Oct 10, 2011

How Much is the Doggie in the Window?

I confess: sometimes when I’m flipping channels, I might occasionally land on the Home Shopping Network. Imagine my surprise last night when I noticed the funny square barcode in the lower right hand part of the screen. The announcer invited me to use my smart phone to get more info and actually make my purchase!

Quick Response (QR) codes got started in Japan as an aide to inventory control. According to Wikipedia, they were created by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. Since then, they have been seized by national manufacturers to provide all kinds of information. Since QR readers are freely available on smart phones, the expectation is that they will become the “vehicle” of choice for conveying detailed info about products and services to exactly the people who want to see it. As my local printer, Terry Doland of Express Printing, has written in his blog: “Using Smartphone technology, people can scan a special QR (Quick Response) code and have their telephone connect to a web address, download a MP3 file, dial a telephone number or prompt the email client with a sender address.”

If you want to market to the hundreds of thousands of “smart phone” users, a demographic growing all the time, you will want to consider how to incorporate into your marketing mix the QR code.
So should you design your next mailing piece or flyer to feature a QR code? 

“Not so fast,” cautions Manie Kohn, President of Don’t Tell Me, Show Me, a Silicon Valley company using an unprecedented combination of progressive online marketing, quality control and Realtor accountability to empower home sellers when choosing a real estate professional.

According to Mr. Kohn, current QR codes are associated with three problems as marketing components:
1.      Small Market – only 6.2% of cell phone users scanned a QR code in June 2011, 23.5% of whom actually scanned from a poster or flyer according to the tracking firm, comScore.
2.      Linked to unreadable content – many firms using QR codes linking them to WebPages that are not optimized for mobile devices. Consequently, “eyeballs” are lost when customers can’t see content easily or quickly
3.      Too many links in the chain – for QR codes to serve up a prompt and positive user experience, phone must have a QR reader app that works well, is instantly accessible, Web connectivity, and readable meaningful content.  Lacking any link loses customers. 
My own opinion is that a QR code does not detract from the marketing message and seems like an easy way to win the attention of prospects with little incremental cost. I have added a QR code to my business card, which links to a mobile-ready version of my bio. I also recommend using QR codes to people trying to sell their car or a house with a flyer. 

QR codes also seem a great way to sell services, especially if they can be linked to videos or podcasts that extend the service value proposition. But most pundits agree that until ALL cell phones come with built-in QR readers, adoption will be hit and miss.