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Are QR Codes Good For Local Marketing? A Contrarian View

 by Chris Silver Smith

Quite a few marketers have raved about QR codes as the best thing since sliced bread. Small-to-medium local businesses wonder if they should jump on the bandwagon as well, but is there enough substance to justify the buzz? Consider this contrarian view before deciding if you should.

Are QR Codes Good For Local Marketing? A Contrarian View

With new and emerging technologies, it can be challenging to identify whether integrating them will produce a good-versus-bad ROI. With some experimental interactive marketing ideas, the “law of diminishing returns“ eventually kicks in, meaning you expend progressively more time and effort for lower and lower returns.

If the tactic you’re considering has an extremely nebulous potential return, it might not justify any time spent on it at all. QR codes may fit into this category.

Reasons To Nay-Say QR Codes

They are not a substantial improvement over URLs. At its most basic level, a QR code is a method for communicating and storing a very precise ID to be associated with some thing, such as a product, an advertisement, a business, or an individual. In this respect, it works very similarly to a URL. (They can also store plain text, but most of their best business functions seem to be in the role of ID/product-numbers or URLs.)

For instance, if you saw an ad in a newspaper or magazine that looked interesting to you, you could scan it with your mobile phone, and the app on your phone would translate the graphic code into a URL which you could save or have it launch straight into a browser window on your phone.

While this theoretically could save you from having to manually type in a URL you read off the ad, it’s not necessarily all that much faster (I’ve watched people pulling up the app, getting close enough to the QR code, aligning to snap a pic, etc.). If one frequently wanted to visit URLs found when reading newspapers or magazines, this small time savings could drive one to install and use the app.

But, I’d venture to say that most people reading print media are not in a mode to take notes or go look up websites all that frequently while in the midst of that activity — I think those moments are more sporadic. And, when a consumer reaches that point, it’s not difficult to type in a URL, which incidentally might be easy to remember, too.

Some of the main uses for QR codes where local business marketing is concerned has been the practice of placing QR code decals on storefront windows or in print ads, and the matrix codes are linked-to the company’s website URL. This was pushed by Google Places, and many small businesses got the decals and placed them on their windows in a nearly knee-jerk reaction based on the assumption that if Google thought it was good, then it must be. Or, perhaps it might give them some sort of advantage in Google rankings.

There’s no reason to think that QR codes help in local search rankings on Google or elsewhere. Many marketers are desperate to push against any perceived lever there may be in making the needle move in Google rankings, so quite a number of people fell in line and posted the matrix code graphics on their store entrances. But it likely did nothing for rankings. In fact, there’s reason to believe that messing with your site URL structure to make better QR codes may de-optimize it for search.

Rhetoric around QR technology has been suspiciously hype-laden

The online marketing community’s enthusiasm around QR codes has made it sound compelling and the excitement that all of us have around clever tech is catching. But, there needs to be a good reason to use it or else it won’t have a natural place in consumer ecology.

The short life-cycle arc of the CueCat indicates this could be an evolutionary dead end

The CueCat was the product of a flashy startup during the dot-com era which allowed people to scan in small barcodes which could be later uploaded on computer to sync up with URLs.

A CueCat Scanner used technology similar to QR codes.A CueCat Scanner used technology similar to QR codes.

I remember when I was called in by the print side of my old yellow pages company to integrate CueCat code with our website for a brief, thankfully-abortive time period. I was so horrified when I realized what it was and how far in bed the print product manager had gotten with the Digital Convergence company that produced the CueCat.

It was so patently obvious that it was a nearly-pointless novelty item that I could not see there being sufficient consumer adoption of the technology to justify the amount of yellow pages ad print space to allow for the barcodes.

So, it was no surprise to me within a mere year or so when I was called upon to vet Digital Convergence’s technology for consideration of being acquired as the company was about to go bankrupt — and I had no hesitation in killing off the proposed buyout based upon technical incompatibility with our server environment and assessment of the CueCat’s complete lack of sufficient consumer adoption.

It’s still horrifying to me how eager some unsophisticated companies were to associate themselves with technology they understood poorly, and how much money they lost from investing in the technological dead-end.

Debbie Barham of the Evening Standard described the basic failure best when she said, “[the CueCat] fails to solve a problem which never existed.” And, that unfortunately seems to describe QR codes, too.

Slight inconveniences with products can amount to huge barriers for adoption

With QR codes, there are a few different inconveniences: you must download and install the app(s) on your phone. You must scan the codes. You must FIND code to scan and be near enough to capture it.

Could it be easier to use? Well, imagine if your cell phone had an app which allowed you to snap a photo of a URL, and then it might automatically launch your browser window with the URL. This isn’t far outside of our current technology.

There must be a compelling incentive for consumers to adopt it

If it doesn’t quite speed up some interation enough, then it needs some sort of premium to bribe users into getting involved.

Google dropped support for QR in Places

After initially pushing intensively to get SMBs to adopt them and use them as decals at their places of business, Google dropped QR code support. If this had been working for local consumers, Google wouldn’t have abruptly halted it. This is a significant indicator that it has yet to hit critical mass.

