were accompanied by calls to action that described what would happen after the codes were scanned.

Conversely, an ad containing little additional information besides a logo and a QR code could pique the curiosity of those who see the ad. For example, this campaign from the School of Visual Arts is currently running in the New York City Subway. People are compelled to scan the code because of the poster's lack of detail. A disadvantage here, of course, is that there is no cell service in the NY subways, meaning that unless the person scanning has an app that saves the QR code, the use of a QR code here will be useless.

One industry that is actively experimenting with QR code marketing is the food industry. A fantastic application for QR marketing is being tested in South Korea by UK-based grocery store Tesco's Home Plus. Working with advertising agency Cheil Worldwise, the company installed supermarkets inside some of the country's largest subway stations. But instead of acting like a traditional supermarket, shoppers use their phones to select goods. Tesco hung large images in the stations that looked like the shelves of a grocery store. Each item pictured was accompanied by a QR code. Once consumers scan a code, that item is added to their virtual shopping cart. From within the app, they can submit a payment and schedule a home delivery of their groceries. Since it began, the virtual grocery stores have attracted 10,000 customers and boosted the company's online sales by 130 percent.

This application is a smash hit because it works well and fits consumers' needs. Working adults around the world are busier than ever. If marketers can use QR codes to provide services that help people save valuable time, the power and popularity could be limitless. On the way home from work, the last thing I want to do most of the time is trudge to the grocery store to pick up dinner. If I could purchase ingredients on the commute home and have them on my doorstep when I arrived, I would be a repeat customer without a doubt.

General Mills, parent company of Jolly Green Giant, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and producer of a large line of cereals, is another leader in QR marketing. Mark Addicks, the company's Chief Marketing Officer, hopes to further engage and entertain consumers through updated package design and the use of QR codes. Currently, Addicks is focused on using QR codes on one of our country's most widely read mediums: the cereal box.

'Because of the digital technology that resides in people's hands... we can now deliver content that engages and enhances the experience,' he said in an interview with USAToday. 'You point to a logo and things start to appear... you might see entertainment and games coming from a cereal box. What I'm hoping for is pure entertainment.'

Addicks' desire to entertain consumers is unique. Today's QR codes lead users to many different locations; some are designed to entertain while most aim to educate or entice buyers. As QR marketing becomes more defined, it will interesting to see the correlation between where (or to what) a QR code leads and the conversion or usage rate. Many QR codes in use today lead to websites or social media profiles; they usually don't provide enough of a benefit to create returning customers. And in the worst iterations, QR codes send people to non-mobile websites.

In the future, we'd like to see marketers get more creative. QR codes could lead to short videos that educate viewers about a company or product in an entertaining way that fits on their smartphone screens. QR codes could also be used to enter the user into a contest or make a donation. Coupons are a great idea, even though widespread use and acceptance may be farther away.

Details and statistics on the conversion rates of QR codes are slim; reporting is difficult to standardize because the codes lead to a variety of pages. Some studies do indicate that people are displeased with QR code marketing as it is today. In a study conducted by Minneapolis marketing firm Russel Herder, only 31 percent of respondents reported that what they received in return for their scan was always or usually worth their time; 17 percent said scanning was rarely or never worth their time.

There are two main barriers to the widespread adoption of QR codes. From one angle, advertisers are assuming too much of the people who will scan their codes. Codes are used without ample thought regarding design of the ads or resulting mobile content. On the other hand, until QR readers are default technology and QR codes are standardized, the general public will be slow to really 'get' the idea of QR codes.

Bone suggests that the lack of QR code standardization in marketing and design, along with the comical implementation of these codes, could prevent critical mass adoption in the U.S. Perhaps it's the companies that give us our own personal QR code, like Starbuck's mobile apps, which will get us to adopt QR code usage, rather than marketers catching us with our phones in our pocket.