Missed Opportunities: Good Code Hunting

"I don't think anyone else here is doing this," my wife complains, as I take another picture of a wall at the local mall. We are on a QR hunt, testing out on her the QR code prompts that have now started to spring up like skin infestations on the signage around retail storefronts.

"You look like a building inspector recording violations," she adds. "Do you see anyone else in this mall snapping these things?"

Truth be told, no. In fact, I can't say that in any of my sojourns into retail QR hunting, even in stores like Best Buy and Home Depot, where the program are robust and ever-present, have I even come across a fellow snapper.

The 2D code field was enthused late last week when comScore issued its latest metrics around code use, finding that 6% of mobile phone owners scan QR codes. Well there is some variation to be noted in those numbers. The frequency of scanning codes is still tied to situation and place. Magazines and newspapers see almost half of scans, in part because there are a lot of codes in a concentrated form in these media. But the circumstance, usually lean-back and at home, must have something to do with it. According to comScore's numbers, only 12.8% of scans were coming from the storefronts I was shooting, even though we found more than a few in our mall walk.



Sears started it. As we walked from their anchor store at the local mall, we saw an enormous green code the size of a small child urging us to scan. It returned a link to the Web site, to which my wife responded, "But I am already here. Why do I need to shop at Sears on my phone if I am already here?" And so the hunt was on for meaningful 2D code experiences in a mall walk with my trusty mobile skeptic in tow. Arguably, Sear's execution was not entirely off the mark. It took a few clicks, but the site did ultimately render 20 back-to-school offers. But you had to drill to find them.

Codes are infinitely variable. Couldn't this one know I am scanning from in the store and bring me directly to offers?

We had better luck with Foot Locker, where a standup sign at the front door coded us to a Sneaker Aptitude Test that offered a $1,000 gift card for entering. To its credit, Foot Locker made the sign-up form short and painless, and the cell number entry optional. It was a good prompt that encouraged reuse by letting the entrant return regularly to retake the quiz. If passing by a Foot Locker reminds you that you have already entered the quiz, the QR code calls up a page that lets returning players continue.

Unmet expectations is a problem for some code publishers. We had worse luck at H&M, which had a very attractive 2D code prompt tied to the user-generated T-shirt contest. Scan the code however, and you are kicked over to their full size Web site for the program. "I can't see that," my co-pilot snarked. "What is the point? Where are the T-shirts?" Exactly.

A number of stores are using the storefront codes to push their apps, which is fine, I guess. The number of fails is still notable. Express offered us apps in iPhone, Android and Blackberry flavors, with a decent promise of special offers and first looks. Its peek at the latest TV ad was broken on the iPhone, rendering audio and no image. Likewise, the Zales 2D code simply produced File Not Found.

One interesting kiosk for those smokeless cigarette devices had a massive code that rendered not a Web site or an app but a contact card that could be added to my address book. I am not sure this necessarily is the kind of contact I want, but one can see the utility for such a shortcut in some cases.

But again, there is a real pattern to the lack of specificity in the code functions and the call-outs in the signage. In most cases there is nothing to indicate why I should scan a code or a foreshadowing of what I will get. One recoils from the prospect of being a Pavlovian dog responding to a bell that appears to be pealing "It's cool and new, robo-consumer; that is reason enough for you to do this." Compound that with the act of publicly taking a picture of a code on a wall in a mall, and you are setting consumers up to feel like dupes.

I think this may be a component of the code-snapping phenomenon that too many companies are missing. The consumer really is taking an extra step, making a special effort, to reach out to your brand or creative. I suspect these advertisers look upon these code snappers as the willing and the eager, the brand loyalist or potential loyalists who just want to swim in the greater glory that is the brand. Why else serve someone your latest TV spot as a "reward" for snapping a code? But in reality, I suspect most consumers see themselves putting out an extra effort and perhaps having a more specific need or desire that is being unmet or only partially met.

"Can we stop now?" my wife asks, peering around to see if her wall-photographer husband is attracting attention...or Homeland Security.

So I turn the tables on my better, skeptical half and pose the question to her. "How would your smartphone best serve you here?"

She is a lifetime shopper. This is actually a no-brainer for her. She points to the cosmetics counter as we pass. "Tell me what shades match my skin color. There are too many choices here." We pass by the women's clothing section. "Tell me what that skirt goes with that you also have in the store." We go to a restaurant and she suggests, "Tell me what the nutritional value of this menu item is -- and whether it has any ingredients my kid might be allergic to."

In other words, she as a consumer already had literally at the top of her mind all the natural questions she brings to looking at items in a store. In fact, my 2d code-averse wife still recalls what was for her the perfect experience. "I like what Home Depot did the time you scanned a plant in the garden store. It told you how to tend it, what care it required and what other plants it worked well with in a garden. That was information I could use." The program not only impressed her, but it communicated something memorable enough to recall the retailer who did it for us.

Consumers actually bring to the process of shopping a lifetime of experience. They have questions in hand, and the mobile-to-digital link QR codes offer is a route to answering them. Why would we as an industry squander that opportunity on half-measures and disappointing brand puffery that runs the risk of poisoning the well and turning people off to the prospect of a clickable world. They can tell us what they want to know, apparently without breaking a sweat, once we stop trying to impress them with what is new and cool -- and instead focus on answering their simplest questions.

4 comments about "Missed Opportunities: Good Code Hunting".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, August 16, 2011 at 6:22 p.m.

    Great insight. Coca-Cola uses "occasions-based marketing" to plan their marketing; I think something like that can help businesses identify the best ways to get going with links that delivers real assistance, not just shiny tinsel.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 16, 2011 at 7 p.m.

    At the Court in King of Prussia, there is a booth where one enters he/she gets their body type assessed by a technological wonder and then the computer outside tells you what is the best type of jeans would fit you best and where to buy them. This you wife may like better with some great stores....Neimans, Nordstrom, Hermes, Cartier, Ralph Lauren and other lovelies. As for shopping and where to find the best bargains, sometimes we just can't afford to save more money. ;)

  3. Antony McGregor Dey from Link.Me, August 17, 2011 at 1:38 p.m.

    We agree Steve, the user has to be rewarded for scanning and the content has to be relevant. Just linking to your main website with no reference to what the user scanned is a poor experince. At Link.Me we work with book publishers to create what we call 'DVD extra's for books'.

    When our codes are scanned they reveal bonus content related to a title such as interviews with the author, character back stories and so on. The real value is for the publisher though, once the user scans the code the Link.Me platform profiles the user and associates the content they are reading to their interests. This allows the publisher to build a database of their existing customers, this is something all brands using tags should be doing to create both value for the customer and long-term value for the brand.

  4. Sonu Parashar from Doon Intractive Solution Pvt Ltd., October 21, 2011 at 7:27 a.m.

    QRcode is now being used for marketing in the mobile phone industry. Some mobile phones have QR Code scanners built in, and when they scan a QR Code they get back the information contained in the code.

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