The vast majority of average consumers haven’t a clue what it is!

Poll the men-on-the-street in your area and see how many of them know what a QR code is and have a QR app installed on their cellphones!

As a unique identifier for people, businesses, things — it likely will not have a long lifespan

For businesses, apps becoming more adept at identifying/linking based upon ubiquitous geolocations, for instance. And, what about RF IDs (a.k.a. “NFC” – “Near Field Communication”)?

Nanotech devices with embedded RF ID detection could offer seemless ID detection and invisibly bridge the gap to connecting with online/virtual info. (There is speculation that Google dropped QR code from Places in order to replace it with NFC-enabled decals.)

URLs have wider recognition and might be preferable to using QR codes in print ads

Unlike QR codes, a URL doesn’t require locating an app, downloading it, installing it, and using it to snap a pic of a code graphic. For consumers who don’t have smartphones or have yet to download the appropriate app, a URL (including conveniently shortened URLs) will work better.

Multiple, warring code protocols result in some consumer confusion

The fact that there are multiple QR flavors may necessitate loading multiple apps to read different codes for different purposes. A consumer who feels unsure of which app to use for a code will tend to avoid participating. A service which requires a degree in Internet technology to use it is a service destined for failure.

Reasons To Believe In QR Codes

It’s easy to find reasons to nay-say QR code. However, it has gained some number of devotees and some growth of users. It would be simplistic to ignore that the technology has a few reasons to believe in it and consider that it might become sufficiently robust to gain traction. Here are a few of the reasons which I think have some merit.

It is an evolutionary step up from the CueCat

QR Codes only require smartphones for the device, compared to the specialized CueCat scanners — so, it is founded on a device which many consumers already have. While this is an adaptive advantage, it’s also insufficient in my view, because I didn’t believe the specialized device was the main flaw of CueCats in the first place — it was their lack of compelling reason to be used.

Still, this incarnation has the advantage of a slightly lower barrier-to-entry, and each incremental advantage helps bring the concept closer to the tipping point where it might finally reach critical mass.

QR code might manage to achieve a necessary degree of cool factor

Just one clever PR stunt could help propel it from the digiterati/early-adopters over into popular culture. There have been quite a few different companies, organizations and individuals which have done something innovative with QR in order to get some publicity buzz.

For example, a few days ago Ballantines whisky company got a tattoo artist to ink a QR code onto a friend which was linked to an animated version of the tattoo illustration:

Yet, this is more of a novelty than something which will bring QR tech over the top. Few people have access to the tattooed guy to scan in his matrix and get the animation to launch, so there’s no incentive for people to download the app and play along. For a stunt like this to really convert the non-QR-enabled, it needs to involve a more popular subject and it’s got to get a lot of people interested in making the scan themselves.

There is still some time yet before omnipresent ID technologies catch on and become standard

NFC or some nanotech ID handshake may be just around the corner, but they haven’t arrived. Until then, there may be some useful applications for QR protocol.

Google’s purchase of Punchd indicates it may still have plans for QR where local is concerned

Punchd is a service that has a built-in incentive that can drive consumers to seek out the special QR app, download, install and use — frequently. Mashing up a loyalty program which users can engage with via cellphone makes for a compelling raison d’etre.

Innovative QR code use indicates that the tech could be one small leap away from becoming really useful

A South Korean grocery store, a Homeplus company, figured out that providing busy shoppers with a virtual store in subway stations where they are a captive audience might be solid gold, and enabling the shopping cart functionality by having consumers scan QR codes for each product they wish to purchase is actually a brilliant application.

Now, if someone comes up with an equally compelling application here in North America, you could see QR codes really enter the mass consciousness in a big way.

Conclusions

QR codes have yet to achieve sufficiently widespread awareness in popular culture. Their usage  could still grow at a rapid rate as some have cited, but their penetration is still insufficient to justify time spent on integration for most small, local businesses. But, don’t ask me — ask a small, representative sample of your usual customers and see how many of them know about it.

If you’re a small business, consider first if you’re in a tech-savvy industry where your customers will commonly know what this is and use it, or if you’re in a highly tech-aware location, such as Seattle or Silicon Valley. If you fall into these segments, you may fall within a narrow exception case category and this could be worthwhile for you to experiment with (particularly offering Punchd loyalty discounts).

Additional innovative applications like the South Korean grocery use could happen in the North American market, but until that happens this still may not have reached the necessary tipping point to be worthwhile.

Some future innovative stunt like the QR tattoo might manage to tempt large numbers of consumers into trying out the technology, helping it to jump past the tipping-point.

For larger companies with sufficient resources to spend, a QR integration could be used as a speculative experiment similar to the Ballantines company’s tattoo gimmick, and they still might get some publicity/buzz value out of it even if it doesn’t evolve into a more worthwhile medium.

But, for the majority of small, local businesses, this is a speculative curiosity which simply doesn’t yet merit any expense of time/resources to mess with. As such, for most of these businesses any time spent playing with this will translate immediately into lost money.

