Cracking The QR Code

We are forever tethered to our mobile devices. All research leads to smartphones reaching or exceeding 50% of the market by the end of the year.

The prospect of engaging consumers with rich brand or product experiences that provide utility, facilitate discovery, commerce and social sharing on demand, while on the go or near point-of-sale, is powerful.  QR codes are appearing everywhere from product tags in retail, to out-of-home ads, direct mail and catalogs, and the windows of local businesses on Main Street USA.

Unfortunately, Most Executions, Well ... Suck

Many marketers and agencies get caught up in the technology, making the QR code a tactic in search of a strategy. Success with QR codes is predicated on developing clear objectives and a strategy that aligns with consumers' mobile usage, and provides a reason for consumers to engage with you. Why is that such a foreign concept to some marketers?

To complicate matters, we are still in a long-drawn-out, chicken-and-egg phase of consumer scanning. The initial experiences that consumers have with scanning will begin to shape their expectations and excitement, or lack thereof. Comparison-shopping by scanning UPC codes is already a popular behavior, which is a perfect precursor for scanning as a point of additional engagement.



Hurdles - Real or Perceived?

Granted, in order to scan, consumers have to download an app, a process not ideally streamlined. But in reality, consumers are savvy and download billions of apps. We just need to provide consumers with great experiences and reasons to be excited and share the experiences with others. While it's a shame that exponentially more consumers have played "Angry Birds" than scanned a QR code, it's important to remember that mobile barcodes are a response mechanism -- just another way for consumers to choose to engage with us.

Scanning By the Numbers

There is a distinct void of mobile barcode market research that normally supports the growth of a market and fosters adoption among marketers. So I commenced my quest to try and estimate the size of the market. Thanks to David Javitch, vice president of marketing at ScanBuy, arguably the largest QR code provider, for providing enough data for me to make some directional estimates. A new data report will be available here later this week.

There are an estimated 45 million installed apps that have scanning capabilities. The majority of these apps are not natively QR code readers, but barcode scanners that evolved from comparison shopping scanner apps like Google Shopper, Amazon, eBay's Red Laser and Shop Savvy, in addition to scanners that are built into branded apps. An estimated 25% of installed apps are actively used.

 Scanbuy is reporting:
·     Between 2 - 4 million active monthly users. Of course there is no standard definition of "active," but it's great to finally see an active number even if undefined.

·     An estimated market share of about 20%. So we can estimate the overall market to be roughly 10 million consumers scanning monthly. That number jives with the estimate of approximately 25% active usage of all scanning apps.

·     More than a scan per second, up from ten scans per minute a year ago. I'll save you the math -- that's over 2.6 million scans per month and a 600% increase year over year. Scanbuy also sees over 420,000 unique product UPC scans monthly. That's a big number for a product that wasn't initially intended for UPC scanning.

·     Over 45,000 codes created last quarter. That's a lot of potential rich content and engageme

Big Brands Putting Skin in the Game

While many marketers experiment by integrating QR codes as part of existing marketing creative, several pioneering brands are diving in deep enough to really determine the best ways to engage with mobile consumers.

Best Buy and Home Depot have both rolled out QR codes in a big way as part of their product tags, augmenting the in-store shopping experience. Frito-Lay just rolled out an implementation that utilizes existing UPC barcodes to trigger the same rich experiences that previously were the realm of the QR code. A call to action on packaging and a social media campaign will promote the program. The use of a UPC code in this manner is interesting and makes a lot of sense.

In the longer term, near-field communication (NFC) will become a common mechanism for mobile response, engagement and commerce that will augment and maybe even displace mobile barcode scanning. In the interim, let's be committed to providing consumers with worthwhile experiences, and we'll continue to see exponential increases in mobile barcode scanning.

Have some great QR code case studies to share? Feel free to post in the comments or hit me on twitter @jasonheller.

6 comments about "Cracking The QR Code".
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  1. Andrew Wolfe from Mariner Media, Inc., July 19, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.

    Late last year we attached a QR code to the hang tags of a new performance garment in a test market for military clothing. We also included the code on Point of Purchase posters. When the customer scanned the code, they went to a 45 second video commercial about the performance shirts. The result was a 65% sell through in three weeks in all five test markets. Very successful!

    What we learned: Customers like informative commercials about the products. Store employees like it too... they don't have to explain the benefits of the products.

    What else we learned: iphones work best. older androids can't play flash/you tube embedded video.

  2. Brian Raines from linkblots, July 19, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    Some great points...QR codes will only enter mainstream when marketers realize and follow some basic best practices with regard to their usage...

    #1 Mobile-optimized landing pages
    #2 Value exchange with the consumer for scanning (mobile coupon, discount offer, unique content, etc)
    #3 Use a QR code campaign management tool to create, manage and track usage (to improve the user experience!)

    Our FREE QR code campaign management and point-&-click mobile web page builder at does all this and more - you should check it out if you are looking for a no-risk way to enter the QR code and mobile web space as a business.

  3. Brian Raines from linkblots, July 19, 2011 at 2:32 p.m.

    @Andrew - skip the flash/youtube video issue - Blackberry's have issues as well. You need a QR code management tool that performs mobile transcoding of both video and photos ensuring the broadest coverage - does all that and more and it is FREE.

  4. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs, July 20, 2011 at 2:35 p.m.

    We are on the same wavelength today, Jason - I just posted this piece over at MediaPost EngageMoms

    My premise is that the tech issues are not insurmountable and, like you, think that once brands educate and offer consumers real value, this technology will really take off.

  5. Bob Tarren from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, July 25, 2011 at 10:43 a.m.

    I recently worked with a local advertising agency, the Martin Agency, to develop a companion campaign for my Picasso exhibition. Their creative was striking and innovative, with Picasso's face being rendered in varying sizes of QR codes. The codes were the creative itself rather than just an informational 'tag' at the bottom of an ad. We took viewers to a special facebook presentation on the museum and the exhibition with peeks at the works, and a 'buy-ticket' button.

    The uniqueness of the campaign generated 66 million pr hits. We exceeded projections on exhibition visitation and revenue as well.

  6. Jason Heller from AGILITi, July 26, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.

    @Bob - I read about that campaign. Great execution. PR value aside (which was the really big win), the consumer experience seemed to be immersive and an extension of the exhibit.

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