Mobile marketing—and by extension, QR Codes—is so appealing to marketers because it promises to find consumers wherever they are and to be available wherever consumers look.
Mobile is not its own medium so much as it's an adjunct to almost every other channel. A mobile device is another computer for consumers, only better because it's always with them and always on. It's a terrific way for marketers to communicate and it's an easy way for consumers to respond to direct marketing.
Years ago, direct marketers were particular about the response channel consumers used because that was how they were able to measure results. If you wanted consumers to call a particular 800 number, you'd be disappointed if they decided to shop at a retail store instead. You wanted to capture that person's data in order to measure response. Budgets were often segmented by media, and direct marketers didn't get credit for responses that came through other channels.
Now, especially with ubiquitous mobile devices, more media are more measurable, and marketers can count—and celebrate—almost any type of responder. Best of all, you can provide whatever kind of experience a consumer wants—online or offline—wherever that consumer happens to be. The sooner marketers remove those barriers to response, the better and more competitive they will be.
A Marketing Toggle Switch
QR Codes allow instant access to a mobile site, even when consumers may already be at a marketer's location.
A QR Code on a hangtag, poster or storefront gives almost instant gratification. Just by snapping a picture, consumers can get authoritative information without having to ask a salesperson who may or may not have the data they're looking for. QR Codes have even made their way onto high-end restaurant menus, so you can learn about the provenance of the organic mushrooms you're eating.
From a marketing point of view, you can offer consumers a seamless brand experience without having to depend on a salesperson. You can even post a QR Code that automatically generates a Facebook "like" for your product or service whenever the code is scanned.
QR vs. SMS
As a generalization, QR Code responses differ from SMS text responses in the way lead generation differs from a one-step sale.
A text response to an advertisement is usually offer-driven. It's a quick way to help close a sale. Text responses can be used for mobile coupons, for example. Or responders can be directed to a website, mobile site, quiz session or toll-free number.
QR Codes often lead responders to a richer experience of the brand. They are another way to start a conversation with the consumer.
A big advantage of offering an SMS response right now is the prevalence of feature phones over smartphones. Many smartphone users also aren't aware of, and therefore aren't using, QR Codes yet.
On the other hand, SMS marketing may be a more expensive proposition when you include the costs of registering and maintaining a short code and paying for messaging.
QR Codes Aren't For Everyone
Some people won't have the software needed to utilize QR Codes. That's why, whenever possible, you should also include a printed URL in your marketing material, so the site can be found without a QR Code reader. The point isn't to look so cool that only those in the know can find you—the point is to actually be found and to bring the consumer a little closer to buying.
As with traditional direct marketing, your marketing will be most successful when the consumer's experience aligns with expectations. A QR Code ought to lead to a very specific mobile site that answers immediate questions, shows a brief video or creates some fun for the user.
And it shouldn't stop there. If someone continues to want to know more, it should be easy to get to your regular mobile site. And from there, it should be easy to get to your optimized desktop site.
Seamless QR Experiences
To get a picture of how this might work, consider how some businesses are adding QR Codes to business cards. Scanning the code might take you to a microsite that gives you a brief bio and contact information for the person whose card you have. From there, you should be able to easily link to more information about the company through a site optimized for your particular mobile device. And if you want to dig deeper, you should also be able to get access to the business's full desktop site on your phone.
To see a seamless experience like this, take a look at how ESPN's mobile site works. The site works hard to provide a personalized experience for each fan. While this kind of commitment to mobile may be a stretch for many marketers, it's certainly something to strive for.
In our practice at Hacker Group, we firmly believe that everything we do, all marketing communications, must function well in the mobile space.
Let Audience Dictate Your Actions
You don't know where your target market will find you. You don't know how they'll prefer to respond. You can't make assumptions, no matter how tempting.
I know, for example, that my response habits are different when I'm using my mobile phone vs. my landline. But I can't assume everyone in my target audience even has both a landline and a mobile phone. In some cases, you can focus on smartphone users and ignore feature phone users, but there are still more feature phone users right now, so it's important to be strategic in your decisions.
Like other web-based marketing, QR Code marketing can be tracked and measured, if you plan ahead. You can get normal website analytics, and often more than that, such as the location where the code was scanned and the model of the mobile device that was used.
If you use multiple media in your campaign—for example, print, direct mail and posters—you can compare response by media. If you use QR Codes for personalized URLs (PURLs) in a direct mail campaign, you could track to the individual response.
Marketers must continually remind themselves that "mobile" is not a single medium or solely a response channel—it is becoming the way most of us will engage with brands. The easier you make it for your target audience to find you, to learn more about your products and to respond to your offers on mobile devices, the better prepared you will be for the future.
Spyro Kourtis, president and CEO, oversees all strategic planning and day-to-day operations of Hacker Group, one of the largest direct/digital agencies in the West.