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How to stop QR codes from becoming a marketing gimmick

August 8, 2011

Cynthia Fedor is marketing team lead and senior copywriter at QuantumDigital Inc.

By Cynthia Fedor

There are many smart ways that marketers can use QR codes to collect data, track the success of marketing campaigns and deliver relevant content to consumers. It is just not being done that often right now.

Although a powerful marketing technology, some may argue that QR codes are falling short of expectations thus far and are becoming just another marketing gimmick.

A tighter integration of QR codes within the communication mix must happen before they will have a chance to make a mainstream impact on consumer marketing.

Playing the right card
Here are some strategic uses of QR codes that can put an end to the trash talking.

It is common knowledge that word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals are important in developing strong business, especially for service-based businesses such as cleaning services, roofers, lawn care and real estate services.

According to BusinessWeek, 70 percent of consumers consult reviews or ratings before making a purchase.

Additionally, according to a June 2010 Harris Interactive poll of adult U.S. consumers, “71 percent claim reviews from family members or friends exert a great deal or fair amount of influence on purchase decisions.”

Some of the potential benefits of leveraging online user-generated feedback are improved search engine result placement, as well as the ability to influence the decision-making process of consumers who are actively engaged in pre-purchase research online.

What is not always common knowledge, however, is how to amplify the impact of user testimonials that are housed online to spur maximum growth offline to increase market share in local neighborhoods where a business is already delivering services.

Offline conversations between neighbors, colleagues and friends are happening all the time.

In a residential community, for example, homeowners that are seeking recommendations for residential cleaning, lawn care and other services often look to get advice from a neighbor.

Those who are satisfied with their current provider are typically first to speak up and recommend a company. Knowing this, how can businesses tap into the word-of-mouth activity that is already happening and increase the density of transactions within a localized area?

One way is to capture video testimonials from satisfied customers in a service neighborhood and use QR codes printed on postcards to deliver the personal recommendation directly to their neighbors – targeted prospects surrounding the satisfied customers.

Include a relevant offer to further motivate trial and purchase.

P’s and Q’s
QR codes bridge the gap between offline and online media, making direct mail and print media interactive. That coupled with the fact that marketers can target prospects in key neighborhoods gives businesses a better chance to grow market share while maintaining efficiency.

Before using QR codes in any campaign, marketers need to stop and think. It is important to see campaigns and the use of digital marketing technologies from the perspective of the average consumer.

Most marketers are failing to use QR codes in smart ways and many consumers are not paying attention to QR codes because marketers often do not provide incentives and a good reason to use them.

As Mashable blogger Ashley Brown noted in her article, 5 Digital Marketing Trends to Watch, because of the way marketers in the United States are using QR codes, they appear to be just a “nerdy marketing gimmick.”

Ms. Brown describes her encounter with a QR code during a recent shopping trip to Sephora:

“I simply do not understand the success of QR codes … on a recent shopping trip to Sephora, I noticed the use of QR codes to collect additional information about products around the store. Considering I am admittedly secluded within the tech industry, I was anxious to know just how successful a somewhat “nerdy” marketing gimmick could be on the average, everyday consumer. So, I quickly asked a nearby sales clerk, “How many shoppers do you generally see scanning your QR codes each day?” Her response: ‘What is a QR code?'”

Using Ms. Brown’s Sephora experience as an example, rather than simply linking to more product information after she scanned the QR code, Sephora could have provided her with a coupon – instantly delivered to her mobile phone – in exchange for her address or her subscription to their enewsletter.

Sephora could get something out of the transaction – customer/prospect data along with the opportunity to close a sale – and Ms. Brown would get something out of it. A coupon that could be used immediately while she was still in the retail environment.

Cracking the code
When used wisely and in conjunction with a detailed consumer database, unique QR codes on printed materials may be used to deliver information that is both useful to and meaningful for a consumer.

For example, imagine a family with a child getting a direct mail postcard from a photo studio. The postcard could feature a unique QR code that offers driving directions from the family’s home to the nearest photo studio location.

Since the QR code is unique and tied to a specific recipient, the marketer will have the ability to see who responds to a marketing piece and when. This type of data could then be used to further refine and personalize marketing messages or for targeted follow-up campaigns.

Even in this early stage of adoption, marketers and consumers alike see great potential in the use of QR codes. The future impact and full range of benefits will be determined by how well marketers integrate QR codes into the media mix.

Cynthia Fedor is marketing team lead and senior copywriter at QuantumDigital Inc., Austin, TX. Reach her at

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