Back in 1994, QR codes (Quick Response Codes) where introduced. Has anyone outside a small number of geeks ever heard of them? I doubt it! For those of you who don’t know what one is they are simple 2D bar codes which were created by the Denso-Wave Corporation.
QR codes were initially used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing, however they are now used in a much broader context, for example in commercial tracking apps and convenience-orientated apps, which is where it starts getting interesting.
QR codes are a perfect vehicle to link the real world such as magazines, billboards, buses or business cards with the digital world using a mobile or smart phone. Technology has moved on leaps and bounds since 1994, especially with regards to mobile phones. Pretty much everyone, however tech savvy they are, has a camera on their phone nowadays and most people have the technology (applications) to scan a QR code – they simply don’t know what they are!
Some companies are trying to get QR codes off the ground again with the latest being Calvin Klein Jeans and their Uncensored QR code Advert Billboard (SishFW).
So why would we care about something from before I started High School?
We should care because to deliver truly integrated marketing campaigns, we need to be able to link up offline and online and give consumers a seamless experience.
Location-based marketing is all the rage in the digital world. Everyone is trying to find a brand to do something cool with Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp or BrightKite. Over the last year Foursquare has taken the social media world by storm (just the social media world for now) with their Lo-So Network which has just logged their 100 millionth “check-in”.
From a brand’s perspective, which of the following two scenarios is more attractive? A consumer sits on a bus reading a magazine, sees a QR code on a press ad, finds the nearest store (either online or physical) and eventually buys the product. Or: a consumer walks into a physical store, checks in (and tells all their friends), views a QR code on the products in the store, downloads more information on their smart phone, which leads them to making a purchase that would not have happened otherwise.
Linking online and offline is hard and it will be a slow process. However, as my generation gets older and the younger generation, who are already tech savvy beyond my wildest dreams, starts earning more money, this is going to change the consumer landscape well beyond our current comprehension.
Let’s not get carried away though. There are problems with both QR codes and Lo-So. There are far too many disparate applications for both and it’s asking quite a lot of our consumers to understand which application they need for which store in which country. But don’t fret, there are solutions on the horizon.
Stickybits is leading the way in the next generation of QR codes using red lasers barcode scanning technology to enable consumers to scan a barcode and discover a social interaction behind the product, be it a picture, video or even a recipe for the product. Stickybits have the added leverage that scanning barcodes for price comparisons, especially in a recession/recovery, has been an increasing trend in consumer behaviour.
There are also those who are taking this type of marketing to the next level and maximising on the success of sites like Perplex City. One such company is SCVNGR (scavenger hunt-like challenges) which is a game where users check in places, do challenges and earn points. Unlike Foursquare the fun doesn’t stop there! SCVNGR (not a catchy name I must admit) has forged itself a new, unique place in the market, with a lot of business potential, thanks to challenge-based discovery that goes on past a simple check in. They have teamed up with the likes of the Smithsonian Museum and The Boston Globe to give people a unique insight into the museum or the city respectively.
It’s going to be interesting to see if any of these services gains enough traction or if it’s going to be a case of multiple platforms coming together. Only time will tell.
Thanks to Agência Cachaça for the image.