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QR Codes in Marketing of Natural Products

October 21st, 2011

By now you’ve probably seen those funny postagestamp-sized, pixilated, black and white codes in an ad or on a POS display somewhere. Maybe you’ve wondered if you should use them in your marketing and if they will be effective. The answer is yes, and yes.

They’re called QR codes and you can create them as easily as your audience can scan them, giving your audience an easy way to interact with your brand. QR stands for quick response. The code was invented by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in Japan, and it is available to use for free and without a license. QR codes have been popular in Japan for many years, and they are just now catching on here.

To scan a QR code, you simply get one of the many available QR code reader apps for your smart phone, scan the code and it will direct you to the web page or other information that the code contains. You can create the code by going to any number of free web sites that will generate the code. The code can lead to your web page, business card contact information or other information. You can also get software that runs on your PC to create QR codes.

Now that you know how to get the technology, let’s discuss how to use it. While you can use the code on virtually anything, that doesn’t mean you should. Likewise it’s important to consider what the code will link to when scanned. There should be a benefit to the consumer for scanning the code. For example, we recently conducted a focus group with one of our clients in the consumer packaged goods industry. The group consisted of women who were the primary buyers of food for their households. When asked about QR codes on food packaging, the majority of them said they were too busy to scan the code in the supermarket. But, they said they would scan it if it contained a coupon.

The focus group example above shows that QR codes can widen the path to purchase in the packaged foods retail environment. But space may be limited on nutritional supplement packaging. An alternative might be to put the code on a shelf talker or on an end display or other POS display in the store.

Another application of QR codes in a POS display is at a trade show or event. Suppose the sales reps are busy with other customers when a prospect approaches the booth. Rather than waiting, the prospect could scan the QR code and enter a cell phone number. Then the sales rep can call the prospect back and be waiting when the prospect returns. Sort of like a high-tech take-a-number machine. Or the QR code could link to a form that the prospect could fill in with the specific product information he or she seeks.

QR codes are being used creatively in advertising as well. They have been used in broadcast ads and web sites as a fun way to get the audience to interact with the brand, such as to find the answer to a riddle or find out how a story ends. You can use them in print or direct mail ads to offer a coupon or promotion or to link to a web page with engaging product information. For example, a sports drink brand may link the QR code to a web page that has workout videos.

A good ad campaign should include some method of tracking performance, and the QR code has it. You can get software that provides analytics on your QR campaign such as the number of scans, the geographic location of the scans, the phone models that were used and more. Be sure to review these analytics after your campaign to help you increase the effectiveness of subsequent campaigns.

By now the process is starting to sound easy: Get the code, use the code, your audience scans the code. Well, it’s not quite so simple. Microsoft has entered the QR code space by creating its own code called Tag. You can create and read Tags just like you would create and read QR codes, except you need to download Microsoft’s app. The app is free, it runs on all major phone platforms and the analytics are free.

There are a few advantages of the Tag code over the QR code. One is that a Tag code can be printed much smaller than a QR code, which saves valuable real estate on the ad, package, etc. Another advantage is the Tag code is customizable. For example, Road & Track’s Tag represents a steering wheel. Also, Tags can deliver location-specific content, which means the same Tag can deliver different content depending on where you are when you scan the code.

With these two versions of smart phone codes, it may become like the textbook case study of Beta vs. VHS. Both may exist simultaneously until one winner emerges. Who that will be is hard to tell, but QR codes have the advantage of being license-free and can be created and read by a number of different apps. And many different companies make the analytics software. Microsoft Tag, on the other hand, is closed source, and you have to go through them to get code and the analytics.

QR codes offer your audience a convenient shortcut to your brand. It’s a route that they will likely take if there is a benefit waiting when they get there.