QR codes. While they may look like an old promo gimmick from the alien film "District 9," everyone connected to direct mail is talking about them. They're the next big wave marketers appear to be jumping on. QR is just one type of 2D barcode, but they are everywhere: on billboards, printed ads in magazines, signs in cities, business cards, for-sale signs at homes ... and they're on envelopes and postcards, tons of them.
"QR" stands for "Quick Response" for a reason, and it also explains the codes' popularity: They give marketers another way to get a passive prospect to take immediate action — make a purchase, register for an event or take a survey. They dramatically turn a printed direct mail piece into an interactive mobile call to action.
A recent industry study revealed that QR code generation and usage has gone up 700 percent since January 2010. The number of scans in the U.S. has reached 35,000 to 40,000 a day from only 1,000 to 1,500. This, of course, coincides with the growth of smart phone usage, as QR codes (which consist of encoded text, a URL and other data) are designed to be scanned with a smart phone camera—connecting the prospect with a website, video, interactive map, coupon and so on.
The December webinar entitled "QR Code Best Practices - Increase Your Direct Mail Response and ROI," put on by Direct Marketing IQ, featured two direct marketers who've successfully used QR codes in campaigns for various companies: David Henkel, president of Johnson and Quin, a leader in targeted full-service direct mail printing, and Val DiGiacinto, vice president of The Ace Group, an industry leading marketing and print solutions provider, including QR codes.
After the webinar (still available on-demand) wrapped, both panelists were hit with many questions from interested listeners. Here are a few of those questions and answers.
Question: Is there availability, currently, of the contact information of consumers who scan a QR code?
Henkel: Provided you create a unique QR code for each respondent, you will know who is answering, but other personal data will depend on your database and/or answers provided by the consumer. When the scan is made, you will also capture date and time, type of phone and pages viewed (plus other viewing data as appropriate). If you have multiple offers, you will see which offer is accepted. The consumer controls other information given, so this is truly an opt-in process in that sense. Unless you already possess further contact information, you will only receive it if they offer it.
Question: I have tried using QR readers and not had a quick and satisfying experience. Isn't it true that not all QR codes can be read by all reader software, and not all phones can use all software? Aren't these huge obstacles?
DiGiacinto: It is true that not all reader applications are appropriate for all smartphones. The good news is that most new smartphones have QR Code reader applications preinstalled. Androids and BlackBerrys do. The iPhone has so many free apps, but I think Apple is not sure how to handle preinstalling one of them.
One way we have overcome that hurdle is to offer an automatic way to download the best free QR Code reader to each specific phone. If you visit http://www.acegroupnyc.com/qr, our software will automatically detect the make and model of phone you have and bring you to the appropriate download location.
We believe, during 2011, that hurdle will go away all together.
Not all smartphones are created equal. We know that iPhones and Androids will almost always have a great user experience. The Blackberry is lagging in this area, and unless the campaign can identify the type of phone and send it the best user experience for that particular phone, it can be disappointing.
As we move through 2011, I believe the user experience will get much better.
Question: What market has the biggest draw at this time?
DiGiacinto: There has not been one market that has outpaced others.
We have been crossing literally every market we have serviced. Our client list for QR Code campaigns include agencies, cosmetic, fashion, TV, airline, publishing, theater and the arts, corporate, etc.
I have seen QR Codes used for every market where the QR Code has matured, like Japan. I believe QR Codes can be utilized in every market.
Question: What is the difference between QR codes and Microsoft tags?
DiGiacinto: When we first discovered QR Codes, over three years ago, there were only QR Codes available. QR Codes are the worldwide standard for 2D mobile barcodes.
When it hit the U.S. Market, two companies created proprietary 2D Barcodes and one was Microsoft.
Many (most) smartphones come with QR Code Reader Applications already installed. In order to read a Microsoft Tag, you must download the Microsoft Tag Reader Application to your phone. QR Codes are an open application and Tags are proprietary. QR Codes can contain "static" data. That means you can scan the code and the information you need will be displayed on your mobile phone without connecting to the Internet. So you can upload text, a phone number a link, etc. We can also design the code to contain the corporate logo, color and other design elements. We have several codes that are integrated into the image.
We believe the proprietary codes are actually confusing the market place. We have seen comments where the assumption was the reader app on their phone would read Microsoft Tag as well, and it will not.