However, stay tuned on the QR code topic where local interactive marketing is concerned!

Where I could’ve predicted the rapid death of CueCat, the story isn’t completely over for QR yet, and it might yet climb its way up over the tipping-point and make it into a sustainable position in the marketplace here.

It will need something to help propel it further, though — some increase in the ineffable “coolness” factor such as a Lady Gaga full-body QR code tattoo, or virtual shopping malls in subway stations — but, it might still happen.

 

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SmartyTags Takes QR Codes to the Next Level

by Deborah Corn 

Ohio-based startup SmartyTags is taking its QR (quick response) code capabilities to the next level, hoping to help companies better target their customers with relevant content.

Essentially, the QR codes from SmartyTags are designed to provide valuable back-end data to the merchant, such as links to four different videos about a new baby giraffe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Through these codes, businesses can track valuable information including the number, location, and time of scans, as well as what kinds of phones are being used to make them. What’s more, a SmartyTag can easily be reprogrammed with new content, making it simple for companies to connect customers to new videos or web links.

According to J.B. Kropp, one of the founders of SmartyTags, “QR codes provide a unique way to connect consumer to digital content. Companies are able to deliver marketing info, videos, get likes on Facebook, send tweets via Twitter, etc.,” he told midVentures. “Consumers view QR codes as bonus content, so as long as the company is delivering the right experience, it will be successful for them.”

Despite being such a new startup, SmartyTags is already being adopted by some pretty major clients—beyond the Cincinnati Zoo, it’s also soon to be used by the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cincinnati Museum Center, and others.

According to Kropp, the reason for his company’s quick success is simple: “There has not been an easy way to manage qr codes to date,” he said. “So with the launch of SmartyTags, it was clear to companies the value and how they can leverage content to deliver to their consumers.”

via SmartyTags Takes QR Codes to the Next Level – midVentures midVentures.

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What Is A QR Code And Why Do You Need One?

qr codeby Marc Lyne

We all know that one of the keys to great SEO is making sure you keep your website updated, new and fresh. Whether you do this with a blog, or you change your homepage with new offers, coupons or new products, it serves to show Google that your site is “alive.” For many small businesses in particular, this is a real challenge.

So you already have great, fresh content on your site—what’s next? Do you know what is coming that may benefit your small business?

Have you heard of QR codes yet? Here is a quick introduction:

What are QR codes?

They come to us from Japan where they are very common. QR is short for Quick Response (they can be read quickly by a cell phone). They are used to take a piece of information from a transitory media and put it in to your cell phone. You may soon see QR Codes in a magazine advert, on a billboard, a web page or even on someone’s t-shirt. Once it is in your cell phone, it may give you details about that business (allowing users to search for nearby locations), or details about the person wearing the t-shirt, show you a URL which you can click to see a trailer for a movie, or it may give you a coupon which you can use in a local outlet.

The reason why they are more useful than a standard barcode is that they can store (and digitally present) much more data, including url links, geo coordinates, and text. The other key feature of QR Codes is that instead of requiring a chunky hand-held scanner to scan them, many modern cell phones can scan them. The full Wikipedia description is here.

How does the cell phone read the code?

The cell phone needs a QR code reader, like this one from Kaywa. It takes literally 1 minute for someone with an iPhone or Android phone to find and install the reader.

How do you generate a code?

You can easily generate a QR code using a site like Kaywa.com or you can use the Open Source code to generate codes for you if you have a smart developer on hand. Google also has a tool — see our separate article about that:Close-Up With Google’s New QR Code Generator.

How can you use QR codes to benefit search marketing?

We are only just scratching the surface of how they will be used. We have added one to every business listing in our directory. Here are a few examples of how others are using them.

You can also watch this BBC Click interview on YouTube.

How will Google see them?

If you add them to your website, the search engines will see that your pages have changed, and that you are updating pages. The search engine will see a new image and index it accordingly. At some point soon, the search engines will likely recognize QR codes and possibly index the content in them.

Will your customers use them?

Today, few may use them, but those that do will certainly appreciate your tech knowledge, and those that don’t will certainly be inquisitive, which may open the door for conversation and a potential sale. Those that do use QR codes will definitely have a high tech know-how and may be more receptive to your presence on the web, your Twitter presence, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube etc.

How could you use a QR code?

Your business, no matter how small or large, could use QR codes in a number of ways. You might auto generate one next to every product on your web site containing all the product details, the number to call and the URL link to the page so they can show their friends on their cell phone. You could add one to your business card containing your contact details so its easy for someone to add you to their contacts on their cell phone.

Add them to any print advertising, flyers, posters, invites, TV ads etc containing:

  • Product details
  • Contact details
  • Offer details
  • Event details
  • Competition details
  • A coupon
  • Twitter, Facebook, MySpace IDs
  • A link to your YouTube video

Want to know more about QR codes? Check out these articles:



About The Author: Marc Lyne is co-founder of Brownbook.net, a free directory that anyone can edit. Follow Marc on Twitter: http://twitter.com/marc_lyne. See more articles by Marc Lyne

 

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