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A Marketer's Guide to QR Code Technology

self-referential qr code QR codes, a decades-old technology that was first used in the supply chain, are now expanding aggressively into the marketing space. QR codes were first developed in Japan by the Denso-Wave corporation for use in the automotive industry, and remained a b2b tool, not unlike RFID.

However, as  of Q2 2011, QR scanning traffic was rising an astonishing 9840%, compared to the same quarter in the prior year, according to a report by Mobio [PDF].

New users of this technology, the report finds, are people outside of the 35-44 year old age bracket. 18-24 year olds are now up to 31% of all users, while users under the age of 18 have nearly tripled since Q1 2011. In addition, the male user base now slightly outnumber the female user base, whereas a year earlier women were the majority of people using QR codes to enter contests, receive information on products and make purchases, Mobio found.

In light of its increasing consumer use and shifting demographics, this article will quickly explain how the technology works, then list applications that run the gamut from one-off freebies to solutions that scale with more frequent QR marketing use.

What QR Can Do

A QR (for Quick Response) code is a matrix or two-dimensional code readable by dedicated barcode readers and camera phones. From the consumer's perspective, the process of using a QR code is simple: he or she sees the code on a billboard, magazine page, side of a bus, etc and scans it with a smartphone that has the necessary code-reading software downloaded on it, such as RedLaser.

Interpreting a QR code is a relatively straightforward process as well - assuming the information embedded in the code is simple and, preferably, text-based. In that case, all of the QR readers from the various platforms should be able to decode and render the image or text, or launch a mobile browser to follow a hyperlink. Indeed, the information encoded may be anything from text to images to URLs, the latter serving as landing pages for specific campaigns.

For marketers, such information can include anything from access to special games and competitions to images that perhaps are not best suited for general viewing. Calvin Klein, for instance, used them to entice viewers to see its ad called "uncensored" [video].

"customers can quickly opt-in to your list without having to remember your website"

They can play a role in an email marketing campaign as well, Experian QAS says in a blog post. "QR codes are small, easy to print and extremely low cost. Email marketers can code these 2D barcodes with direct links to email subscription opt-in pages," writes Melanie Attia, email marketing expert and product manager for Campaigner. The codes can be added to just about any media such as clothing, on business cards, or any other kind of printed literature. "The benefit is that customers can quickly opt-in to your list without having to remember your website or landing page address - which is why the technology is popular as a URL shortener."

QR Generation and Management Tools

For such campaigns - say all the marketer wants to do is direct a consumer to a landing page with the displayed URL - there are providers that can generate code for free.

These include:

Also, both Goo.gl and Bit.ly offer features that let users add ".qr" to any shortened URL to create a QR code. You are then taken to a page for a QR code for that URL. Scanning the image with a code reader takes back to the link that was originally shortened.

More elaborate campaigns, entailing say video or games or special offers, will require a QR management platform. Increasingly, such functionality is expected of consumers - or at least most likely to pay off for the marketer.

Direct Response Behavior Requires Analytics Back-end

A survey conducted by MGH in December 2010 found that 32% of respondents said they've had used a QR code, and 70% said they planned to use a QR code again or for the first time. For both those that have used one and those that plan to use one, the top motivator in scanning a code is to secure a coupon or discount (53% and 87%, respectively).

The survey also found that an astonishing 72% of smartphone users would be likely to recall an ad with a QR code. American Eagle, as one example of this, offered a 15% off discount to customers who scanned the QR code in their ad in a 2010 holiday season campaign [video].

Such platforms almost always include some sort of analytics package as well and many include integration hooks to let the marketer incorporate the campaign into a larger media presence.

These include:

Beetagg, a Switzerland-based company that has significant global reach. Among its differentiators, the BeeTagg QR Reader is able to receive additional information and offer contextual actions after the phone’s browser is opened. In one recent campaign, PHD Mobi developed for IMAX a Treasure Hunt game for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie launch. The game took place inside a shopping malls in Curitiba, Brazil. Players were able to view a Pirates of the Caribbean movie trailer, receive additional information about IMAX, see future releases like Cars 2 and KungFu Panda 2 and win prizes.

Insqribe, based in Australia, is another provider active in global markets. In Spring 2011 it ventured with SET Japan, creators of the Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and WIRED designer QR Codes, to offer clients codes tightly integrated with creative efforts. The QR codes can still track and measure consumer behavior.

Jag Tags, which offers a QR solution that does not require an application or Internet access. Consumers can use any QR Code application they have installed or just take a picture of a QR code and send it to JAGTAG via MMS, Email or Twitter.

Microsoft Tags, or Tag, probably has the best name recognition given its parent company. This solution lets users create and deploy Tags, scan them with a single reader, analyze the results, and update the content without changing the Tag. There are also features to create custom Tags, and deliver a wide range of content, from product details and videos to interactive games and apps. It's also free.

Lincoln Electric, a provider of welding equipment and technology, used 2D Microsoft Tag barcodes to market its welding products. The codes are embedded on the product nameplates, that when scanned give consumers in the pre-sale distributor showroom more information on product selection. Post-sales, they provide operational tips and support resources. Users are also able to pull up videos, product specification sheets and competitive product comparisons, instruction manuals, related articles and company contact information.

OpenQr offers the usual management system functionality as well as realtime video conversion for mobile devices, mobile site management, AJAX interface, advanced statistics and the ability to make and publish QR Code based quizzes and surveys.

QRidg generates the 2D barcodes as well as gathers analytical data on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, along with the locations they were scanned from, and phone models that were used.

Scanlife is a system that is compatible with every major operating system and 80% of new phones sold in the US that sport a camera. Partnership agreements include such major carriers as Verizon, Spring, Vodafone and Orange.

Scanvee also points to the ubiquity of its technology, as it can generate either QR Code or DataMatrix - both open source formats - and is not based a proprietary version. Each barcode is linked to live-time analytics, providing unique and total scans, type of phone used, location of scan and when the scan took place. Other features lets user compare the performance of codes and campaigns and chart the demographic information that was gathered.

SPARQ.ME is a mobile marketing service focused guiding users with purchases of products or services, or to receive mobile coupons. The SPARQ.ME platform also includes mobile websites, loyalty programs, lead generation, marketing via QR Code and SMS and advanced analytics. Valpak recently tapped them to run a QR campaign on their ubiquitous blue envelops.

ToyotagSpyderLynk, a Denver-based mobile marketing company that developed Snap Tags, which it bills as an application-free alternative to a 2D mobile barcode.
Toyota is using Snap Tags - dubbed within the company as ToyoTags - across all its marketing. The ToyoTag is Toyota's logo inside a ring, which customers take a picture of - snap - and receive product-related content and other company information. It works with either a standard phone or a smartphone.

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