We shop in a physical world. Even during the holidays, online retail accounts for less than 10 percent of all retail spending. And yet, the best tools that we have for marketing exist online.
According to Scott Thomsen of LaunchMedia, mobile technology, particularly 2d barcodes known as QR codes, provide an excellent opportunity to connect the online experience into our physical world. Thomsen presented a session along with Karen Corrigan of Corrigan Partners on Mobile Technology: Changing the Face of Healthcare and Communications at the recent Healthcare Marketing Strategies Summit. Smartphone applications allow users to scan these QR images and then the phone decodes them into mobile URLs, event information, or vCards.
And Thomsen had some great case studies to show off this connection including his firm’s work with Best Buy which you can see on YouTube. The electronics retailer uses QR codes along with a custom scanning application for mobile phones to connect in-store browsers to online specification sheets and product reviews. This allows customers to compare options as they would online by selecting the products with their phone in the store , then receiving incentive coupons at point of decision. All of this helps Best Buy leverage smartphone technology to close the deal rather than become little more than a showroom for customers who end up buying online using price comparison applications like ShopSavvy.
I had the opportunity to talk with Thomsen in depth about the challenges of using QR codes and various strategies for connecting online and offline experiences.
For example, at Geonetric, we’ve begun using QR codes on our business cards. The idea is that the first thing you do with a business card in this day and age is to key all of the data into your phone or computer. We want to shortcut the process and make it easier for our contacts to upload our information by using a QR code.
As you can see, they’re pretty dense with information because we’re embedding the entire digital contact record, known as a vCard, into the image itself. The challenge with this approach is that dense codes like the ones we’re using can be hard for older or low-end phones to interpret because of their lower quality cameras. In addition, while the majority of barcode readers support the vCard format, there are a few older readers that don’t.
We address the inherent challenges in the approach by making our codes fairly large and testing them on a number of different phones with several different applications. It’s not perfect, but we find that cell connectivity at tradeshows, where we hand out a lot of business cards, is very poor (particularly for iPhone users) and didn’t want to be dependent on their data connection for the QR codes to work.
Using a QR code to send the user to a URL has some real advantages. Chief among these is the ability to monitor the number of people who have scanned the code, track their behavior, and even dynamically assemble the information they receive. Sending someone to a website also allows you to share much more information than you’d be able to embed directly in the QR code. My colleague, Tandi, from CPM uses this strategy on her business card, as you can see here.
Using QR codes effectively also means thinking through where you’re sending consumers when they interact. In many cases, you shouldn’t just send them to your home page. Approach this as you would any other online ad campaign or direct mail piece, optimizing your landing pages and setting up unique QR codes to allow ad-by-ad trackability.
All of this requires you to flush your strategy out in detail. I was reminded of this on my flight home as I read Delta’s SKY magazine. This month included in-depth coverage of Utah as a tourist destination – beautifully photographed and using lots of QR codes. There’s only one problem, this magazine is on airplanes! Maybe they should buy advertising in Delta hubs with QR to supplement.
Still, QR codes represent a major shift in our ability to bring the power of our online tools into our traditional marketing and communications efforts, given you think things through and get the details right.