Why QR Codes Matter (And Not For the Reasons You Think)
Full disclosure: I love QR codes. I have ones that point to my Google Places pages, ones that link to various forms of contact information, one that ties people to my mobile site. So when the publisher of a pretty big magazine came to me last week to ask: why should we use QR codes, I found reasons to do so spilling from my lips (more accurately my keyboard).
You use them because they link the physical and virtual spaces via a little scannable code. You use them because this technology, known as 'hard linking'—physical to virtual, instead of the virtual-to-virtual, which is all that has been available til now—is analogous to the print-to-digital
transition publishers are negotiating, and an important tool in understanding and mastering the transition. You use them to push the envelope, to try new things, to think out-of-the-box. You use them because they are cutting edge. You use them because they are cool.
All of which, of course, are reasons many of us are using QR codes; but none of which is a valid (that is to say: bottom-line-based) reason.
Yes there are publishers that have intrigued their audiences and pleased their advertisers and made some money with these scaly little widgets, and I for one feel chuffed when they do. But is there a current, business-based reason to be using them—and are there ways of improving their chances of success?
Two of the current difficulties in making QR marketing effective are:
1) Many people still don't know what they are or how to use them, and;
2) It still often feels easier to type in a SMS keyword or number than it is to scan a QR code
To effectively market with QR codes requires the solution of both problems in one marketing effort. The solution to the first is simply to never put together a program of any sort without including instructions to the user in a clear, sequential way how to participate—beginning with downloading the reader app.
The solution the most successful marketers have found to the second, apart from doing all their marketing to geeks like me and you that just love to try anything new, has been to make the slight additional level of difficulty part of the game. Don't just plaster QR codes all over things and have them lead to ordinary business cards, site pages, or product listings (as I already admit to having done myself). Include it as part of an insider's game, and make the payoff something not otherwise available—an exclusive prize, bonus, opportunity, or tip, a bit of QR-exclusive esoteria.
Which still doesn't answer the question: why should a publisher market with them? And to that I would answer: a decade or so ago we were all asking each other the same question about our online presence. It's up to publishers, and to marketers, to make sure they have a level of theoretical science developed so they have something to use when applied science catches up. In this case the application is the consumer. And the consumer will be caught up to us—and pulling ahead—before we know it.
But there is a better reason—or at least a more immediately justifiable one—according to mobile marketing whiz Dan Hollings. Hollings has been testing subscriber retention on his mobile site, and what he's found is this: his highest success rate for keeping subscribers to his mobile list comes from the segment of subscribers that opted into some offline tie in. In other words at the convergence of physical and virtual space, where there exists a link between the two, is the place where those who opt in are less likely to opt out again.
That is reason enough to capture every publisher's attention, and opportunity enough for every publisher to leverage.